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E05327: Maximus of Turin composes three Latin sermons in Turin, northern Italy, between c. 390 and 408/423 in honour of the feast day of the *Anaunian martyrs (Sisinnius, Martyrius and Alexander, ob. c. 397, S00605).

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posted on 2018-04-12, 00:00 authored by frances
Maximus of Turin, Sermons 105, 106 and 107

Sermon 105
Cum omnes beatos martyres, quos nobis tradit antiquitas, honorificentia digna miremur, praecipue tamen sanctos Alexandrum Martyrium et Sisinium, qui temporibus nostris passi sunt, debemus tota ueneratione suspicere. Nescio quo enim pacto maiorem circa hos habemus affectum, quos conscientia nouit propria, quam quos docet historia.

‘Although we admire with due reverence all the blessed martyrs that antiquity gives us, yet we ought especially to receive Saints Alexander, Martyrius and Sisinius, who suffered in our time with a wholehearted veneration. For in some way we have a greater affection for those with whom we have been personally acquainted than those about whom history teaches us.’

Maximus states that this is because seeing the suffering of martyrs is more impactful than simply reading or hearing about it. Devotion is owed to these martyrs for three reasons. Firstly, in shedding their blood they bring glory to the current age. Secondly, because they reveal the faith of Christians of the current time. Thirdly, because they were martyred in a time of peace. They were not persecuted, but instead were made confessors through their Christian devotion.

The men – one deacon and two clerics – were building a church in the region of Anaunia. Some local people wished to conduct a lustrum, and the saints pointed out the error of their ways. They were attacked as a result, they died, and their bodies were burned in the ruins of the church. In this burning, their bodies were ‘not cremated, but consecrated’ (consecrata sunt ... non cremata). Their death encourages many others to be like them.

‘Thus where Christ once suffered persecution in three martyrs, now he rejoices in the many Christian people of that place.’

Sermon 106
Maximus refers to the feast day (natalis) celebrated in honour of Alexander, Martyrius and Sisinius just a few days earlier. He again emphasises that they were martyred in a time of peace. They died not at the hands of a vengeful ruler, but because they rebuked the sacrilegious. In particular, they condemned a practice called lustrum. Maximus exhorts his congregation to imitate the saints in rebuking the impious.

Sermon 107
No mention is made of Alexander, Martyrius and Sisinius, but Maximus refers to a sermon he made a few days ago (Sermon 106). He exhorts his congregation to remove idols from their possession and delivers a sermon on the evils of idolatry.

Text: Mutzenbacher 1962. Translation: Ramsey 1989.
Summary: Frances Trzeciak.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Anaunian Martyrs (Sisinnius, Martyrius, Alexander), ob. c. 397 : S00605

Saint Name in Source

Sisinnius, Alexander, Martyrius

Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • 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)

Turin Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Maximus of Turin

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Sermon/homily

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Uncertainty/scepticism/rejection of a saint

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops


Maximus was bishop of late antique Turin, but the exact dates of his episcopate has been contested over the centuries. Gennadius of Marseille, writing in the late-fifth century, refers to a prominent bishop of Turin – called Maximus - who composed sermons on a variety of topics. According to Gennadius (De viris illustribus 41), this Maximus died in the reign of Honorius and the younger Theodosius, which would place Maximus’ death between 408 and 423. This was challenged in the early 17th century. Cardinal Baronius believed that the author of the sermons was the same Maximus who signed the acts of the Council of Milan in 451 and the Council of Rome in 465. He claimed that there was a mistake in Gennadius’ account: Maximus did not die, but instead ‘flourished’ (claruisse) between 408 and 423. Although this view was held until the end of the 19th century, it is now widely accepted that there were two bishops of Turin called Maximus, and that the author of the sermons did in fact die between 408 and 423. For a full overview of this argument, see Mutzenbecher’s preface to her critical edition of Maximus’ sermons. Mutzenbecher’s edition contains 119 sermons, of which 106 are viewed as authentic. 89 of these apparently constituted the collection available to Gennadius in Marseille at the end of the fifth century. These sermons were preached to the congregation in Turin on a variety of different topics. Many of them were preached to celebrate the feast day of a specific saint. Andreas Merkt has identified three main motivations guiding Maximus’ sermons on the saints. Firstly, he argues that Maximus preached on saints to provide examples for his congregation to follow. Secondly, that Maximus uses stories of martyrdom to communicate messages about the importance of Christ’s passion and the nature of the Eucharist to his congregation. Thirdly, Merkt argues that the saints Maximus focused on reflect his view on the ideal structure of the Church: he emphasises the primacy of Peter and Paul and the Roman church.


Vigilius of Trent (ob. 405) provides an account of this martyrdom, which took place in the vicinity of his episcopal seat, in a letter to John Chrysostom (E01086). These martyrs suffered and died in the Val di Non in Alpine northern Italy. Maximus uses the feast day of these martyrs to preach a sequence of sermons which exhort his audience to move against pagan practices – for example devotion to idols or the practice of lustrum. This practice involved the procession of sacred objects. The reference to the greater impact of seeing the martyrs over reading about them is often taken as a sign Maximus witnessed the martyrdom of Alexander, Martyrius and Sisinius. Yet it is possible he only used this language to make this account more immediate and vivid: it did not necessarily mean he had witnessed their death.


Edition: Mutzenbecher, A., Maximi episcopi Taurinensis Collectionem sermonum antiquam (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 23; Turnhout: Brepols, 1962). Translation: Ramsey, B., The Sermons of Maximus of Turin (Ancient Christian Writers 50; Westminster MD: Newman Press, 1989). Further Reading: Lizzi, R., "Ambrose’s Contemporaries and the Christianisation of Northern Italy," Journal of Roman Studies 80 (1990), 156-173. Merkt, A., Maximus I. von Turin. Die Verkündigung eines Bischofs der frühen Reichskirche im zeitgeschichtliche liturgischen Kontext (Leiden:Brill, 1997).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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