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E03253: The Martyrdom of *Ambrosius (martyr of Ferentino, S01866) is written in Latin, presumably in Ferentino (southeast of Rome), at an uncertain date, perhaps in the 9th c. It narrates the trial, miraculously endured tortures, and martyrdom of Ambrosius in Ferentino, together with fourteen converts.

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posted on 2017-07-11, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Ambrosius (BHL 375)


§ 1: At the time of the emperors Diocletian and Maximian, there is a noble Christian man named Ambrosius from the province of Liguria. He becomes a centurion under the governor (praeses) Datianus when the latter comes back from Hispania to the city. Datianus then comes to Rome to report on his activities; he is rewarded by the curia and sent to Campania to persecute Christians.

§ 2: As he stays in Ferentino (civitas Ferentina), Datianus learns from the accusations of pagans that Ambrosius is a Christian and rejects the worship of the gods. He orders him to be brought before him in front of all the people. Datianus interrogates Ambrosius who proclaims his Christian faith. Datianus orders him to be stripped from his military clothes. A golden collar is tied around his neck, he is chained and imprisoned, with the order that no one should visit him nor give him food or water. Ambrosius however receives food and consolation from angels for a month.

§ 3: Datianus, who, after a month, assumed Ambrosius was dead, summons him and asks him to offer sacrifice. As he refuses, Datianus asks his soldiers to strip him, put him on a scaffold (catasta), and beat him with rods. As he is beaten, Ambrosius calls for the Lord’s help. Datianus orders him to be taken out from the scaffold and beaten with lashes. As Ambrosius still refuses to offer sacrifice to the gods, Datianus orders him to be tortured on a rack. Ambrosius again asks for Christ’s help. Seeing a crowd gather for the spectacle, Datianus orders Ambrosius to be sent to prison.

§ 4: After a few days, Datianus summons Ambrosius and orders him to be tortured with burning plates. Since Ambrosius still does not yield, Datianus orders him to be thrown into a burning hot copper pot filled with pitch and resin. As he is put into the pot, Ambrosius tells Datianus that his tortures do nothing to him and that he is refreshed. He comes out unharmed.

§ 5: Datianus orders Ambrosius to be sent to prison in chains. The next morning, Ambrosius is brought chained and naked to the amphitheatre next to the porta Sanguinaria with a great crowd attending. As they come to the two arches (ad duos arcus) on top of which there are idols for worship, Ambrosius raises his hands and eyes to the sky and orders the destruction of the idols in the name of God. The idols fall and are broken. Shocked, Datianus tells the martyr to worship the idol of Mercury. However Ambrosius takes the idol in his hands, throws it to the ground and breaks it. Datianus is troubled and orders the martyr to be stretched in a scaffold and beaten.

§ 6: Datianus then orders a furnace (caminus) to be prepared and the martyr to be sent into it with his hands and feet tied. He is left there from the evening until the early morning. In the morning, citizens of Ferentino come to the furnace and find him unharmed. Datianus orders him to be thrown into the river Alabrus with his hands and feet tied and a huge stone bound to his neck. However, an angel of the Lord frees him. Seeing this, fourteen nobles from the city believe in God and are baptised.

§ 7: Datianus hears this and orders a tribunal to be prepared outside the city in the place called vicus and Ambrosius to be brought before him together with the fourteen converts. As they keep firm in their faith, Datianus orders them to be beheaded. They are brought to the place or execution and beheaded on the 17th day before the Calends of September [= 16 August].

Text: Catalogus 1893, 546-548. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Ambrosius, martyr of Ferentino (southeast of Rome) : S01866

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 south of Rome and Sicily

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Ferentino Adriatic Sea Adriatic Sea Adriaticum Mare

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Changing abilities and properties of the body Miracles experienced by the saint Miracle during lifetime Miracles causing conversion

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Soldiers Aristocrats Officials Crowds Angels Pagans

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Ambrosius 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 Ambrosius The earliest version of the Martyrdom is BHL 375, our focus here (BHL 376 being a later medieval reworking, see Lanéry with bibliography). The database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta ( lists a single 13th c. manuscript: Paris, BNF, lat. 3278, f. 142v-144r.


The Martyrdom is of uncertain date of composition. While it has been dated to the 6th century (Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 51-52), there is no evidence of borrowings in early sources and it is not found in manuscripts before the 13th century. The earliest written evidence about Ambrosius' cult is an inscription from the 9th century, witnessing to the translation of Ambrosius’ body within the walls of Ferentino in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore under pope Pascal I (817-824). Underlining the lack of early evidence for the martyrdom and the development of cult of Ambrosius in the early 9th century, Lanéry suggests that it was composed in that context, during the Carolingian period. Vocino notes that no details are provided about Ambrosius’ cult site in the Martyrdom and that it is possible that it was composed before the translation, between the mid 8th and early 9th century.


Edition (BHL 375): Catalogus codicum hagiographicorum latinorum antiquiorum saeculo xvi qui asservantur in Bibliotheca Nationali Parisiensi III (Brussels, 1893), 546-548. 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 318-319. 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 229-230.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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