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E03223: The Martyrdom of *Donatus and Hilarianus (martyrs of Arezzo under the emperor Julian, S01527) is written in Latin, presumably in Arezzo in central Italy, by the early 9th c., perhaps in the 7th or 8th c. It narrates Donatus’ education in Rome together with the emperor Julian, his flight to Arezzo where he stays with the monk Hilarianus, the miracles and conversions they perform, Donatus’ consecration as bishop of Arezzo, the martyrdom of the two saints, and Donatus’ burial near Arezzo.

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posted on 2017-07-11, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Donatus and Hilarianus (BHL 2289)


In Rome, the priest (praesbyter) Pigmenius of the titulus Pastoris, instructs the reader (lector) Donatus on both worldly wisdom and divine teaching, together with the subdeacon (subdiaconus) Julian. When Julian becomes emperor he persecutes Christians. Pigmenius is jailed, Donatus’ father and mother are killed by the sword, and Donatus flees to Arezzo (oppidum Arrhetium), where he lives with the monk Hilarianus, earnestly praying, fasting and chanting psalms.

In the same city, a widow named Syramia, living with her pagan son, has been blind for nine years and cannot find any cure, despite having spent all her wealth. At that time, many sick people come to Donatus and Hilarianus and are cured after receiving food with a prayer. Hearing this, Syramia comes with her son named Herculius to Hilarianus and Donatus to be healed. Donatus agrees to cure her if she abandons idols and converts to the Christian faith. Her son brings the idols of Juno and Jupiter in a box and she breaks and burns them. Hilarianus and Donatus tell what happened to the bishop Saturius; he summons Syramia, asks her to state her belief, then initiates and baptises her. After receiving the chrism she regains sight. Syramia praises Christ with her son and goes home.

I, Apronianus, hearing about this, went at night to Arezzo and brought my possessed son to Donatus to be cured, in the house of bishop Saturius. Saturius, Donatus and Hilarianus prayed and my son was healed. From that day Donatus remains with the bishop; he is ordained a deacon then a priest.

When the governor (rector) of Tuscia and tax collector (exactor fisci) Eustasius is away collecting tax, enemies attack the province; his wife Euphrosyna hides the money then dies. When Eustasius comes back his wife is dead and he cannot find the money; he is arrested but escapes from prison and goes to ask Donatus for help. Then Donatus comes to Euphrosyna’s tomb and prays, asking her to reveal where she has hidden the money. A voice from the tomb tells them where to find it. Eustasius is thus freed. All start to admire and love Donatus. A few days later, Saturius dies and Donatus is elected as his successor. He is consecrated by the bishop Julius in Rome, then returns to Arezzo and celebrates his first mass with the deacon Anthimus. As the deacon brings the blood of Christ to the people in a chalice, he is hit by pagans, the chalice falls and is broken. Donatus takes the broken pieces and miraculously repairs it with a prayer. Many pagans convert and are baptised.

After 28 days, Quadratianus, augustalis, has Donatus and Hilarianus arrested, accusing them of using magic to retrieve the money and of converting people to Christianity against the orders of the emperor Julian. He summons them to offer sacrifice, but Donatus refuses. Donatus’ mouth is crushed with stones and he is sent to prison where he cures many sick Christians who come to visit him. Hearing this, Quadratianus orders Donatus to be beheaded in prison on the 7th day before the Ides of August [= 7 August]. Their bodies [this implies a lacuna in the text about Hilarianus’ death] are taken by Christians and buried near the city of Arezzo.

Text: Mombritius 1910, I, 416-418. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Donatus, bishop, and Hilarianus, monk, martyrs of Arezzo : S01527

Saint Name in Source

Donatus, Hilarianus

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 north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Arezzo 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 - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Healing diseases and disabilities Miracle during lifetime Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Freeing prisoners, exiles, captives, slaves Exorcism Power over objects Miracles causing conversion

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Women Pagans Officials

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Chalices, censers and other liturgical vessels


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Donatus and Hilarianus 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 Donatus There are number of versions of the Martyrdom (three main recensions: BHL 2289-2292, BHL 2293, BHL 2294), the earliest and most widespread, our focus here, is BHL 2289. There are more than 40 manuscripts preserved of BHL 2289 (see the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta ( and Licciardello 2005, 22-29), the earliest from the 9th century: Brussels, Bibliothèque des Bollandistes, 14, f. 75r-76v (9th-10th c.); Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, HB XIV.14, f. 93r-96v; Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 846, f. 113v-115r (9th-10th c.); Vienna, ÖNB, lat. 357, f. 190v-194r (9th c.).


Found in manuscripts since the 9th-10th century and borrowed from by Ado in his martyrology in the 9th century, the Martyrdom, following Dufourcq’s hypothesis, was generally dated to the 6th century, before Gregory the Great, on the ground that the pope would have used it in his dialogues to refer to Donatus’ miraculous repair of a broken chalice (E04433). However, as summarised by Licciardello, there is little evidence to corroborate such a borrowing. Moreover, Donatus is originally recorded as a confessor (see the Martyrologium Hieronymianum and the Gelasian sacramentary) and is attested as a martyr only through his Martyrdom and in Bede and later martyrologies. It is more plausible that Bede knew the Martyrdom since he describes Donatus’ miracle in terms closer to it than Gregory, although Licciardello has also argued against this, putting forward the hypothesis that Bede knew another, now lost, Life of Donatus mentioning the miracle. For Licciardello this Life was later adapted into a martyrdom account, to produce our Martyrdom. Accepting Bede’s borrowing would put our Martyrdom before the early 8th century, otherwise, as suggested by Licciardello, the Martyrdom can be more broadly dated to the 7th or 8th century. Dufourcq, Licciardello and Lanéry underline that the Martyrdom bears clear contacts with the Martyrdoms of Gallicanus, Iohannes and Paulus, and of Pigmenius and Bibiana (respectively E02520 and E02503), written by the 7th century at the latest. It would borrow elements, in particular characters, from both accounts (and from the two versions of E02520) and follow up the narrative of Pigmenius and Bibiana’s martyrdom. For a detailed discussion of the Martyrdom and of the figure of Donatus, see more in Licciardello 2004 and 2005.


Edition (BHL 2289): Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), I, 416-418. The original edition was published c. 1480. Further reading: Dufourcq, A., Étude sur les Gesta martyrum romains, 5 vols. (Paris, 1988; first edition in 4 volumes, 1900-1907), III, 165-169. Lanéry, C., "Hagiographie d'Italie (300-550). I. Les Passions latines composées en Italie,” in: Philippart, G. (ed.), Hagiographies. Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550, vol. V (Turnhout, 2010), 15-369 at 307-308. Licciardello, P., “La Passio sanctorum Donati et Hilariani (BHL 2289-2294),” Sanctorum 1 (2004), 89-96. Licciardello, P., Agiografia aretina altomedievale. Testi agiografici e contesti socio-culturali ad Arezzo tra VI e XI secolo (Florence, 2005), esp. 22-29 and 229-304.

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