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E05765: Latin inscription in mosaic in the apse of the church of S. Agnese fuori le mura on the via Nomentana, Rome, built by Pope Honorius I (625-638). The inscribed poem praises the beauty of the scene depicted above: the crowning by God of *Agnes (virgin and martyr of Rome, S00097) with a martyr's crown, and the offering of the basilica to her by Honorius. An inscription on the same mosaic labels the image of Agnes.

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posted on 2018-06-18, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
The inscription, divided into three columns, is on the mosaic of the apse, in its lower register; above is the image of Agnes, flanked by Pope Honorius, offering her the basilica, and a cleric holding a book:

+ aurea concisis surgit pictura metallis
et conplexa simul clauditur ipsa dies,
fontibus e niveis credas aurora subire
correptas nubes, roribus arva rigans,

vel qualem inter sidera lucem proferet irim
purpureusque pavo ipse colore nitens.
qui potuit noctis vel lucis reddere finem
martyrum e bustis hinc reppulit ille chaos.

sursum versa nutu quod cunctis cernitur uno
praesul Honorius haec vota dicata dedit.
vestibus et factis signantur, illius ora
lucet, et aspectu lucida corda gerens 

3. read auroram Ferrua || 4. read rigantem Ferrua: these readings slightly alter the translation of verses 3 and 4 compared with the one we present below. For other altered readings, see the lemma in ICVR, n.s., VIII, no. 20757

'You see how the golden picture rises from precious tesserae, as though daylight is enclosed in its clasp. You would think that the clouds rose up, hastened at dawn from snowy sources, and [daylight] scattered the fields with dew or the purple peacock, shining with its own colour, displayed its light like the rainbow through the stars. He who can give an end to nights or lights, from here has repulsed chaos from the tombs of the martyrs. What each sees with a single upward glance, these beautiful votive offerings, the prelate Honorius gave. By clothes and deeds he is marked, the edge of his [garment] shines, bearing the aspect of bright hearts.'

The figure of Agnes, shown in the mosaic above, is labelled above her head:

s̅(an)c̅(t)a̅ Agnes / 'Saint Agnes'

Text: ICVR, n.s., VIII, no. 20757 = EDB9577 and EDB41685. For the translation (here lightly modified), see Bibliography.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Agnes, virgin and martyr of Rome : S00097 Martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S00060

Saint Name in Source

Agnes martyres

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.) Images and objects - Narrative scenes Images and objects - Wall paintings and mosaics Literary - Poems Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)


  • 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

Suburban catacombs and cemeteries

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

Suburban catacombs and cemeteries Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings

Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Public display of an image

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - Popes


The inscription, albeit in a restored form, is still displayed in three columns in the lower register of the apse mosaic of the church of Sant'Agnese fuori le mura on the via Nomentana. The text is executed in gold letters on a black background. Letter height 7.3 cm. The text refers to the upper register, showing Saint Agnes in the middle, wearing purple and white imperial garments richly decorated with gold and jewels. Agnes has a nimbus and a small crown. She is holding a roll. A sword lies by her feet, and flames are touching her shoes. To the left of her, one can see Pope Honorius bringing a small model of the church, and to the right of her an unlabelled man with a book in a gold cover (identified by different scholars as Gregory the Great, Pope Silvester, or Pope Symmachus). Both men wear brown robes and white pallia. Above the three figures there is an image of the sky with stars, and the hand of God is stretching downwards, placing a second, bigger crown on the head of Agnes. The entire scene is shown against a golden background. The text was recorded and transcribed already by medieval travellers to Rome. It features in the Sylloge Centulensis (codex Petropolitanus F. XIV 1 f. 129), the Sylloge Laureshamensis (codex Vaticanus Palatinus 833 f. 63), the Sylloge Virdunensis (codex Virdunensis 45 f. 213v col. 2), in the Anthologia Latina (codex Parisinus latinus 8071 f. 61 col. 1), and in the Sylloge Cantabrigiensis (codex Cantabrigiensis Kh. IV.6 f. 246v). The manuscript copies are of different quality. The text first appeared in print in 1602, published by Jan Gruter from the Sylloge Laureshamensis. Other editors, whose works are thoroughly presented by Antonio Ferrua in the eighth volume of the Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae (see also our bibliography) used either just the manuscript copies or consulted the mosaic itself. The reference edition is now that by Antonio Ferrua who examined the mosaic in 1946, using a ladder, and republished it, also with the use of manuscript copies and earlier editions in 1983. The present-day form of the mosaic is heavily influenced by a restoration in 1855-1856, by order of Pope Pius IX. Antonio Ferrua complains that the restorers modified the text, which had already been subjected to changes by early modern renovations. In his edition Ferrua aims at presenting the text as close to the 7th c. original as possible.


The date of the mosaic is provided by the pontificate of Pope Honorius I, 625 - 638. His generous donation is described by the Liber Pontificalis, in the paragraph on the Life of Honorius: 'Then he built from the ground up the church of St Agnes the martyr at the 3rd mile from Rome on the via Nomentana, where the body rests...' (see E01443). Honorius' work is, on the other hand, presented as a major restoration by the Notitia ecclesiarium urbis Romae: 'Then [you go] by the via Nomentana to the church of St Agnes, which is beautiful and in which she rests alone. This [church] was also wonderfully repaired by bishop Honorius.' (see E00676) The composition resembles that of the now lost mosaic from the demolished church of S. Eufemia on the Esquiline Hill. The flames and sword beneath the feet of Agnes refer to incidents in her Martyrdom (E02475).


The inscription has been edited many times, both from the manuscript copies in the Sylloges, and from the mosaic itself. Here we can give only several basic reference works. For a detailed list of editions, see the lemma by Antonio Ferrua in ICVR, n.s., VIII, no. 20757. Edition: Epigraphic Database Bari, nos. EDB9577, see Epigraphic Database Bari, nos. EDB41685, see De Santis, P., Sanctorum Monumenta: "Aree sacre" del suburbio di Roma nella documentazione epigrafica (IV-VII secolo) (Bari: Edipuglia, 2010), no. 101. De Rossi, G.B., Ferrua, A. (eds.) Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae Septimo Saeculo Antiquiores, n.s., vol. 8: Coemeteria viarum Nomentanae et Salariae (Vatican: Pont. Institutum Archaeologiae Christianae, 1983), no. 20757. Diehl, E., Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae Veteres, vol. 1 (Berlin: Apud Weidmannos, 1925), no. 1769A. Duchesne, L., Le Liber pontificalis, vol. 1 (Paris: E. Thorin, 1886), 325, note 9. Armellini, M., Il cimitero di s. Agnese sulla via Nomentana (Rome: Tipografia Poliglotta della S.C. di Propoganda Fide, 1880), 373. De Rossi, G. B., Inscriptiones christianae Urbis Romae septimo saeculo antiquiores 2.1 (Rome: Ex Officina Libraria Pontificia, 1857-1888), 89, no. 42; 104, no. 36; 136, no. 17; 249, no. 19. Luigi Gaetano Marini through a copy by Giuseppe Garampi in: Angelo Mai, Scriptorum veterum nova collectio e Vaticanis codicibus edita, vol. 5 (Rome: Typis Vaticanis, 1831), 418, no. 3 (from the codex Closterneoburgensis 723). Gruter, J., Inscriptiones antiquae totius orbis Romani, in corpus absolutissimum redactae (Heidelberg: Ex officina Commeliniana, 1602), 1172 no. 4 (from the codex Vaticanus Palatinus). For English translations, see: Guest, C.L., The Understanding of Ornament in the Italian Renaissance (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 159, note 132 (verses 1-6 translated by the author with the aid of Helen Conrad O'Briain) - this is the version we follow here for the beginning of the poem. The website Roman Churches Wikia:'Agnese_fuori_le_Mura which, in a slightly modified form, we follow for lines 7-12. Further reading: Carletti, C., "Epigrafia monumentale di apparato nelle chiese di Roma dal IV al VII secolo: Dalla lettura alla contemplazione", in: Atti del VI Congresso Nazionale di Archeologia Cristiana (Pesaro-Ancona, 19-23 settembre 1983) (Ancona: , 1985), 283. Carletti, C., "L'epigrafia di apparato degli edifici di culto da Constantino a Gregorio Magno", in: L. Pani Ermini, P. Siniscalco (eds.), La comunità cristiana di Roma: La sua vita e la sua cultura dalle origini all'Alto Medioevo (Roma, 12-14 novembre 1998) (Città del Vaticano: , 2000), 456. De Santis, P., Sanctorum Monumenta: "Aree sacre" del suburbio di Roma nella documentazione epigrafica (IV-VII secolo) (Bari: Edipuglia, 2010), 47-48. Frutaz, A.P., Il complesso monumentale di S. Agnese (Rome: Tipografia poliglotta vaticana, 1976), 67-68. James, L., Mosaics in the Medieval World. From Late Antiquity to the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 282-283. Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs. Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford: OUP, 2018), chapter XVII.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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