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E05812: Agnellus of Ravenna, in his Liber Pontificalis Ecclesiae Ravennatis, quotes 6th c. Latin inscriptions from a church dedicated to *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030) in Ravenna (northern Italy); Agnellus claims the church was founded in 546/557. Account written in Ravenna in 830/846.

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posted on 2018-06-19, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Agnellus of Ravenna, Liber Pontificalis Ecclesiae Ravennatis 72

Aedificauit que ecclesiam beati Stephani hic Rauennae, leuitae et martiris, non longe a posterula Ouilionis a fundamentis; mira magnitudine decorauit pulcherrime que ornauit, et in cameris tribunae sua effigies tessellis uariis infixa est, et per in giro mirifice opere uitreo constructa est, multas que reliquias ibidem condidit sanctorum de corporibus, quorum nomina ita exarata inuenietis:

In honore sancti ac beatissimi primi martiris Stephani seruus Christi Maximianus episcopus hanc basilicam, ipso adiuuante, a fundamentis construxit et dedicauit die tertio Idus Decemb., indictione .xiiii., nouies p. c. Basilii iunioris.

‘And he [Maximian, Bishop of Ravenna, 546-557] built from the foundations the church of St Stephen, deacon and martyr, here in Ravenna, not far from the Ovilian gate; he enhanced it with wonderful size and furnished it most beautifully, and in the vaults of the apse his image is fixed in multi-coloured mosaic, and is surrounded by wonderful glasswork, and he established there many relics from the bodies of the saints, whose names you will find thus written:

In honour of holy and most blessed first martyr Stephen, Bishop Maximian, servant of Christ, by God’s grace built this church from the foundations and dedicated it on the third ides of December [December 11] in the fourteenth indiction, in the ninth year after the consulship of Basilius the younger.

Agnellus refers to the presence of the relics of several saints in the church.

Templa micant Stephani meritis et nomine sacra, 
Qui prius eximium martiris egit opus. 
Omnibus una datur sacro pro sanguine palma, 
Plus tamen hic fruitur, tempore quo prior est. 
Ipse fidem uotum que tuum nunc, magne sacerdos [5]
Maximiane, iuuans, hoc opus explicuit. 
Nam talem subito fundatis molibus aulam 
Sola manus hominum non poterat facere. 
Vndecimum fulgens renouat dum luna recursum 
Excepta et pulchro condita fine nitet. [10]

The temple of Stephen shines, holy in relics and in name, he who first performed the exceptional act of martyrdom. The same palm is given to all for holy blood; however he benefits from it more who was earlier in time. He himself now assisting your faith and your vow, great priest [5]. Maximian has completed this work. For the hand of man alone could not so soon have made such a hall form its foundation walls. When the gleaming moon was new for the eleventh time, the church which had been begun shines established in beautiful completion [10].’

Text: Deliyannis 2006. Translation: Deliyannis 2004.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)


  • 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)

Ravenna Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Agnellus of Ravenna

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Renovation and embellishment of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Bodily relic - unspecified

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects



Agnellus of Ravenna (ob. c. 846) was a deacon of the cathedral in Ravenna and – by hereditary right – abbot of two monasteries in Ravenna. He wrote his Liber Pontificalis Ecclessiae Ravennatis between 830 and 846, following the model of the Roman Liber Pontificalis. This work provides biographies of all the bishops of Ravenna from the legendary founder bishop Apollinaris to those active in Agnellus’ own day, and was originally composed to be delivered orally, most likely to clerics of Ravenna. This text is preserved in two manuscripts: one from the 15th c. (Bibliotec Estense Cod. Lat. 371 X.P.4.9.) and a fragmentary manuscript from the 16th c. (MS Vat. Lat. 5834). Agnellus bases his account of the lives of late antique bishops on documents preserved in Ravenna, stories which had been transmitted orally, and his own experience of the architectural landscape of 9th c. Ravenna. Agnellus' work contains invaluable architectural and art historical information about Ravenna: Agnellus refers to several religious buildings in Ravenna and the neighbouring settlements of Caeserea and Classe. He describes their decoration and preserves several inscriptions, many of which are now lost to us. It must be remembered this is a 9th c. work. Agnellus’ descriptions of buildings and their fixtures is based on his 9th c. experience, and not late antique reality. Indeed, his accounts of the events of earlier years are often riddled with inaccuracies. Yet it is likely that his descriptions of the churches of Ravenna are more trustworthy. As Deborah Mauskopf Deliyannis argues, a comparison of surviving late antique mosaics with Agnellus’ account suggests that his descriptions were largely accurate. This is limited to what he does tell us – for example Arian foundations are often ignored whilst orthodox foundations are emphasised. Yet, overall, this text provides invaluable information about the cult of saints in late antique Ravenna.


Maps showing the likely locations of the foundations in Classe and Ravenna are attached to this record.


Text: Deliyannis, Deborah Mauskopf, Agnelli Ravennatis Liber pontificalis ecclesiae Ravennatis (Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 199; Turnhout, 2006). Translation: Deliyannis, Deborah Mauskopf, The Book of Pontiffs of the Church of Ravenna (Washington D.C., 2004). Further Reading: Deichmann, Friedrich Wilhelm, Ravenna, Hauptstadt des spätantiken Abendlandes, vol. 1-3, (Wiesbaden, 1958-89). Deliyannis, Deborah Mauskopf, Ravenna in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, 2010). Mackie, Gillian, Early Christian Chapels in the West: Decoration, Function and Patronage (Toronto, 2003). Moffat, Ann, "Sixth Century Ravenna from the Perspective of Abbot Agnellus," in: P. Allen and E.M. Jeffreys (eds,), The Sixth Century – End or Beginning? (Brisbane, 1996), 236-246. Morini, E., "Le strutture monastische a Ravenna," in: Storia di Ravenna, 2.2, Dall’età bizantia all’ età ottania, ed. A. Carile (Ravenna, 1992), 305-312. Schoolman, Edward, Rediscovering Sainthood in Italy: Hagiography and the Late Antique Past in Medieval Ravenna (Basingstoke, 2016). Stansterre, J. M., "Monaci e monastery greci a Ravenna," in: Storia di Ravenna, 2.1, Dall’età bizantia all’ età ottania, ed. A. Carile (Ravenna, 1992), 323-329. Verhoeven, Mariëtte, The Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna: Transformations and Memory (Turnhout, 2011).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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