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E02534: The Life of *Hilarus (abbot of Galeata, in the earlier 6th c., S01239) is written in Latin, presumably at Galeata in northern Italy, probably in the 7th or 8th c.; narrates the life of Hilarus, founder of a monastery in the mountains, and performer of healing miracles and exorcisms. He is buried in a grave he had made for himself.

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posted on 2017-03-09, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Life of Hilarus (BHL 3913)


§ 1: At the time when the consuls Dynamius and Sifidius ruled Rome [= 488 AD], there is a boy named Hilarus from Tuscia, fearing God since childhood. At home he secretly follows the Christian rule (Christiana regula), comes across the letters of the Apostle Paul, and reads them night and day. He then aims to find a way to leave his family and serve God; he enters a church and hears the Gospel of Luke 14:26 where Jesus invites all disciples to abandon their family to follow him. He asks an old man about the reading, who tells him that at twelve he is too young. Hilarus quotes Mark 10:13 about Jesus welcoming children, and the old man, clearly an angel, agrees to explain to him everything about God’s kingdom.

§ 2: Hilarus thanks God with a prayer and asks Him to send an angel to guide his path and help him in his quest to lead a solitary life. An angel appears and comforts him. Hilarus leaves Tuscia, reaches Aemilia and stays in a deserted place in the mountains indicated to him by the angel.

§ 3: In that place, below mountains, the river Bethes flowing a mile away, a church is built within three years with God’s grace. Below the church, Hilarus builds a cave (spelunca) where he praises God night and day. The place is isolated and Hilarus obtains food with God’s help.

§ 4: When he reaches the age of twenty, he starts following the monastic rule (regula monasterii). An aristocrat from Ravenna called Olybrius is possessed by a demon, who demands to see Hilarus before leaving the man’s body. The man’s family ask the demon where Hilarus dwells, he tells them. Hilarus is twenty-two, of small build and with a short beard. The man’s family is about to reach the place on the second day at the ninth hour when the demon rushes to the man of God. As he reaches the main doors of the church, the angel forbids him to enter until the servant of God finishes his evening prayer (vespertinus carmen), according to the rule (regula).

§ 5: Hilarus frees the man from the demon, thanks God and asks Him for help in converting Olybrius, so that he may abandon the cult of the idols. Olybrius, his wife and their two sons come to the feet of Hilarus and ask to be instructed in the Christian rule (regula). Hilarus starts to think of a way to baptise them. With God’s help, a priest (presbyter) called Iulianus who is travelling from Arezzo (Aritium) to Ravenna comes along. He baptises the man and all his family, around ninety people in total. On the third day, Eustasia, the wife of Olybrius, dies.

§6: Olybrius and his sons Iovius and Eunomius persevere in the rule of the monastery until their death. They have taken all their household (familia) and possessions from Ravenna and given them to Hilarus. There is a property (possessio) of Olybrius not far from the monastery, only two bow-shots away (iactus sagittarum), where he put his servants to work. With God’s grace the place that was a desert is fully cultivated within ten years and yields fruit in such abundance that something is given to widows and the poor every day. Through Hilarus, God performs many miracles, healing the blind and curing any disease. [Hilarus established the following rule (regula) for the brothers: work until the ninth hour; fasting on days without liturgy (dies privati); evening praise (laudes) after eating at the ninth hour, until nightfall, and again from the middle of the night until the morning]. Then an angel appears to him and provides him with a true rule (vera regula) for that place.

§ 7: At that time King Theoderic comes to build a palace below the same mountains over the river Betes, imposing heavy labour services (angariae) on the local people to build his palace. Some people tell him that Hilarus lives with a large household, without following any of the orders of the king. They suggest that many soldiers should be sent to bring them all to the king. King Theoderic is angered and sends forty soldiers to bring them to him. As the soldiers go down the valley and are about to enter the small property to seize his followers (familia), Hilarus prays to God asking for help. Right after the prayer, the soldiers take the wrong route and roam across the mountains for two days.

§ 8: Hearing this, Theoderic, full or rage, rushes on horseback to Hilarus. However, his horse stops a stone-throw away from the enclosure (cortina) of the monastery and refuses to move further because of an angel. After beating his horse, Theoderic falls and is unable to move. He asks two soldiers to go and ask Hilarus to free him. When Hilarus comes, Theoderic falls at his feet, asking him to pray God for the forgiveness of his sins. Hilarus catches his hand, lifts him up and leads him into his cave, where they eat together (fecerunt caritatem) after a prayer. From that day, the king holds the place dear and donates a great amount of money and possessions that the monastery did not have. Hilarus keeps the rule of the monastery night and day. He rules over the monastery, ordering that monks should wash the feet of one another and show respect to one another. He rules not as a pater familias but as one of the brothers of the community (congregatio). Nothing is done without his command in the community, and there is no dispute among them. He established a rule that at the time of harvest, no fruit should be eaten before being blessed by him. The fruits are collected in a basket hidden with a veil; after the benediction, each of them takes a fruit under the veil, without seeing which one they take.

§ 9: One of the brothers called Glycerius (or Clicerius), as he walks amongst the vines at the time of the harvest, sees a beautiful and ripe grape and wants to taste it. As he continues on his way as usual, he remembers the fact and goes to Hilarus to tell him. Hilarus orders him to go and eat it; Glycerius takes the grape but it becomes a huge snake; he comes back to tell Hilarus. Hilarus goes to meet the snake, understands that it is an unclean spirit, catches it and brings it back to the church. At sunset, a demon speaks from the snake’s mouth, complaining about the burning fire that he endures because of Hilarus, and saying that he wants to be sent away. Hilarus learns from the demon that he attempted to take the brother away from Hilarus’ service by tempting him to eat the grape. Hilarus prays, the snake bursts into dust with a very dark smoke, and the demon sinks into deserted places.

§ 10: Refraining from telling all about Hilarus’ life, we tell you what we have seen and heard from his mouth in order to promote peace (concordia) and faith among the brothers. He left rules that he followed all his life: anyone who wanted to enter the service of the Lord had to leave all his possessions to him and these were held in common, so that nothing was given without his permission.

§11: At the end of his life, aged eighty-two, an angel appears to him on the 4th day of the Ides of May [= 12 May], telling him to comfort his community because in three days he will be taken away from this world. Hilarus with great joy summons all the brothers and tells them to keep what he has ordered. The next day he orders a modest burial place (locellus) to be made ready a hundred stades (stadia) away from the church. There he spends the time left him chanting to the Lord night and day. On the morning of the third day, the Ides of May [= 15 May], he leaves this world. Having embalmed his body with perfume, we buried his body with great veneration. I, the least amongst the brothers, have written what I have seen and heard.

Text: Acta Sanctorum, Mai., III, 471-474; Zaghini (2004), 64-88. (Paragraph numbering according to the Acta Sanctorum). Summary (with the paragraph numbering of Acta Sanctorum): M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Hilarus, abbot of Galeata : S01239

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

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

Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Exorcism Healing diseases and disabilities Miracle during lifetime Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Demons Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Aristocrats Women Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Slaves/ servants Monarchs and their family Soldiers

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


There is one main version of the Life of Hilarus, BHL 3913 (BHL 3914 is a summarised version). The database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta ( lists five manuscripts, while Zaghini 2004, 30-34, adds four more. These lists however are clearly incomplete: one can add, for instance, four manuscripts in Florence: Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Conv. Soppr. 182, f. 175v-179v (anno 1032); Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Conventi Soppressi, Conv.Soppr.A.I.1213, f. 129r-130r (11th c.); Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Edili 137, f. 118v-121 (end of 11th-12th c.); Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Conv. Soppr. 300, f. 229-231). Most manuscripts are from Italy, and the earliest are from the 9th century: Montpellier, Bibliothèque Interuniversitaire, Section de Médecine, H 156, f. 127v-132v (9th century) Rome, Biblioteca Nazionale, Farfensis Cod. 29 (alias 341), f. 186v-190v (second half of the 9th c., or early 10th c.) One can add a fragment, also from the 9th century: Munich, BSB, Clm 29891(2. The Life of Hilarus was first published in the Acta Sanctorum. Recently, Zaghini offered a new edition, translation and study. Zaghini's work is an essential starting point, however it does not offer a critical edition: the text edited is provided with a very limited apparatus and no description of the relationship between the manuscripts. Moreover Zaghini adopted his own paragraph numbers, abandoning those originally set in the Acta Sanctorum edition. We have compared and used both editions.


There is little evidence of cult in the Life of Hilarus. Only the end, mentioning Hilarus’ death day and referring to his coffin, could indicate that his tomb was preserved at the time of writing. The Life is one of the few examples of late antique and early medieval lives preserved from Italy. There are few clues to situate Hilarus’ monastery on the basis of the Life. The author presents himself as an eyewitness, a brother from Hilarus' community, but he does not dwell on an extensive description of the monastic community. He only offers a few topographical indications: a mile from the river Betes, near a mountain range, on the way between Arezzo and Ravenna. The Life emphasises that a prosperous monastic community was established there, with its rule (regula monastica), extensive cultivated lands and possessions. Particular emphasis is put on donations from Ravenna, first from a formerly pagan aristocrat and his family, then from king Theoderic, despite the fact that the Life also narrates Theoderic's oppression over the region and his initially hostile attitude towards the monks. The underlined links of Hilarus’ monastery to Tuscia and Ravenna, along the way connecting the two regions, seem to offer an overview of the major political and religious influences at the time of writing. It is possible that this relates to the period of the exarchate of Ravenna, when Byzantine control over the region rested on the connection between Rome and Ravenna, via northern Tuscia. While repertories suggest a dating in the 6th century (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2197; Gryson 2007, I, 71), the Life offers little evidence to provide an accurate date. Since Hilarus is said to be twelve years old in 488 and to die at eighty-two, it can be assumed that he was thought to have lived from c. 476 to c. 558. The earliest manuscripts being from the 9th century, the Life must have been composed between the late 6th and early 9th century.


Editions (BHL 3913): Acta Sanctorum, Mai., III, 471-474 Zaghini F., Vita di Ellero (Cesena, 2004), 64-88 (first edition 1988). Further reading: Zaghini, F., Sant’Ellero e il suo monastero. Frammenti d’una storia (Cesena, 1988). Ricci, C., “Memoria e scrittura agiografica in alcune agiografie di area forlivese (secc. VI-IX),” Hagiographica 4 (1997), 71-112. Sante Meleti, A., “La leggenda di Sant’Ellero di Galeata: una lettura disincantata della 'Vita Hilari'," Romagna 24 (2004), 5-34. Zaghini F., Vita di Ellero (Cesena, 2004).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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