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E05478: Pope Pelagius I, writing in Latin in Rome in 556, refers in two letters to a gift of relics of the Apostles *Peter (S00036) and *Paul (S00008), and other *unnamed saints and martyrs (S00518), to King Childebert I of the Franks, via the bishop of Arles, Sapaudus.

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posted on 2018-05-20, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Epistolae Arelatenses 48 (Pope Pelagius I to King Childebert, 'Rufinus vir', JK 942/JH 1895)

Letter from Pope Pelagius I to King Childebert, dated 11 December 556. Most of the letter is concerned with informing Childebert about the aftermath of the Second Council of Constantinople. At the end of the letter Pelagius adds the following:

... Reliquias vero tam beatorum apostolorum, quam sanctorum martyrum iam quidem per servos Dei monasterii Lyrenensis direximus; sed et nunc, quas legati vestri poposcerunt, nos misisse signamus, deputantes hominem Bonum subdiaconum ex clero ecclesiae nostrae, a quo usque ad fratrem et coepiscopum nostrum Sapaudum, iubente Domino, deferantur.

'We have already dispatched relics, both of the blessed apostles and of the holy martyrs, via the servants of God of the monastery of Lérins; but we now also affirm that we have sent those your ambassadors requested, entrusting them to the man Bonus, a subdeacon from the clergy of our church, by whom they may be brought, God willing, as far as our brother and fellow bishop Sapaudus.'

Epistolae Arelatenses 49 (Pope Pelagius I to Bishop Sapaudus of Arles, 'Quia legati', JK 943/JH 1896)

This is the opening of a letter from Pelagius to Bishops Sapaudus of Arles, dated 14 December 556.

Quia legati filii nostri gloriosissimi, regis Childeberti, beatorum apostolorum Petri et Pauli et aliorum sanctorum martyrum reliquias poposcerunt, necesse habuimus, hominem Bonum subdiaconum de clero nostro dirigere, qui eas usque ad fraternitatem tuam cum reverentia deportaret. Et ideo salutantes hortamur, ut, quęsita occasione sive navis, sive terreno cum talibus personis, de quibus nulla periculi possit esse suspicio, ad nos eum, iuvante Domino, remittatis. ...

Because the ambassadors of our most glorious son King Childebert requested relics of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, and of other holy martyrs, we have held it necessary to send the man Bonus, a subdeacon of our clergy, who will carry them with reverence as far as Your Fraternity. And so, greeting you, we ask that, having sought an opportunity, you send him back to us, with God's help, either by ship or by land with such persons as to whom there can be no suspicion of danger. ...'

The letter goes on to deal with other matters.

Text: Gundlach 1892, 72-73. Translation and summary: David Lambert.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Peter the Apostle : S00036 Paul, the Apostle : S00008 Martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S00060

Saint Name in Source

Petrus Paulus

Type of Evidence

Documentary texts - Letter


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Monarchs and their family

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries


These letters survive among the so-called Epistolae Arelatenses (Arlesian Letters), also known as the Collectio Arelatensis or the Liber auctoritatum ecclesiae Arelatensis, a collection of 56 letters and other documents relating to the see of Arles, dating from 417 to 557. The collection was compiled at some point after 557, presumably from the archives of the see. The fact that the letter to King Childebert appears in the collection suggests that Pelagius sent a copy to Sapaudus of Arles together with the letter actually addressed to him.


In these two letters, dating from 556, Pope Pelagius I (556-561) sends relics from Rome to the Frankish king Childebert I (r. 511-558). The first letter seems to imply that Pelagius had already sent relics to him via some monks from the monastery of Lérins in Provence (on their return from a visit, perhaps a pilgrimage, to Rome), but that then ambassadors sent to the pope by Childebert had made another, or more specific request, which Pelagius entrusted to one of his lower clergy, who was to take them to Sapaudus, the bishop of Arles. It was apparently left to Childebert and Sapaudus to arrange between themselves the transport of the relics from Arles to the king. It is virtually certain that the relics of Peter and Paul were contact relics, perhaps those known as sanctuaria (see E00615). The nature of the relics of the other, unnamed saints and martyrs mentioned by Pelagius is unknown.


Edition: Gundlach, W., Epistolae Arelatenses genuinae, in: Epistolae Merowingici et Karolini Aevi (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Epistolae 3; Berlin: Apud Weidmannos, 1892), 5-83.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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