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E03243: The Martyrdom of *Alexander (bishop and martyr of Baccano in northwestern Italy, S01533) is written in Latin, presumably in Baccano, at an uncertain date, by the 8th c. at the latest. It narrates the miracles and conversions performed by Alexander, his trial, death and burial in a furnace where he had been tortured. An inscription is put on the tomb, miracles happen, and later a church is built over it. The text also narrates the trial, death and burial of a convert named Herculanus.

online resource
posted on 2017-07-11, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Alexander (BHL 273)

The story is told by a priest ordained by Alexander who speaks in the first person as an eyewitness to most events.


§§ 1-2: At a time of persecution of Christians under the emperor Antoninus, the bishop Alexander converts people to Christianity. He resurrects a boy with a prayer and the boy describes his descent to hell and how he was brought back to life by an angel thanks to Alexander. All convert to Christianity and, as it is early March, they are baptised at Easter, in total 14,132 individuals. Alexander performs several other miraculous healings.

§ 3: Hearing about this, Antoninus sends Cornelius, primus palatinus, with 150 soldiers to arrest Alexander. He finds us preaching in the church on Sunday. Alexander tells the crowd, who want to kill Cornelius with stones, to let them seize him. He ends the mass and I, who have been ordained a priest by him, go to Rome with my wife, Alexander’s sister, and with Bonifacius and Vitalius.

§ 4: At that time Antoninus builds a mausoleum for himself on the via Claudia at the 17th milestone. As we arrive in Rome, Cornelius learns that Antoninus is in Tuscia and quickly reaches him. When Cornelius arrives at the Clivus Parralis he stops and takes Alexander down from the horse, his hand bound, to the praetorium Fusci. I follow them and watch what happens in hiding. Alexander is summoned before Antoninus’ tribunal. I follow him and hear everything.

§§ 5-6: Antoninus leaves Alexander with the choice of either offering sacrifice to the gods or suffering torture. Alexander refuses to yield; he is sent to prison for four days to see if he changes his mind. After this, I weep and fall asleep. I dream of the angel Michael, who tells me that he has freed Alexander from his chains and comforted him. He also advises me to hide somewhere else, as I am in danger of being seized.

§ 7: Antoninus rewards Cornelius, naming him governor and giving him the consulate, while I hide. After four days, Antoninus prepares a tribunal and wild beasts in the praedius Nevianorum. Alexander still refuses to offer sacrifice. He is tortured on a rack, his sides are burnt with torches but he mocks the emperor. Antoninus orders him to be taken down from the rack and offers him wealth if he agrees to sacrifice to Jupiter and Apollo. Alexander asks to see the gods.

§§ 8-11: Rejoicing, Antoninus brings Alexander to a temple of Apollo together with 3000 men. He enters first and thanks the god. Then Alexander enters, makes a sign of the cross and prays to the Lord: the idol and a portion of the temple fall down. Antoninus orders Alexander to be brought to the amphitheatre and thrown to four bears and then two lions that however lick his feet. The people praise Alexander and question Antoninus’ trial. The emperor orders a furnace to be prepared in the vicus Baccatensis where there are public baths. Antoninus orders Alexander to be thrown in the furnace after he again refused to reject God in exchange of wealth and honour. In the furnace he prays to Jesus Christ, recalling the three young Hebrews in the furnace (Daniel 3) and asking for mercy. The fire is extinguished, the furnace becomes cool and Alexander is left totally unharmed.

§§ 12-13: Cornelius advises Antoninus to order Alexander’s beheading. As he is brought to the place of execution by soldiers, a young attendant of the emperor named Herculanus speaks against Antoninus’ actions, praises Alexander and God and rejects the idols. He tells the emperor that he never persecuted Christians since he has been baptised but has remained Christian in hiding during his fourteen years of service. Antoninus orders him to be arrested. They reach a fountain, two feet away from the road (via) and 130 feet from the vicus; there, Alexander washes his face and hands and entrusts his soul to the Lord. Then they come to the 20th milestone of the via Claudia, where there is a marble inscription placed on top of high-reaching stones and overlooking the road, seven feet from the road and seventy-five from the milestone. There Alexander is beheaded. An earthquake follows, leaving the area of the furnace, the baths and the vicus in ruins.

§§ 14-15: I steal the body at night and prepare for his burial in a small crypt, sending Bonifacius to buy perfume. At night, however, I dream of Alexander who tells me to bury his body at the furnace and for my part to stay in my place where I will be safe and will be able to write and preserve his story (gesta) from persecutions. In the morning I tell everything to Bonifatius, we embalm the body and bury it as told by Alexander and I write in marble and place this inscription over his tomb:

Hic requiescit sanctus et venerabilis martyr Alexander episcopus, cujus depositio celebratur undecimo Kal. Octobris

‘Here rests the holy and venerable martyr Alexander the bishop, whose deposition is celebrated on the 11th day of the Calends of October’ [= 21 September]

I also read and corrected the exemplars that Cornelianus dictated and Prothasius put into writing, which were then stored by Prothasius in his library [see § 17 for clarification]. The fourth day after Alexanders’ burial, Antoninus tells Cornelianus to kill the young man [Herculanus] and hide his body to avoid him becoming a martyr.

§ 16: The boy is thrown at night by soldiers on Cornelianus’ orders in the middle of a lake with a stone bound to his neck, but the stone is untied and he stands over the water. He prays to the Lord asking that He may receive his spirit; a voice from heaven welcomes him and he gives up his spirit.

§ 17: The soldiers see this and tell Cornelianus. On the seventh day after Alexander’s burial, Cornelianus comes to his tomb and reads the inscription. He tries to destroy it but his hand is withered, he falls to the ground and is seized with pain. His wife brings him to the praetorium Fusci on a litter (pavo). In the middle of the night he shouts to Alexander asking for help. She brings him back to his tomb. As his hand lies on the tomb it is immediately healed and Cornelianus falls asleep until the next morning. The next day Cornelius learns everything about Alexander; he comes back to the praetorium Fusci and tells everything to his daughter and Prothasius who puts it into writing.

§ 18: A just and fearing man comes to me and tells me that a shining man visited him in a dream and told him to go at the feet of the mountain where lies the body of the boy Herculanus, to take it and bury it in my cemetery (cimiterium). He found the body ad fontes Crecianos, carried it in a wheelless cart (traga), wrapped it in two linen cloth (syndones) and buried it in his cemetery carved in ripa neotupho on the sixth day before the Calends of October [= 26 September].

§ 19: After the death of Antoninus, Cornelianus gives his daughter to Prothasius. Learning about the former public baths in the vicus Baccanensis, Prothasius restores them. I ask Prothasius to build a church (ecclesia) over the tomb of the martyr. He agrees and assigns me four builders to complete it. I also obtain permission to build a cemetery (cimiterium) over an area of three hundred feet. The dedication of the church is celebrated on the 10th day before the Calends of April, Constantinus and Crispus reigning for the second time [= 23 March 321].

Text: Acta Sanctorum, Sept., VI, 230-235. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Alexander, martyr of Baccano in northwestern Italy : S01533 Michael, the Archangel : S00181

Saint Name in Source

Alexander Michael

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)

Baccano Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Descriptions of cult places

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Destruction/desecration of saint's shrine

Cult Activities - Miracles

Saint aiding or preventing the translation of relics Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Punishing miracle Miracles causing conversion Healing diseases and disabilities Power over life and death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Miracle at martyrdom and death Saint aiding or preventing the translation of relics

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Officials Soldiers Angels Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Animals Women Children Family Crowds

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Construction of cult building to contain relics

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects



Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Alexander 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 Alexander The main and earliest version of the Martyrdom is BHL 273. According to the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta (, it is attested in fifteen manuscripts, the earliest from the 8th and 9th centuries: Paris, BNF, lat. 5288, f. 1r-9r (8th c.); Paris, BNF, lat. 5299, f. 137r-145r (9th c.). A slightly different version is transmitted in Vienna, ÖNB, lat. 357, f. 87r-91r (9th-10th c.) as noted by Lanéry.


The Martyrdom is of uncertain date of composition, but should have been written by the 8th century at the latest, when it is found in manuscripts. An alternative version is probably borrowed by Ado in the 9th century in his martyrology (Quentin, H., Les martyrologes historiques du Moyen Âge. Etude sur la formation du martyrologe romain (Paris, 1908), 489). It is generally dated to the 5th or 6th century (Lanzoni; Dufourcq; Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2161; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 51), however Lanéry (followed by Vocino) argues that its focus on topography better corresponds to the medieval resettlement of the town of Baccano after the Lombard invasions, suggesting a date in the Lombard period, in the 8th century.


Edition (BHL 273): Acta Sanctorum, Sept., VI, 230-235. 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 310-311. Vocino, G., “L’Agiografia dell’Italia centrale (750-950),” in: Goullet, M. (ed.), Hagiographies. Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550, vol. VII (Turnhout, 2017), 95-268, at 209-210.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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