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E02989: Gildas, in his treatise On the Destruction of Britain, refers to the martyrdom of *Polycarp (bishop and martyr of Smyrna, S00004), and quotes him. Written in Latin in Britain, c. 480/c. 550.

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posted on 2017-06-13, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Gildas, On the Destruction of Britain 75

Sed ad propositum revertar: quis, inquam, ex vobis, ut Smyrnensis ecclesiae pastor egregius Polycarpus Christi testis, mensam humane hospitibus ad ignem eum avide trahentibus apposuit et obiectus flammis pro Christi caritate dixit: 'Qui dedit mihi ignis ferre supplicium, dabit ut sine clavorum confixione flammas immobiliter perferam'.

'But I must return to my theme. Which of you, I say, like the excellent Polycarp, shepherd of the church of Smyrna and Christ's witness, thoughtfully provided a meal for his guests when they were eager to start dragging him off to the flames, and when cast on the fire for the love of Christ said: "He who granted that I should bear the punishment of the fire will grant that I should bear the flames to the end unmoving, without being nailed down".'

Text and translation: Winterbottom 1978.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Polycarp, bishop and martyr, and other martyrs in Smyrna, ob. 2nd c. : S00004

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Theological works


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Britain and Ireland

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

St Albans St Albans Verulamium

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Transmission, copying and reading saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops


Gildas wrote the tract known as On the Destruction of Britain (De excidio Britanniae - there are several variants of the title) at an unknown location in Britain, some generations after the end of Roman rule and the subsequent invasion by the Anglo-Saxons. His work was intended to admonish contemporary Britons, and especially the church, that the conquests of the Anglo-Saxons were a punishment for their sins. On the Destruction of Britain contains no information that allows it to be dated precisely, and modern estimates of its date of composition vary considerably, from as early as the 480s to as late as the 550s, though the most common opinion places it in the period around 540. For a brief account of what is known about Gildas, see Kerlouégan 2004.


Gildas' reference to the martyrdom of Polycarp, and the remark by Polycarp that he quotes, are taken from the Latin translation of Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History produced by Rufinus of Aquileia at the beginning of the 5th century (Ecclesiastical History 4.15.31). Eusebius' account is itself taken from the earlier Martyrdom of Polycarp (E00035; E00014). Gildas' knowledge of Polycarp, based on a literary source, does not indicate that there was any cult of Polycarp in 6th century Britain.


Edition and translation: Winterbottom, M., Gildas, The Ruin of Britain and Other Works (Chichester: Phillimore, 1978). Text of Gildas' source: Schwartz, E., and Mommsen, T., Eusebius Werke 2/1 (Die Griechische Christlichen Schriftsteller 9/1; Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs, 1903-08). Further reading: Kerlouégan, F., "Gildas [St Gildas] (fl. 6th-7th cent.)," in: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). Online edition (; accessed 22/08/2017.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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