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E04202: Prudentius, in his Latin Crowns of the Martyrs (Peristephanon), written c. 400 in Calahorra (northern Spain) in a poem on the martyrdom of *Hippolytus (martyr of Rome, S00509), tells of the condemnation of Hippolytus by the emperor, to be torn apart by wild horses at Ostia (the port of Rome). His body is torn apart and parts of it are scattered all over the place of martyrdom. The faithful gather them together, take them to Rome, and bury them there. There is a painting in the place of burial of Hippolytus showing the scene of martyrdom and the gathering up of the body.

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posted on 2017-10-23, 00:00 authored by mszada
Liber Peristephanon, Poem XI.119-152

Scissa minutatim labefacto corpore frusta
120 carpit spinigeris stirpibus hirtus ager.
Pars summis pendet scopulis, pars sentibus haeret,
parte rubent frondes, parte madescit humus.
Exemplar sceleris paries habet inlitus, in quo
multicolor fucus digerit omne nefas,
125 picta super tumulum species liquidis uiget umbris
effigians tracti membra cruenta uiri.
Rorantes saxorum apices uidi, optime papa,
purpureasque notas uepribus inpositas.
Docta manus uirides imitando effingere dumos
130 luserat et minio russeolam saniem.
Cernere erat ruptis conpagibus ordine nullo
membra per incertos sparsa iacere situs.
Addiderat caros gressu lacrimisque sequentes,
deuia quo fractum semita monstrat iter.
135 Maerore attoniti atque oculis rimantibus ibant
inplebantque sinus uisceribus laceris.
Ille caput niueum conplectitur ac reuerendam
canitiem molli confouet in gremio;
hic umeros truncasque manus et bracchia et ulnas
140 et genua et crurum fragmina nuda legit.
Palliolis etiam bibulae siccantur harenae,
ne quis in infecto puluere ros maneat.
Si quis et in sudibus recalenti aspergine sanguis
insidet, hunc omnem spongia pressa rapit.
145 Nec iam densa sacro quidquam de corpore silua
obtinet aut plenis fraudat ab exequiis.
Cumque recensetis constaret partibus ille
corporis integri qui fuerat numerus,
nec purgata aliquid deberent auia toto
150 ex homine extersis frondibus et scopulis,
metando eligitur tumulo locus; ostia linquunt,
Roma placet, sanctos quae teneat cineres.

'The body is shattered, the thorny shrubs which bristle on the ground cut and tear it to little bits. Some of it hangs from the top of rocks, some sticks to bushes, with some the branches are reddened, with some the earth is wet. There is a picture of the outrage painted on a wall, showing in many colours the wicked deed in all its details; above the tomb is depicted a lively likeness, portraying in clear semblance Hippolytus' bleeding body as he was dragged along. (127) I saw the tips of rocks dripping, most excellent Father, and scarlet stains imprinted on the briers, where a hand that was skilled in portraying green bushes had also figured the red blood in vermilion. One could see the parts torn asunder and lying scattered in disorder up and down at random. The artist had painted too his loving people walking after him in tears wherever the inconstant track showed his zig-zag course. (135) Stunned with grief, they were searching with their eyes as they went, and gathering the mangled flesh in their bosoms. One clasps the snowy head, cherishing the venerable white hair on his loving breast, while another picks up the shoulders, the severed hands, arms, elbows, knees, bare fragments of legs. With their garments also they wipe dry the soaking sand, so that no drop shall remain to dye the dust; and wherever blood adheres to the spikes on which its warm spray fell, they press a sponge on it and carry it all away. (145) Now the thick wood held no longer any part of the sacred body, nor cheated it of a full burial. The parts were reviewed and found to make the number belonging to the unmutilated body; the pathless ground being cleared, and the boughs and rocks wiped dry, had nothing of the whole man still to give up; and now a site was chosen on which to set a tomb. They left the river-mouth, for Rome found favour with them as the place to keep the holy remains.'

For a description of the burial site see $E04212.

Text: Cunningham 1966, 374-375. Translation: Thomson 1953, 313-315.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Hippolytus, martyr of Rome : S00509

Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Iberian Peninsula

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Calahorra Osset Osset Osen (castrum) Osser castrum

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Descriptions of images of saints

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Bodily relic - head Bodily relic - arm/hand/finger Bodily relic - blood Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics


Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348–after 405) was a Christian aristocrat from Calahorra in the Spanish province of Tarraconensis. He was a high official in the imperial bureaucracy in Rome, but withdrew from public life, returned to Calahorra, and dedicated himself to the service and celebration of God. Most of what we know about his biography comes from the preface to the ensemble of his works, which can be reliably dated to 404 (Cunningham 1966, 1-2), and other autobiographical remarks scattered throughout his works (for a detailed discussion, see Palmer 1989, 6-31). He composed several poetical works, amongst them the Peristephanon (literally, On the Crowns [of the Martyrs]), a collection of fourteen poems of different length describing martyrdoms of saints. We do not know exactly at which point in his literary career Prudentius wrote the preface (possibly at the very end, just before publication); for attempts at a precise dating of the Peristephanon, see Fux 2013, 9, n. 1. The poems in the Peristephanon, written in elegant classical metres, deal mainly with martyrs from Spain, but some of them are dedicated to saints of Rome, Africa and the East. The poems were widely read in the late antique and medieval West, and had a considerable influence on the diffusion of cult of the saints included. In later periods they were sometimes used as hymns in liturgical celebrations and had an impact on the development of the Spanish hymnody. Some indications in the poems suggest that they were written to commemorate the saints on their feast days, but Prudentius probably did not compose them for the liturgy of his time. Rather, they probably provided 'devotional reading matter for a cultured audience outside a church context' (Palmer 1989, 3; see also Chapter 3 in her book).


Editions of the Peristephanon: Cunningham, M.P., Prudentii Carmina (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 126; Turnhout: Brepols, 1966), 251-389. Bergman, J., Prudentius, Carmina (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 61; Vienna, 1926), 291-431. Translations of the Peristephanon: Eagan, C., Prudentius, Poems (Fathers of the Church 43; Washington D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1962), 95-280. English translation. Thomson, H.J., Prudentius, vol. 2 (Loeb Classical Library; London Cambridge, Mass: W. Heinemann; Harvard University Press, 1953), 98-345. Edition and English translation. Further reading: Brent, A., Hippolytus and the Roman Church in the Third Century: Communities in Tension before the Emergence of a Monarch-Bishop (Leiden: Brill, 1995). Fux, P.-Y., Prudence et les martyrs: hymnes et tragédie. Peristephanon 1. 3-4. 6-8. 10. Commentaire, (Fribourg: Academic Press, 2013). Malamud, M.A., A Poetics of Transformation: Prudentius and Classical Mythology (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989). Palmer, A.-M., Prudentius on the Martyrs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989). Roberts, M., Poetry and the Cult of the Martyrs: The "Liber Peristephanon" of Prudentius (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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