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E03236: The Martyrdom of *Vigilius (bishop and martyr of Trent, S01407) is written in Latin, presumably in Trent, at an uncertain date, perhaps in the 7th or 8th c. It narrates Vigilius’ consecration as bishop, the evangelisation of the region of Trent; the martyrdom and burial of Sisinnius, Martyrius and Alexander, clerics he ordained in Anaunia (Anaunian martyrs, S00605); Vigilius’ martyrdom in the valley of Randena, the translation of his body and burial in Trent where miracles happen; the miraculous intervention of Vigilius’ written martyrdom account in battle against barbarians.

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posted on 2017-07-11, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Vigilius (BHL 8603)


§ 1: Prologue. Promotion of the narration of martyrdom accounts as an example to Christians.

§ 2: Presentation of Vigilius. Vigilius is a citizen of Trent educated in Rome and Athens. He becomes bishop at the age of 20, acclaimed by the people because of the miracles he performed. He is consecrated as the third bishop of Trent outside the walls by the bishop of Aquileia. He converts the people of the city through preaching and builds a church within the walls, where he performs miraculous healings and chases demons.

§§ 3-4: Vigilius’ evangelisation of the countryside. His reputation grows outside the city into the countryside and he converts the worshippers of idols from the whole diocese. He exhorts his priests and deacons to evangelise and asks the bishops of Verona and Brescia to preach Christianity outside their cities. They reject his request but Vigilius states that he is ready for martyrdom. Thus they give him permission to come to their territory, where he starts preaching and where he founds more than thirty churches.

§§ 5-6: Reference to the Anaunian martyrs. Sisinnius, Martyrius and Alexander, from Cappadocia, are ordained as clerics of Anaunia by Vigilius after a stay in Milan. There they perform conversions and found a church. They are then seized, tortured, bound and burnt, as is told in their account (gesta). Vigilius sees their souls taken to heaven by angels and is eager to follow their example. He goes with deacons to Anaunia, takes the martyrs’ ashes in clean linen cloth and brings them back to Trent where they are buried in the basilica built by Vigilius.

§ 7: Vigilius’ martyrdom. Vigilius goes to a hostile valley called Randena, in a slave estate of a rich man, where there are still pagans venerating a bronze statue of Saturn. On his way he passes by the city of Brescia, escorted by the inhabitants. He is accompanied by Claudianus, Magorianus and the priest Iulianus. Upon his arrival, Christians ask him to celebrate the Eucharist. He then comes to the statue, gives thanks to God, breaks it and throw it into the river Sarca. He stands on top of the statue’s stone base and starts preaching. A crowd of peasants comes and stones him to death. Later in that place a church is built.

§§ 8-9:Translation to Trent and burial. The priests and deacon accompanying him are left unharmed and thus are confessors. They take his body, place it on Vigilius’ horse and bring him back to Trent. On the way miracles happen; as they cross the bridge over the river Sarca, an armed crowd of citizens of Brescia tries to seize the body but they resist and bribe them with a silver vase. Those possessed by demons reveal Vigilius’ martyrdom even before his body arrives in town and they are freed. The priests and the Christian people gather for the funeral and Vigilius’ relics are buried with perfume on the third day of his passion in the church that he had built at the porta Veronensis. A merchant from Salona collects Vigilius’ blood on the road called Vela, places it in a clean linen cloth and takes it with him, where many miracles happen.

§§ 10-11: Reference to a written account performing miracles. The account (gesta) of Vigilius’ martyrdom is sent to the pope in Rome as is customary, who puts them among the records of the martyrs, after reading it. On advice of the pope, the written account is taken by the emperor and his army fighting against the Alamanni. A soldier uses it as a military standard and the enemy flees before battle begins. Thus the emperor comes back victorious and together with the pope they place the account in the archives and bury some relics of the martyr.

§ 12: Epilogue. Vigilius was martyred on the 6th day before the Calends of July [= 26 June]. He was a bishop for 12 years during the consulship of Stilico [= 400 or 405 AD].

Text: Degl’Innocenti 2013. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Vigilius, bishop and martyr of Trento : S01407 Anaunian Martyrs (Sisinnius, Martyrius, Alexander), ob. c. 397 : S00605

Saint Name in Source

Vigilius Sisinnius, Martyrius, Alexander

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)

Tridentum Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Activities Accompanying Cult

  • Meetings and gatherings of the clergy

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Saint as patron - of a community

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Miracles causing conversion Healing diseases and disabilities Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous interventions in war Exorcism

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Pagans Foreigners (including Barbarians) Monarchs and their family Aristocrats Soldiers Merchants and artisans Peasants Crowds Angels Demons

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Bodily relic - blood Bodily relic - corporeal ashes/dust Contact relic - cloth Miraculous books about saints Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Division of relics Making contact relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Raising of relics Other activities with relics


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Vigilius 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 Vigilius The earliest and most widespread version of the Martyrdom is BHL 8603 (while BHL 8602 is a later reworking). Recently, Degli Innocenti-Gatti provided a new critical edition of BHL 8603 listing 27 manuscripts, the earliest from the 9th century: St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, 566, f. 260-267 (9th c.); Verona, Biblioteca Capitolare, XCV (90), f. 174-177 (9th-10th c.).


The Martyrdom refers to the written late antique account about the Anaunian martyrs (on which see E01086). It also contains an interesting reference to a contact relic taken to Salona by a merchant, aimed at emphasising the popularity of cult of Vigilius beyond Trent. The narrative about Vigilius’ martyrdom account performing miracles in battle and being kept together with relics of the saint is quite peculiar within the genre of early Italian martyrdom accounts. The reference to an archive of martyrdom accounts kept by the pope in Rome is also noteworthy. The Martyrdom is of uncertain date of composition, but it must have been written after the account about the Anaunian martyrs (from the 5th century) and by the 9th century at the latest, when it is found in manuscripts and borrowed by Ado in his martyrology. Following Lanzoni, it is generally dated not earlier than the 6th century (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 214/2243; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 90). More recent studies suggest that features of the narrative best fit with a dating in the Lombard period in the 7th or 8th centuries, while it is most difficult to suggest a more precise dating (see Degl’Innocenti-Gatti; Everett 2000 and 2016; Lanéry; Vareschi).


Editions (BHL 8603): Cesarini-Sforza, L., “Gli atti di San Vigilio,” in: Scritti di storia e d’arte. Per il XV centenario della morte di S. Vigilio vescovo e martire (Trent, 1905), 5-29. Degl’Innocenti, A., and Gatti, P., Le agiografie di Vigilio, Massenzia, Adelpreto (Florence, 2013), with Italian translation. English translation: Everett, N., Patron Saints of Early Medieval Italy. AD c. 350-800 (Toronto, 2012), 133-138. Further reading: Degl’Innocenti, A., and Gatti, P., (ed., trans.), Le agiografie di Vigilio, Massenzia, Adelpreto (Florence, 2013). Everett, N., “The Hagiography of Lombard Italy,” Hagiographica 7 (2000), 49-126, 85-86. Everett, N., Patron Saints of Early Medieval Italy. AD c. 350-800 (Toronto, 2012), 124-132. 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 303-305. Lanzoni, F., Le diocesi d’Italia dalle origini al principio del secolo vii, 2 vols. (1927), II, 938. Vareschi, S., “Storia, tradizione, leggenda nella Passio S. Vigilii,”, in: Codroico, R., and Gobbi, D. (eds.), Vigilio vescovo i Trento tra storia romana e tradizione europea. Atti del Convegno, Trento, 2-13 ottobre 2000 (Trent, 2000), 235-257. Verrando, G., “La trasmissione manoscritta per una nuova edizione della Passio S. Vigilii episcopi ,” in: Codroico, R., and Gobbi, D. (eds.), Vigilio vescovo i Trento tra storia romana e tradizione europea. Atti del Convegno, Trento, 2-13 ottobre 2000 (Trent, 2000), 291-328 (with a critical edition of BHL 8603 and BHL 8607b).

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