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E05957: Prudentius, in his Latin Crowns of the Martyrs (Peristephanon), written c. 400 in Calahorra (northern Spain), in a poem on the martyrdom of *Laurence (deacon and martyr of Rome, S00037) tells of the gradual waning of pagan cults in Rome after the death of Laurence and the rise of Christian practices – visiting the churches, especially that of Laurence, prayer and singing of hymns, veneration of relics.

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posted on 2018-07-14, 00:00 authored by mszada
Liber Peristephanon II.485–536

485 Hic finis orandi fuit
et finis idem uinculi
carnalis; erupit uolens
uocem secutus spiritus.

Vexere corpus subditis
490 ceruicibus quidam patres,
quos mira libertas uiri
ambire Christum suaserat.

Repens medullas indoles
adflarat et coegerat
495 amore sublimis dei
odisse nugas pristinas.

Refrixit ex illo die
cultus deorum turpium;
plebs in sacellis rarior,
500 Christi ad tribunal curritur.

Sic dimicans Laurentius
non ense praecinxit latus,
hostile sed ferrum retro
torquens in auctorem tulit.

505 Dum daemon inuictum dei
testem lacessit proelio,
perfossus ipse concidit
et stratus aeternum iacet.

Mors illa sancti martyris
510 mors uera templorum fuit,
tunc Vesta Palladios lares
inpune sensit deseri.

Quidquid Quiritum sueuerat
orare simpuuium Numae,
515 Christi frequentans atria
hymnis resultat martyrem.

Ipsa et senatus lumina,
quondam luperci aut flamines,
apostolorm et martyrum
520 exosculantur limina.

Videmus inlustres domos
sexu ex utroque nobiles
offerre uotis pignera
clarissimorum liberum.

525 Vittatus olim pontifex
adscitur in signum crucis
aedemque, Laurenti, tuam
Vestalis intrat Claudia.

O ter quaterque et septies
530 beatus urbis incola
qui te ac tuorum comminus
sedem celebrat ossuum,

cui propter aduolui licet,
qui fletibus spargit locum,
535 qui pectus in terram premit,
qui uota fundit murmure!

'So ended his prayer, and with it ended his imprisonment in the flesh; the spirit broke forth eagerly after his words. Certain senators carried the body on their shoulders, whom the hero's marvellous independence had persuaded to seek the favour of Christ. A new disposition had suddenly inspired their inmost hearts and from love of the most high God constrained them to hate their former follies. (497) From that day the worship of those base gods flagged, the people were seen in smaller numbers at their shrines, and there was a rush to the sanctuary of Christ. In this warfare Laurence did not gird a sword on his side, but turned back the foe's steel against its wielder. In making war on God's indomitable witness, the devil was stabbed himself and fell, and now lies prostrate for ever. (509) The death the holy martyr died was in truth the death of the temples. That day Vesta saw her Palladian house-spirits deserted and no vengeance follow. All the Romans who used to reverence Numa's libation-cup now crowd the churches of Christ and sound the martyr's name in hymns. The very ornaments of the senate, men who once served as Luperci or flamines, now eagerly kiss the thresholds of the apostles and martyrs. (521) We see distinguished families, where both sides are high-born, dedicate their dear ones, their noble children. The priest who once wore the head-bands is admitted to receive the sign of the cross and, Laurence, a Vestal Claudia enters your church. O thrice and four times, yea seven times blessed the dweller in Rome, who pays honour to you and the home of your bones in person, who can kneel by them, who sprinkles the spot with his tears, bowing his breast to the ground and in a low voice pouring out his prayers!'

Text: Cunnigham 1966: 274–275. Translation: Thomson 1953: 141, lightly modifed.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Laurence/Laurentius, deacon and martyr of Rome : S00037

Saint Name in Source


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 - Liturgical Activity

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Pagans Aristocrats

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - bones and teeth


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).


This passage celebrates the spread of Christianity by the end of the fourth century, even amongst the senatorial aristocracy of the city of Rome. For an inscription discussed in the context of this poem, see E05272.


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: Delehaye, H., "Cyprien d'Antioche et Cyprien de Carthage," Analecta Bollandiana 39 (1921), 314-322. 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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