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E06330: A letter of Pope Gregory the Great (Register 2.6) of 591, to Felix, bishop of Messina, refers to the foundation of a basilica dedicated to *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030), *Pancratius (bishop and martyr of Taormina, S00307) and *Euplus (martyr of Catania, S00207), in Messina (Sicily), and to the provision of relics for it. Written in Latin in Rome.

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posted on 2018-09-11, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Pope Gregory the Great, Register of Letters 2.6

Extract from the start of the letter:

Ianuarius diaconus ecclesiae Messanensis petitorii nobis insinuatione suggessit, quae habetur in subditis, intra ciuitatem Messanensem basilicam se pro sua deuotione fundasse, quam in honore sanctorum Stephani et Pancrati et Eupli desiderat consecrari. Et ideo, frater carissime, si in tuae in diocesis ciuitatis iure consistit, et nullum corpus ibidem constat humatum, percepta primitus donatione legitima, id est: a praesenti annuos, a tributis liberos fiscalibus solidos decem, et de reliqua substantia sua sibi tantummodo usumfructum retineat.

'Januarius, deacon of the church of Messina, has informed us in the notification of a petition, which appears in an appendix, that as a mark of his own devotion, he has founded a basilica in the city of Messina, which he wants to be consecrated in honour of Saints Stephen, Pancratius and Euplus. For that reason, my dearest brother, if this place legally belongs to your city, and it is certain that no corpse is buried there, first of all receive the legitimate donation, that is to say from today, ten gold coins a year free of imperial tribute, and from the rest of his property let him retain the usufruct.'

Gregory ends the letter with the following sentence:

Sanctuaria uero suscepta sui cum reuerentia collocabis.

'You will take up his sacred relics (sanctuaria) and place them therein with due reverence.'

Text: Norberg 1982, vol. 1, 94. Translation: Martyn 2004, vol. 1, 196-7, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030 Pancras, martyred bishop of Taormina, Sicily : S02271 Euplius, deacon and martyr of Catania : S00207 Pancratius, bishop and martyr of Taormina, Sicily : S02271

Saint Name in Source

Stephanus Pancratus Euplius Pancratus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters


  • 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

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory the Great (pope)

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Ceremony of dedication

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Contact relic - unspecified


A letter transmitted as part of Gregory the Great’s Register of Letters. This letter collection, organised into fourteen books, is large and contains letters to a variety of recipients, including prominent aristocrats, members of the clergy and royalty. The issues touched on in the letters are equally varied, ranging from theological considerations to mundane administrative matters. This collection of letters, which was possibly curated by Gregory, was originally much larger. The surviving Register comprises several groups of letters which were extracted at several later moments in history, the largest of which took place in the papacy of Hadrian I (772-795).


The description of the process required for the building and provision for the church is formulaic and appears in several other letters (e.g. E06366 and E06390). This provides a clear account of the procedure for providing a foundation dedicated to a saint. The Saint Pancratius mentioned is presumably Pancratius of Taormina, since this city is very close to Messina (and Euplus is another local Sicilian saint); but it is just possible that Pancratius of Rome (S02271) is the saint referred to. The text does not specify what the relics mentioned in the closing sentence were, but in this context, the word sanctuaria certainly refers to relics. John McCulloch highlights how Gregory uses this word throughout the Register not only to refer to holy places, but also to relics.


Edition: Norberg, D., S. Gregorii Magni, Registrum epistularum. 2 vols. (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 140-140A; Turnhout: Brepols, 1982). English translation: Martyn, J.R.C., The Letters of Gregory the Great, 3 vols. (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2004). Further Reading: McCulloch, J., "The Cult of Relics in the Letters and Dialogues of Gregory the Great," Traditio 32 (1976), 145-184. Neil, B., and Dal Santo, M. (eds.), A Companion to Gregory the Great (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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