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E03231: The Martyrdom of *Pontianus (martyr of Spoleto, S01874) is written in Latin, presumably in Spoleto, at an uncertain date, by the 9th c. at the latest. It narrates Pontianus’ arrest, tortures endured, death at the pons sanguinarius, and burial in the fundus Lucianus near the walls of Spoleto.

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posted on 2017-07-11, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Pontianus (BHL 6891)


§ 1: There is a persecution against Christians at the time of the emperor Antoninus. The judge (iudex) Fabianus is sent to Spoleto to compel Christians to offer sacrifice to the gods. He holds a tribunal and assembles all the people, telling them that anyone who refuses to sacrifice will be sentenced to death. Many agree to sacrifice but many keep the faith and are martyred.

§ 2: A certain God-fearing man named Pontianus refuses to sacrifice and is brought before the judge, who unsuccessfully tries to convince him to abandon Christianity and to adore pagan gods.

§ 3: Pontianus is stripped and severely beaten, but he persists in his faith. Fabianus gives Pontianus the choice between throwing incense on burning coals or walking barefoot over them. Pontianus makes a sign of the cross on his forehead and walks over the coals, challenging Fabianus to put his hand in hot water and be freed by Jupiter. Angered Fabianus orders Pontianus to be tortured on a rack; after this the torturers are exhausted.

§§ 4-5: Pontianus is sent to prison. Many religious people (religiosi) come to him and comfort him. Then Fabianus orders Pontianus to be brought to the amphitheatre, where two lions are sent to him. Pontianus prays to Christ for help and the lions are tamed and start adoring him. All the people proclaim that the Christian God is great and ask for Pontianus to be freed. Fabianus orders Pontianus to be sent back to prison and left there for 12 days to starve to death. In the middle of the night an angel of the Lord appears to him with heavenly food and comforts him. After twelve days the ministers find Pontianus alive and chanting Psalm 118:6.

§§ 6-7: The ministers tell the judge (praeses) Fabianus who orders molten lead to be poured over Pontianus but this does not harm him. Fabianus again summons Pontianus to offer sacrifice but he refuses, rejecting the idols. Fabianus orders Pontianus to be killed. Pontianus is taken to be executed, then, kneeling, he thanks God and asks Him to receive his spirit. The executioner kills him. Pontianus was martyred on the 19th day before the Calends of February [= 14 January]. Christians come at night, take his body from the ‘bloody bridge’ (pons sanguinarius) and bury it not far from the walls of the city, in the fundus Lucianus, on the 15th day before the Calends of February [= 18 January].

Text: Acta Sanctorum, Ian. I, 933-934. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Pontianus, martyr of Spoleto (Central Italy) : S01874

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 north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Spoleto 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

Miracles experienced by the saint Miracle during lifetime Changing abilities and properties of the body Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money) Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miracle with animals and plants

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Officials Torturers/Executioners Crowds Angels Animals

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Transfer, translation and deposition of relics


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrddom of Pontianus 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 Pontianus The earliest and most widespread version of our Martyrdom is BHL 6891, our focus here. It is preserved in 22 manuscripts according to the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta (, the earliest from the 9th-10th centuries: Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. Lat. 846, f. 69v-70v.


The Martyrdom is of uncertain date of composition but must date from the 9th century at the latest: it is used by Ado in his martyrology (Quentin, H., Les martyrologes historiques du Moyen Âge. Etude sur la formation du martyrologe romain (Paris, 1908), 564) and found in a 9th to 10th century manuscript. It has been dated to the 5th or 6th century, together with other accounts from Umbria (E03233, E03248,E03250, E03252, see Lanzoni; Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2220; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 83). As underlined by Lanéry, however, the early dating of these martyrdom accounts has been challenged, and the Martyrdom of Concordius (E03250) from which our Martyrdom may have borrowed, was probably composed in the 8th or 9th century. Thus our Martyrdom would also date from that period, before being borrowed by the Martyrdom of Constantius (E03252).


Edition (BHL 6891): Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), II, 387-389. The original edition was published c. 1480. Acta Sanctorum, Ian. I, 933-934. Further reading: 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 315.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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