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E02521: The Martyrdom of *Vitus, Modestus and Crescentia (martyrs of Lucania and Rome, S00599) is written in Rome at an uncertain date by the 9th c. at the latest and preserved in variant versions perhaps based on an earlier Greek text. It narrates the miracles of the boy Vitus in Sicily and Lucania, the tortures he endured with his companions under Diocletian in Rome; their death and burial by the aristocrat Florentia at a place called Marinus near the river Siler in Lucania.

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posted on 2017-03-08, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Vitus, Modestus and Crescentia (BHL 8711)


§1-2: The boy Vitus, who is Christian, lives in Sicily during persecutions against Christians at the hands of the governor Valerianus, under the emperors Diocletian and Maximian. His pagan father Hylas has him beaten and asks his tutor Modestus to make sure that he changes his mind, but an angel comforts Vitus. Valerianus learns that Vitus is a Christian and asks Hylas to bring Vitus back to reason, but his son cannot be convinced.

§3-5: Vitus performs many healing miracles, Valerianus summons him and attempts to convince him to sacrifice to the gods and abandon Christianity. As he refuses, he is severely beaten but then the ministers’ lose their arms and Valerianus a hand. The governor accuses Vitus of magic, but Vitus heals his hand.

§6-8: Vitus is dismissed and his father attempts to seduce him thanks to all sort of pleasures and luxury (music, dancers, and a preciously decorated room). Vitus prays to God and his room is filled with light and perfume. There, Hylas sees seven angels chanting “hagios, hagios, hagios” and he is blinded. Vitus prays for his father but Hylas suffers greatly, surrounded by his servants. Valerianus hears about it and brings Hylas to the temple of Jupiter, but he is not healed.

§9-10: Hylas returns home and implores Vitus to heal him. Vitus asks him to renounce pagan gods; as it is done, Vitus prays to God and Hylas is healed, however he thanks pagan gods. An angel appears to Modestus and asks him to take Vitus with him, who is seven years old, and travel by sea to another region. Modestus and Vitus, guided by the angel, travel to a place called Alectorius and rest under a tree near the river Siler. Vitus performs miracles and is fed by an eagle. Many are converted and baptised, Vitus thanks God chanting psalms (115, 10 and 41, 2).

§11-13: Diocletian’s son suffers from a demon. The demon calls for Vitus, who is in Lucania, in the territorium tanagritanum near the river Siler. Soldiers bring Vitus and the old Modestus to Rome. Both are interrogated but refuse to reply. Vitus, on Diocletian’s request, chases the demon from his son. Diocletian asks Vitus to sacrifice to the gods and promises him wealth and honours but he refuses. Vitus and Modestus are thrown in jail, bound to a heavy iron weight. A great light shines, Vitus prays to God and an earthquake follows, with light and perfume filling the jail. Jesus Christ appears to them and comforts them, they are freed from their burden and angels sing in blessing (Lk 1, 68-69). The jail’s guardians are frightened and tell Diocletian what happened.

§14-16: Diocletian brings Vitus and Modestus to the amphiteather, which is filled with a great crowd. As Vitus again refuses to offer sacrifices to the gods, he is put in a burning furnace but left unharmed thanks to an angel. People are amazed and Vitus praises the Lord (singing Ps 16, 3). Diocletian sends a lion, but Vitus makes a sign of the cross on it and the lion falls at his feet, licking them. Vitus explains to Diocletian that it is not magic but that Jesus Christ performed these miracles.

§17: Diocletian orders Vitus, together with his tutor Modestus and his wet-nurse Crescentia, to be tortured; Vitus prays to God, an earthquake follows, pagan temples are destroyed and many people are killed. The emperor flees and an angel takes Vitus, Modestus and Crescentia to the river Siler, where they rest under a tree. Vitus prays to God, asking him to protect those who take praise in his martyrdom and to grant that for four days of his feast no fly may appear at the place of his martyrdom. A voice from heaven tells that the prayers are fulfilled and the souls of the saints leave their bodies and go to heaven in the shape of white doves.

§18: Eagles keep watch over the bodies for three days; on the third day, a certain Florentia, of noble birth, comes near the river Siler and falls into the water. Vitus appears to her and tells her that she will be freed and will bury their bodies; anything that she asks through their prayers will be granted to her. Florentia is snatched away from the river, collects the bodies of the saints and buries them with perfume in the same place where they rest, which is called Marianus. Vitus, together with Modestus and Crescentia, were martyred on the 17th day before the Calends of July [= 15 June].

Text: Acta Sanctorum, Iun. III, 449-504. Summary: M. Pignot


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Vitus and companions, martyrs of Lucania and Rome : S00599

Saint Name in Source

Vitus, Modestus, Crescentia

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Latin

Place of Evidence - Region

Rome and region

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracle after death Miracles experienced by the saint Punishing miracle Miracles causing conversion Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Miracle with animals and plants Healing diseases and disabilities Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous sound, smell, light Exorcism

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Children Family Pagans Relatives of the saint Monarchs and their family Aristocrats Soldiers Officials Angels Demons Animals Crowds

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


The Martyrdom of Vitus, Modestus and Crescentia is an anonymous literary account of martyrdom written long after the great persecutions of Christians that provide the background of the narrative. It is part of a widely spread literary genre, that scholars often designate as "epic" Martyrdoms (or Passiones), to be distinguished from earlier, short and more plausible accounts, apparently based on the genuine transcripts of the judicial proceedings against the martyrs. These texts narrate the martyrdom of local saints, either to promote a new cult or to give further impulse to existing devotion. They follow widespread stereotypes mirroring the early authentic trials of martyrs, but with a much greater degree of detail and in a novel-like style. Thus they narrate how the protagonists are repeatedly questioned and tortured under the order of officials or monarchs, because they refuse to sacrifice to pagan gods but profess the Christian faith. They frequently refer to miracles performed by the martyrs and recreate dialogues between the protagonists. The narrative generally ends with the death of the martyrs (often by beheading) and their burial. These texts are literary creations bearing a degree of freedom in the narration of supposedly historical events, often displaying clear signs of anachronism. For these reasons, they have been generally dismissed as historical evidence and often remain little known. However, since most certainly date from within the period circa 400-800, often providing unique references to cult, they are an essential source to shed new light on the rise of the cult of saints. The Martyrdom is preserved in a number of related versions (BHL 8711-8715b), which perhaps derive from an original Greek text (we have not compared it with the Greek versions BHG 1876-1876c, but see hypotheses in Pricoco). Here we have focused only on BHL 8711, published in the Acta Sanctorum and preserved in 31 manuscripts according to the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta (see, the earliest from the 9th century: Paris, BNF, lat. 5299, f. 48v-60r; Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Reg. lat. 528, f. 92r-92v (9th-10th c.). The alternative version BHL 8712, still unpublished, was also widespread, with more than 50 manuscripts currently preserved starting from the 9th century according to the above-mentioned database (see as well further manuscripts in D’Angelo).


There is further evidence for cult of Vitus since an early date (see S00599). The Martyrdom is of uncertain date of composition, but should have been written by the 9th century at the latest when it is found in manuscripts. It is generally dated to the beginning of the 7th century (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2246; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 91).


Edition (BHL 8711): Acta Sanctorum, Iun. III, 449-504. Further reading: D’Angelo, E., "Mezzogiorno continentale d’Italia (750-1000)," in: Philippart, G. (ed.), Hagiographies. Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550, vol. IV (Turnhout, 2006), 41-134, at 93-94. Philippart, G., “Une Passio Sancti Viti inédite (BHL 8713d) dans un manuscrit de Régimbert de Reichenau (+846),” in: Kroupa, J. K. (ed.), Septuaginta Paulo Spunar oblata (70 + 2). K vydani pripavil (Prague, 2000), 38-55. Pricoco, S., “Un esempio di agiografia regionale: la Sicilia”, in: Santi e demoni nell’alto Medioevo Occidentale (secoli VI-XI) (Spoleto, 1989), 319-380, at 323-324.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity