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E06118: The ‘epic’ Greek Martyrdom of *Kyrikos/Cyricus and Ioulitta/Julitta (child and his mother, martyrs of Tarsus, S00007) tells the story of a precocious child saint and his mother who, after initially fleeing from Ikonion/Iconium, are martyred in Tarsus under the governor Alexander after extravagant torture. Probably written in Tarsus or elsewhere in south-east Asia Minor, most probably in the 5th century.

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posted on 2018-08-17, 00:00 authored by Nikolaos
Martyrdom of Kyrikos and Ioulitta (BHG 313y-z)


Note: the name Kyrikos is usually, but not always, spelled Kerykos in the Greek manuscripts.

When Alexandros was governor in Ikonion (the city is only named in BHG 313z), there is a persecution of Christians. Ioulitta, a Christian, flees the city to Tarsus in Cilicia. Alexandros comes to Tarsus, and Ioulitta is brought before the governor with her infant son, Kyrikos. The child is a precocious saint who miraculously speaks as though he were an adult, refusing to be influenced by the governor and mocking and taunting him and his gods openly (parrhesia).

Together with his mother, Kyrikos undergoes the most horrific and fantastic torments imaginable. After a lashing, the child’s body is miraculously unharmed; mustard and salt inserted into their nostrils are shrugged off by the saints as sweet; spits heated in fire inserted into their ears, eyes, mouth and heart are cooled by divine intervention like ice crystals, and the saints remain unharmed.

When the saints are incarcerated for the night, the Devil appears in the form of an angel of light and converses with Kyrikos, trying to persuade him to capitulate, but he sees through the ruse and sends the enemy away ignominiously; the Devil flees in the form of a hurricane and smoke. When the trial resumes, at the saint’s behest an angel of the Lord descends from heavens and pulverises the altar and idols of the false gods. When the executioners are at a loss how to inflict pain on the saint, Kyrikos himself requests the construction of exquisite torture instruments, but the governor’s blacksmith does not know how to make them, so a hundred artisans are called in from the city. There follows a second incarceration for 40 days, and prayer.

When the trial resumes once more, the saints’ heads are shaved and their scalps removed, with burning coals placed on top, but through divine intervention the coals are extinguished. A crowd of new converts (430 in BHG 313z) are executed by the governor. Kyrikos is pierced with three nails from head and shoulders to his feet, but an angel removes them and sticks one of them in the neck of the governor, who is healed by the saint but recants and claims the healing was accomplished by the pagan gods. Even the saint’s tongue is cut out, but he miraculously keeps on talking. The saints are then thrown into a boiling cauldron of tar and brimstone, like the three Hebrew youths in the furnace in the book of Daniel, and Ioulitta is afraid; however, Kyrikos strengthens her resolve, the Devil leaves her and she receives the Holy Spirit. The heat of the cauldron does not harm them.

Finally, the Lord appears in person, surrounded by angels, and grants the saint’s requests made in his final prayer. Kyrikos prays:

1) that his body should not appear upon the earth (τὸ σῶμά μου μὴ ὀφθήτω ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς);

2) that whoever invokes him in prayer and celebrates his feast day (in BHG 313z also whoever builds a church for him, καὶ ποιήσῃ τὸ μαρτύριόν μου) should be rewarded in the heavens;

3) that their wheat and wine should be plentiful;

4) that wherever there be a shrine of the saint (lit. καὶ ὅπου ἐὰν γένηται εὐκτηρίω οἴκω ἐν τῶ ὀνόματί μου) there should not occur disease of men or sheep or cattle, nor shortage of bread or wine or water, and any demon should be driven away from there (BHG 313z)
that any possessed people entering his shrine should be cured and the demon driven away, and that anyone who visits his shrine (if this is the meaning of τοῖς χρήζουσιν τὸ μαρτύριόν μου) should receive a reward in the heavens; (BHG 313y)

5) that those who copy this martyrdom account should be rewarded, and those who read it be granted mercy (BHG 313z)
that those who read it receive a reward on the last day (BHG 313y)

6) that those who celebrate his feast day should be given wisdom to avoid the snares of the Devil, and that the Holy Spirit should dwell in that place (BHG 313y), or in that house (BHG 313z), and

7) that whoever brings offerings to the church (καρποφορήσει) in the saint’s name should be rewarded.

The Lord then replies affirming the granting of these requests, and (only in BHG 313y) saying that Kyrikos’ body will be interred in the earth (τὸ δὲ σῶμά σου τεθήσεται ἐν τῇ γῇ).

After this, the saints are martyred on 15 July, on Friday, and are crowned by angels. On the following day their followers (numbering 11404 in BHG 313z) are martyred on 16 July. Saint Kyrikos now stands before the throne of God, praying for our souls (in BHG 313z; in BHG 313y it is simply stated that the massacred crowd of saints now pray for us to God).

Text: mss. Coisl. gr. 121 ff. 128-132, Athon. Esphigm. 44 ff. 96v-105v.
Summary: N. Kälviäinen.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Kyrikos/Cyricus and Ioulitta/Julitta, child and his mother, martyrs of Tarsus : S00007

Saint Name in Source

Κήρυκος, Κύρικος, Ἰουλίττα

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Tarsus Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Martyr shrine (martyrion, bet sāhedwātā, etc.)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Miraculous protection - other Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures Miracles experienced by the saint Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Children Pagans Relatives of the saint Torturers/Executioners Officials Crowds Demons Angels Family

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Noted absence of relics


The original 'epic' Martyrdom of Kyrikos and Ioulitta is currently known to be preserved in three manuscripts, in two versions with some differences in details: BHG 313y, contained in ms. Athoniensis Esphigmenou 44, ff. 96v-105v (12th-13th c.) and BHG 313z, in mss. Coislinianus gr. 121, ff. 128-132 (14th c.) and Mytilene, Monastery of St. John the Theologian 57 (17th c.). The text has not yet been edited, and the present discussion is based on a cursory examination of the manuscripts Coisl. gr. 121 and Athon. Esphigm. 44; note that the exact relationship between the two versions BHG 313y and 313z has not yet been elucidated. For the manuscripts, see and The Martyrdom can be dated to no later than the beginning of the 6th century based on it being included in the list of forbidden apocryphal works in the Decretum Gelasianum (E03338), and was probably written earlier considering that some time would have been required in order for it to acquire sufficient fame (or notoriety!) to spread into the Latin West. The identification of the present text BHG 313y-z with the one condemned in the Decretum can be considered practically certain on the basis of its many similarities with the earliest Martyrdom (called “Volksbuch” by Krumbacher) of George (E06147), the only other martyrdom account to be condemned in the Decretum, and also because it seems to fit the description given in the prologue of the later Martyrdom of Kyrikos and Ioulitta, BHG 315-317 (E06121, probably from the middle of the 6th c., another terminus ante quem for BHG 313y-z), where the earlier text is condemned by bishop Theodore of Iconium as frivolous and heretical. Furthermore, the cult of Kyrikos (though in Late Antiquity always without Ioulitta, with only one probable exception, E01076) seems to be reasonably securely attested, especially in Asia Minor, but also elsewhere both East and West, in the epigraphic evidence from the 5th and 6th centuries (cf. the list of evidence in S00007), as well as in the church calendar of Ioane Zosime (based on 5th-7th century material) on 15 and 16 July, with Ioulitta (E03801, E03802). Since there does not seem to be any evidence pointing to a date earlier than the 5th century, it can be conjectured that the text was most likely composed at some point in the 5th century for the needs of a then developing cult.


As a particularly radical example of an 'epic' martyrdom account, the text contains no secure historical evidence; the historicity of Alexander, the governor of Lycaonia or Cilicia, is uncertain (PLRE I, 40 no. 2). However, coupled with the fact that a large portion of the evidence concerning the early cult of saint Kyrikos comes from Asia Minor, the identification by the hagiographer of Iconium in Lycaonia as the saints’ hometown, and of Cilician Tarsus as the site of their martyrdom, suggests that it may have been written in that area, most probably for the needs of a cult site in Tarsus, in order to be read at the saints’ feast. If Delehaye is correct in suggesting that Ioulitta was not originally conceived as forming a pair with her son but was an addition to the cult made by the anonymous hagiographer (Delehaye, Les Origines, 198), this may explain why Kyrikos usually appears alone in the epigraphic evidence; it can be noted that even in the text Kyrikos very much overshadows his mother. Concerning the cult site whose existence is implied by the text, it is noteworthy that Kyrikos’ final prayer contains a request which suggests that there were no relics (τὸ σῶμά μου μὴ ὀφθήτω ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, 'let not my body be seen upon the earth'; in addition, in BHG 313y the Lord affirms that his body will be buried in the earth, equally implying a lack of relics available for veneration). It is suggested by Flusin that, apart from merely explaining the lack of relics, these statements may constitute a deliberate attempt by the hagiographer to respond to critics of the developing custom of veneration of relics (Flusin, B. “Le contrat de Marina: passions épiques et culte des saints,” forthcoming). There is also a distinct possibility, as suggested to me by Efthymios Rizos, that there were relics of Kyrikos and Ioulitta in circulation already at the time of composition of the Martyrdom (cf. the probable case of Iconium in the later Martyrdom E06121), and that the present text attempts to undermine their validity, thus implicitly leaving the cult building (martyrium) in Tarsus, which the present text was presumably written to promote, as the only 'true' cult site of the saints (for a possible Anatolian parallel, cf. the Testament of the Forty Martyrs, E00255). The final prayer (‘covenant’) of Kyrikos, which effectively lays down the ground rules for the cult, is remarkable for making references, in addition to spiritual matters, to concerns of everyday agricultural life (good harvest, protection from diseases of people and livestock, and so on). In this it closely resembles the similar prayer of Marina, martyr of Pisidian Antioch (E06148), to which it may be related, as suggested by certain similar or even near-identical turns of phrase. It may be noted that Kyrikos is also invoked as a protector of crops in a (probably) 6th century inscription found at Gorgoli in Cappadocia (E01300).


Further reading: Delehaye, H., Les Origines du culte des Martyrs (Paris, 1933), 197-198.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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