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E02771: The Martyrdom of *Erasmus (bishop of Antioch and martyr of Formia, S00867) is written in Latin or Greek (and then translated into the other language), possibly in Formia (southern Italy), existing in Latin by the early 9th c. at the latest. It narrates Erasmus' trials, tortures, miracles, and travels in Antioch, Ohrid, Sirmium and Curratium, ending with his death in Formia.

online resource
posted on 2017-05-08, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Martyrdom of Erasmus (BHL 2578-2582)


§ 1: There is a persecution of Christians at the time of the emperor Diocletian [manuscript variants have: ‘in the city of Antioch’]. Hearing of this, Erasmus goes to the desert for seven years to the mount named Libanus, performing many miracles: he receives food from a raven, speaks with angels, wild beasts come to his feet. Then he hears a voice from heaven telling him to go to the city. As he arrives in Antioch, he lays his hands over many people who are suffering from unclean spirits, healing them, and baptising many of them.

§ 2: Hearing about Erasmus, Diocletian summons him, interrogates him and learns that Erasmus is a Christian. Erasmus is of handsome appearance. He is confident and refuses to sacrifice, except to the living God creator of all things.

§ 3: Full of rage, the emperor orders his sides to be beaten with lead. As he is beaten, Erasmus thanks Jesus Christ and asks for his help. The emperor offers gold, silver, precious clothing and honours to the beautiful young Erasmus, who refuses.

§ 4: Full of rage, the emperor orders Erasmus to be beaten with sticks, but Erasmus’ back remains free of marks; the people are amazed at the power of the God of the Christians, but the emperor states that it is magic. Erasmus replies that the emperor is a devil, and that the magic is Christ, the son of God, born from the Virgin Mary, announced by the prophets, who redeems the sins of the world, lightens the darkness of ignorance and will strike him for all eternity. Full of rage, the emperor orders Erasmus’ flesh to be ripped off with iron claws (ungulae). Erasmus thanks God and chants Psalm 78.

§ 5: Full of rage, the emperor orders lead, pitch, sulphur and resin to be melted and poured over Erasmus. An angel refreshes him. Erasmus tells the emperor that his tortures have no effect, the people ask for him to be released, the bishop of the city. There is a powerful earthquake with lightning and thunder, killing a third of the people (tertia pars populi). The angel stays with Erasmus and brings blind men to the light of Christ. The emperor flees, thinking that it is the gods who are punishing the city because of Erasmus’ blasphemy.

§ 6: Full of rage, the emperor orders Erasmus to be sent to prison, and his neck and hands to be bound to iron weights, and no food or water to be given to him. The emperor marks the door of the prison with his seal-ring. In the middle of the night Erasmus prays to Jesus Christ asking for help; suddenly the prison is full of light and perfume, twelve burning chandeliers appear in front of the martyr and bishop Erasmus. An angel comes, the iron weights melt. He blesses the Lord with a long prayer, recalling the examples of the three young Hebrews in the furnace, and of Daniel, Abacuc, and Susanna. Then the angels tell Erasmus to go to Italy (Italia) where he will earn eternal life. Flying like a dove, he arrives in Sidugridum. When the emperor finds out that Erasmus has disappeared, and as the whole city is in turmoil and as the Christians search for him, the emperor tells everyone that Erasmus has been taken to heaven.

§ 7: In Sidugridum, Erasmus baptises many people, and heals the sick and the blind. A noble and distinguished citizen named Anastasius is bringing his dead son to the grave, when the Lord tells Erasmus to resurrect him. Erasmus arrives at the tomb and tells Anastasius that if he believes in Jesus Christ his son will be returned to him in good health. The crowd is amazed, Anastasius asks if Erasmus can resurrect his son, but Erasmus tells him that it is the Lord Jesus Christ who can do it. Anastasius tells him that he will believe with all his household and all the people, if his son is returned to him. Erasmus prays over the body and resurrects the boy, who shouts that the God of Christians is great and that the gods that they had adored are nothing: he has seen them in hell. Anastasius and all his household and all the people believe. Forty thousand people are baptised, Erasmus thanks Jesus Christ quoting Jesus’ saying in the Gospels that those who ask shall receive. A voice from heaven tells Erasmus that he will be granted all that he asks. The people are blessed by the Lord and idols are removed. For seven years Erasmus teaches the people about Christianity.

§ 8: The emperor Maximian hears what happened in Sidugridum from a certain Probus. The emperor orders Erasmus to be brought to his court and there he interrogates him about his religion (religio). Erasmus does not reply, the emperor orders his jaw to be crushed, then Erasmus tells him that he confesses Jesus Christ the son of God, who was crucified in Judea. The emperor suggests that he will die in the same way, Erasmus is pleased. The emperor tries to convince him to sacrifice; Erasmus asks to see the gods.

§ 9: The emperor goes, with all the people, to the temple of Jupiter where musical instruments are prepared, while Erasmus is brought to Sirmium (civitas Sirmitana). Erasmus prays to Christ asking for an angel to be sent to help him against the Devil. When he is brought to the temple, he asks to see the god; the emperor brings him inside the temple and shows him a twelve-cubit-high statue of bronze. Immediately the statue falls and is reduced to ash, and a huge dragon (draco) comes out of it and kills a third of the people (tertia pars populi). The emperor mounts a horse and goes to his palace, cursing. Half of the people (media pars populi) ask Erasmus to pray for them to be spared from the dragon, he tells them that he will do so, if they believe in the Lord. Then Erasmus forces the dragon to stop corrupting (contaminare) anyone.

§ 10: Christians praise Christ and Erasmus baptises almost forty thousand people; there was a fight in heaven between angels and the Devil. Erasmus proclaims the Glory of God, those who are turned to the Lord (conversi ad Dominum) reply ‘Amen’. The whole civitas Sirmitana is in disorder, and the emperor sends armed men to punish with the sword all those who converted to God. Three hundred and thirty men are martyred; they are sent by Erasmus to the holy city prepared by the Lord, before he will join them. Angels receive their souls in heaven, and chants are heard up to heaven. Erasmus sees this, and is pleased as a good shepherd who brought his sheep to Christ.

§ 11: Full of rage, the emperor orders Erasmus to be arrested and tortured. He orders Erasmus to be dressed in a bronze and burning-hot tunic. Erasmus tells the emperor that he does not fear tortures, signs himself with the cross and puts on the tunic, chanting Psalm 65 and Wisdom 3. The tunic immediately becomes cold as snow, leaving him free of marks. Erasmus tells the emperor that he has been defeated and will burn with his father the Devil. The people shout that the God of the Christians is great, but the emperor says that it is magic. Erasmus replies that it is Christ the Son of God who did these miracles. He is amazed at the emperor's lack of shame (verecundia).

§ 12: The emperor, full of rage, orders a cooking pot (olla) of twenty jars (urnae) to be prepared, and lead, pitch, wax, resin and oil to be melted, put into it and heated. Erasmus says that this is a cooling for him (refrigerium), he makes the sign of the cross and enters the pot. Immediately, like the Lord over the waters, the Lord’s power is shown: a wave pours out of the pot and burns the emperor, who asks for Erasmus’ help. Erasmus curses him but agrees to help him for the sake of the people who are present. Immediately the emperor ceases to suffer and many believe.

§ 13: The emperor orders the martyr of God (martyr Dei) to be put into custody, bound to a huge iron weight. As Erasmus prays, the angel Michael appears to him and tells him that he will lead him to the province of Campania (campania provincia) to the city of Formia, to teach the people. He takes him out of the civitas Sirmitana, comes to Curratium, where he finds a small boat ready, which brings him to the province of Campania. The next day the emperor is troubled as he does not find Erasmus and he says that God has taken him away. The martyr comes to Formia and rests for seven days thanks to divine grace. An angel gives him his daily bread. Then a voice is heard from heaven, telling Erasmus to come and rest in the city prepared by God for his brothers the martyrs and prophets, and receive the fruit of his labour. Erasmus looks to heaven, sees a crown and a multitude of apostles and prophets, bows his head, tells the Lord to receive his soul, and gives up his spirit. His soul is seen, white as snow, brought by angels with great glory in heaven, on the 4th day of the Nones of June [= 2 June].

Tunc beatus Erasmus pro viduis et orphanis precabatur: Domine, unigenite Dei Patris, qui me fecisti requiescere in loco meo, qui est locus habitationis tuæ, concede, ut qui me petierit in nomine tuo, recipiat suam mercedem Sabbato et Dominica. Non recedam a loco isto.

‘Then the blessed Erasmus prayed for widows and orphans: “Lord, only-begotten son of God the Father, who brought me to rest in this place of mine, which is a place of dwelling of yours, grant that anyone who prays to me in your name, shall receive his reward on Saturday and Sunday. I will not withdraw from this place.’

[This passage is constructed by the editors of Acta Sanctorum on the basis of manuscript variants, Mombritius and the Greek version. Mombritius (1910), I, 488 has: ‘Tunc beatus Erasmus pro viduis et orphanis deprecabatur dicens: Domine Iesu Christe unigenite fili dei patris qui me fecisti requiescere in loco meo qui est locus habitationis tuae concede ut qui me petierit in nomine tuo recipiat mercedem suam sabbato et dominica. Ego Erasmus de hoc loco non recedam.’ The manuscript Paris, BNF, lat. 10861, f. 75v (9th c.) has a similar passage: ‘Tunc sanctus era


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Erasmus, martyr and bishop of Formia (Italy), ob. c. 303 : S00867

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Italy south of Rome and Sicily

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Formiae Adriatic Sea Adriatic Sea Adriaticum Mare

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

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracles experienced by the saint Punishing miracle Miracles causing conversion Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Miracle with animals and plants Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money) Healing diseases and disabilities Power over life and death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous sound, smell, light

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Pagans Aristocrats Officials Monarchs and their family Crowds Demons Animals

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Erasmus 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 novelistic 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 light on the rise of the cult of saints. The Martyrdom of Erasmus The Martyrdom is preserved in one main early version, with variant beginning and endings, BHL 2578-2582 (it is impossible, without a critical edition, to determine which variants are the earliest and how the variants developed). According to the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta (, BHL 2578 is first found in three 9th century manuscripts: Paris, BNF, lat. 10861, f. 70r-75v (9th c.), digitized at (actually a variant ending close to BHL 2582: 'ibi cum iustis et electis qui sanguinem suum fuderunt pro nomine domini nostri ihesu Christi cui est honor et gloria in saecula saeculorum amen.'); Brussels, Bibliothèque des Bollandistes, 14, f. 16r-18r (9th or 10th c.); Vatican City, Bibilioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Reg. lat. 516, f. 106v-109v (9th c.).


The Martyrdom shows that cult of Erasmus developed in Formia, although it situates the saint’s origins in Antioch, and refers to travels and miracles in Sidugridum (a town of uncertain identification, possibly a corrupt version of Singidunum, modern Belgrade, or an alternative unknown toponym of modern Ohrid, anciently known in Greek as Lychnidos, where cult of Erasmus is attested at a later period), Sirmium and Curratium (perhaps the island of Krk, Croatia). Evidence for cult of Erasmus in Late Antiquity is concentrated in Formia and the region of Naples, and in Rome, see S00867. Vella (2016) provides a recent overview of scholarship on Erasmus of Formia. The Martyrdom of Erasmus is preserved both in Latin and in Greek: in the absence of studies on the different versions and their manuscript transmission, it is unclear whether the text was first written in Latin or in Greek. There is no clear agreement in the scholarship: von Falkenhausen suggests that the text was first written in Latin, then only translated into Greek, perhaps in the 10th century (BHG 602), the earliest Latin version being BHL 2578-2582 (with variant beginnings and endings) and the earliest Latin reworkings dating from the 11th and 12th centuries (BHL 2584-2585). Desantis (1988) and Follieri (2006) argue in favour of an original Greek text produced in Italy in Late Antiquity and later translated into Latin. The earliest Latin version of the Martyrdom (BHL 2578-2582) was clearly written by the early 9th century: the earliest manuscripts date from that period; the Martyrdom is also known to the 9th century martyrologies of Ado, Rabanus Maurus and Usuardus, and the relics of Erasmus were transferred from Formia to Gaeta in the mid 9th century. Moreover, in Rome, paintings in S. Maria in via Lata and a depiction of Erasmus in S. Maria Antiqua, both dated to the mid 8th century, perhaps show knowledge of the Martyrdom.


Editions: BHL 2578-2582: Acta Sanctorum, Iun., I, 213-216. BHL 2582: Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), I, 485-488. The original edition was published c. 1480. Further reading: Bratož, R., “Die frühchristliche Kirche in Makedonien und ihr Verhältnis zu Rom,” in: Dietz, K., and Kaletsch, H. (eds.), Klassisches Alterum, Spätantike und frühes Christentum. Adolf Lippold zum 65. Geburtstag gewidmet (Würzburg, 1993), 509-551, esp. 512-516. Desantis, G., “Gli Atti greci di S. Erasmo,” Vetera Christianorum 25 (1988), 487-555. Desantis, G., "Il culto di S. Erasmo fra Oriente e Occidente," Vetera Christianorum 29 (1992), 269-304. von Falkenhausen, V., “S. Erasmo a Bisanzio,” in: Ciccone, S. (ed.), Formianum. Atti del Convegno di studi sull’antico territorio di Formia (Marina di Minturno, 1996), 79-92. von Falkenhausen, V., “Problemi di traduzione di testi agiografici nel Medioevo: il caso della passio sancti Erasmi,” in: Boesch Gajano, S. (ed.), Santità, culti, agiografia. Temi e prospettive, Atti del I convegno di studio dell’Associazione Italiana per lo Studio della Santità, dei Culti e dell’Agiografia, Roma, 24-26 ottobre 1996 (Rome, 1997), 79-92. Follieri, E., “I santi dell’Italia greca,” in: Jacob, A., Martin, J.-M., and Noyé, G. (eds.), Histoire et culture dans l’Italie byzantine: acquis et nouvelles recherches (Rome, 2006), 95-126. Luongo, G., “Erasmo di Formia,” in: Leonardi, C., Ricciardi, A., and Zarri, G. (eds.), Il grande libro dei santi (Cinisello Balsamo, 1998), 612-616. Vella, A., “Formia. S. Erasmo. Ecclesia,” in: Ferrante, C., Lacam, J.-C., and Quadrino, D. (eds.), Fana, templa, delubra. Corpus dei luoghi di culto dell’Italia antica (FTD), vol. 4: Regio I. Fondi, Formia, Minturno, Ponza (Paris, 2016), 60-66. Available online at (consulted 9/5/2017).

Continued Description

smus orabat pro viduas et orfanos dicens: Domine ihesu christe filium genite rogo ut si quis in hoc loco habitationis meae peterit ut habeat mercedem suam sabbato vero et dominica. Ego erasmus de hunc locum non recedo.’]Text (BHL 2578-2782): Acta Sanctorum, Iun., I, 213-216. Summary and translation: M. Pignot.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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