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E03233: The Martyrdom of *Sabinus and Companions (martyrs of Assisi and Spoleto, S01878) is written in Latin, presumably in Spoleto, at an uncertain date, by the mid 9th c. at the latest. It narrates the miraculous healings and conversions performed by Sabinus; the trial and martyrdom in Assisi of the deacons Marcellus and Exuperantius, the converted persecutor Venustianus and his family, and the bishop Sabinus. In contrast to the other protagonists, Sabinus’ tomb is situated in Spoleto, where miracles happen.

online resource
posted on 2017-07-11, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Sabinus and Companions (BHL 7451-7453)

We have produced a summary on the basis of Baluzius’ edition, which gives a text listed in the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina as BHL 7452 (other numbers record small variants in the ending that have not been considered here).


§§ 1-2: On the 15th day before the Calends of May [= 17 April] in the circus maximus the emperor Maximian defeats the Blues (Veneti) at the sixth run and most of the people shout against Christians, twelve times, and again ten times in the presence of the urban prefect Hermogenianus. Maximian convokes the people in the Capitol on the 10th day before the Calends of May [= 22 April] and announces that Christians will be arrested and compelled to offer sacrifice. Someone comes to the urban prefect Hermogenianus and tells him that there is a bishop who meets with Christians, teaches and seduces the people. Hermogenianus tells the emperor Maximian, who, on the day before the Calends of May [= 30 April], sends an order of persecution against Christians to Venustianus, augustalis Tusciae.

§ 3: Venustianus sends soldiers to arrest the bishop Sabinus (Savinus), a most eloquent and learned man, in the city of Assisi. There Sabinus is imprisoned together with two deacons, Marcellus and Exuperantius, and several other clerics (clerici). The next day, Venustianus, vir clarissimus, arrives in Assisi, and the following one, he orders a tribunal to be prepared in the middle of the forum. Sabinus is interrogated about his condition, together with his two deacons. He says that he is a sinner and servant of Jesus Christ, freed from the Devil’s servitude, and a bishop. Venustianus asks him why he teaches people to abandon the gods and follow a dead man. Sabinus tells him that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. Venustianus gives him the choice either to offer sacrifice or be killed. Sabinus replies that he wants to die and be resurrected like Jesus Christ.

§§ 4-5: Sabinus further recalls miracles of Jesus and rejects the cult of idols. To further show that idols are demons and should not be worshipped, he asks Venustianus to bring his god, a precious statue of Jupiter which he keeps in his chamber. Sabinus states that this is no god and that he will demonstrate it. He takes the statue in his hands, prays, throws it to the ground and breaks it.

§§ 6-7: Venustianus is enraged and orders Sabinus to be maimed; his hands are cut off. The deacons are frightened but Sabinus comforts them. Exuperantius and Marcellus then speak against the gods. Venustianus collects the fragments of the statue in linen cloth and puts them in a silver box to be sent to his home. He orders Marcellus and Exuperantius to be tortured on a rack in front of Sabinus, and summons them to sacrifice. Sabinus exhorts them to keep their resolve, and Marcellus states that they offer themselves as sacrifice and ask for forgiveness from God. Venustianus orders them to be beaten with sticks, but they praise the Lord Jesus. Venustianus then orders their sides to be lacerated with claws, they die, and their bodies are thrown into the river. Sabinus is sent to prison. A fisherman and a priest (presbyter) collect the bodies and bury them next to the road on the day before the Calends of June [= 31 May].

§ 8: After six days, Serena, a matrona from Spoleto, widowed for 31 years, and a Christian who prays, fasts and gives alms, comes at night to Sabinus and takes care of him, kissing his feet. She takes Sabinus’ hands in her own house, places them in a glass jar (dolium) with perfume and keeps her eyes on it night and day. At that same time, Serena brings her blind nephew (nepos) to Sabinus, that no physician is able to cure. Serena asks Sabinus to pray to God for him to be healed. Sabinus puts his maimed arms on the eyes of the blind man and prays God in tears; then he kneels, still weeping and prays further. Finally, he puts his maimed arms on the eyes with another prayer and Serena’s nephew Priscianus regains sight. All who are present see God’s wonders performed through Sabinus and fall at his feet, asking to be baptised. Eleven individuals are baptised on that day.

§§ 10-11: 33 days later Venustianus, the governor (praeses) of Tuscia experiences great eye pain; he cannot take any food nor sleep, and no doctor can alleviate his pain. He learns that Sabinus gives sight to the blind and sends his wife and two sons to ask Sabinus for help in prison. Sabinus praises God and comes to Venustianus’ house. Venustianus is placed at Sabinus’ feet, who, with tears, prays to Christ. Venustianus, his wife and sons, reply in tears that they have sinned. Sabinus asks Venustianus to believe and repent. He orders the fragments of the statue to be brought to him, then for them to be crushed and thrown into the river. Venustianus is in pain, Sabinus asks him if he believes; he states that he believes and has sinned; Sabinus tells him that if he repents, believes and is baptised he will be healed and earn eternal life. Venustianus asks for baptism; he is initiated by Sabinus, together with his wife and sons and baptised.

§§ 12-14: As he comes out of the font, Venustianus regains sight and feels no pain. He weeps at Sabinus’ feet, asking him to pray to God to forgive him for what he has done. Sabinus tells him that he has not sinned against him. They start living together. Maximian learns that Venustianus has been baptised. He orders Sabinus and Venustianus to be beheaded. The tribune Lucius has Venustianus and his wife and sons beheaded without trial in the city of Assisi. They bodies are hidden by Christians, never to be found.

§ 14: Sabinus is arrested, brought to Spoleto and beaten to death without trial. His body is collected by the matrona Serena, who had already collected his hands. She joins them to the body and buries it around two milestones away from Spoleto on the 7th day before the Ides of December [= 7 December]. There, the blind regain sight, the sick are healed, demons are exorcised.

Text: Baluzius 1679, 47-55. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Sabinus and companions, martyrs of Spoleto (central Italy) : S01878

Saint Name in Source

Sabinus/Savinus, Marcellus, Exuperantius, Venustianus

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 - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Specialised miracle-working Miracles causing conversion Healing diseases and disabilities Exorcism

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Pagans Monarchs and their family Soldiers Officials Physicians Other lay individuals/ people Crowds Family

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - arm/hand/finger Bodily relic - entire body Collections of multiple relics Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Touching and kissing relics Privately owned relics Reliquary – privately owned

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Ampullae, flasks, etc.


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Sabinus 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 Sabinus There are number of versions of the Martyrdom with variants: the oldest seems to be BHL 7451-7453 (the numbers recording variants in the beginning and ending of the narrative), while BHL 7454 and BHL 7455 are the main alternative versions, probably to be dated later. There are more than 60 manuscripts of BHL 7451-7453 (see the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta [] and a complementary list in D’Angelo 2017, 336), the earliest are from the 9th-10th centuries: Brussels, Bibliothèque des Bollandistes, 14, f. 135v-136v (9th-10th c.); Trier, Stadtsbibliothek, 232 (9th c.); Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Pal. Lat. 846, f. 140v-141v (9th-10th c.); Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. Lat. 5771, f. 160v-163r (9th-10th c.).


The Martyrdom includes an interesting account of veneration of relics: Sabinus’ hands, cut off when he is still alive, are said to be taken by the matrona Serena and put in a glass jar for veneration in her own home. After Sabinus’ death, however, they are reunited to the body by the same Serena. The Martyrdom is of uncertain date of composition but should have been written by the 9th century at the latest when it is found in manuscripts and borrowed by Ado in his martyrology (Quentin, H., Les martyrologes historiques du Moyen Âge. Etude sur la formation du martyrologe romain (Paris, 1908), 567 and 658). Against Dufourcq and Lanzoni, who suggested a dating in the 6th century (adopted by Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2228; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 85), recent hypotheses rather put the date of composition of the Martyrdom between the 8th and 9th century (see Paoli, Everett and a recent summary in D’Angelo). Paoli in particular argues that there are no references to conflict and the Arian crisis, which would go against a date in the 6th century (despite this being a quite weak argument from silence). He further notes, however, that a date between the 8th and 9th century would fit with the close links established in the narrative between Spoleto and Assisi, which should be understood as an attempt by the hagiographer, writing in Spoleto, to highlight the frontier between Spoleto and Perugia at a period of uncertainty over territorial boundaries. Scholars (see in particular Dufourcq, Paoli and D’Angelo) also highlight possible connections to other Umbrian hagiography (close themes and characters), in particular the Martyrdom of *Pontianus (E03231), the Martyrdom of *Terentianus (E03234), the Martyrdom of *Concordius (E03250), the Martyrdom of *Constantius (E03252) and those of Cassianus of Todi (BHL 1637) and Gregorius of Spoleto (BHL 3677).


Editions (BHL 7451-7453): Baluzius, S., Miscellanea II (Paris, 1679), 47-55 (= I, Lucca, 1761, 12-14). De Azevedo, E., Vetus missale Romanum monasticum Lateranense (Rome, 1754), 467-477. Further reading: D’Angelo, E., “Bibliotheca Hagiographica Umbriae – pars altera – (314-1130),” in: Goullet, M. (ed.), Hagiographies. Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550, vol. VII (Turnhout, 2017), 269-344, at 309-311 and 336. Dufourcq, A., Étude sur les Gesta martyrum romains, vol. III (Paris, 1907), 87-97 and 122. Everett, N., “The Hagiography of Lombard Italy,” Hagiographica 7 (2000), 49-126, 118-120. Lanzoni, F., “La Passio S. Sabini o Savini,” Römische Quartalschrift 17 (1903), 1-26. Lanzoni, F., Le diocesi d’Italia dalle origini al principio del secolo vii, 2 vols. (1927), 438-440. Paoli, E., “L’agiografia umbra altomedievale,” in Umbria cristiana. Dalla diffusione del culto al culto dei santi (secc. IV-X), Atti del XV Congresso internationale di studi CISAM, Spoleto, 23-28 ott. 2000 (Spoleto, 2001), 479-529, at 515-519.

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