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E06382: A letter of Gregory the Great (Register 8.28) of 598, to Eulogius, bishop of Alexandria (Lower Egypt), tells him the Roman Church has no full record of the martyrs' passions, but does have record of their places and days of martyrdom. Written in Latin in Rome.

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posted on 2018-09-11, 00:00 authored by frances
Pope Gregory the Great, Register of Letters 8.28

The opening of the letter (the second half being about the transport of wooden beams to Alexandria):

Vtilis semper est docti uiri allocutio, quia aut discit audiens quod nescire sese nouerat aut cognoscit, quod est amplius, id quod se nescisse nesciebat. Qua in re ex audientium numero ego nunc factus sum, cui sanctissima uestra beatitudo scribere studuit ut cunctorum martyrum gesta, quae piae memoriae Constantini temporibus ab Eusebio Caesariense collecta sunt, transmittere debeamus. Sed haec neque si sic collecta sint neque si sint ante uestrae beatitudinis scripta cognoui. Ago ergo gratias, quia sanctissimae doctrinae uestrae scriptis eruditus coepi scire quod nesciebat. Praeter illa enim quae in eiusdem Eusebii libris de gestis sanctorum martyrum continentur nulla in archiuo huius nostrae ecclesiae uel in romanae urbis bibliothecis esse cognoui, nisi pauca quaedam in unius codicis uolumine collecta. Nos autem paene omnium martyrum distinctis per dies singulos passionibus collecta in uno codice nomina habemus atque cotidianis diebus in eorum ueneratione missarum sollemnia agimus. Non tamen in eodem uolumine quis qualiter sit passus indicatur, sed tantummodo nomen, locus et dies passionis ponitur. Vnde fit ut multi ex diuersis terris atque prouinciis per dies, ut praedixi, singulos cognoscantur martyrio coronati. Sed haec habere uos beatissimos credimus. Ea uero quae transmitti uoluistis quaerentes quidem non inuenimus, sed adhuc non inuenientes quaerimus et, si potuerint inueniri, transmittimus.

‘An address by a man of learning is always valuable, because the listener either learns what he knew he did not know, or gets to know, which is better, that which he did not know that he did not know. In this matter, I have now been made one of your listeners, as your most holy Beatitude took pains to write to me, that I should send over the acts of all the martyrs, which were collected by Eusebius of Caesarea, in the times of Constantine, of pious memory. But before the writing of your Beatitude, I did not know if they had been collected in this way, or even if they existed. And so, I give thanks, because, taught by the writings of your most holy learning, I have begun to know what I used not to know. For beside what is contained in the books of the same Eusebius, on the acts of holy martyrs, I have not learnt of any in the archives of this Church of ours, or in the libraries of the city of Rome, except for a few examples collected in a volume of a single manuscript. But we have the names of almost all the martyrs collected in one manuscript, with their passions allotted to particular days, and we celebrate solemn Mass in venerating them on each such day. However in the same volume, there is no mention of who suffered and how he did so, but simply his name, and the place and day of his passion are put down. From this, it is clear that many from diverse lands and provinces are known to have been crowned with martyrdom, as I said before, on their particular days. But we believe that you have these. However, as for what you wanted to be sent over to you, we looked for it certainly, but did not find it. But we are still looking for it without finding it. If it can be found, we shall send it to you.’

Text: Norberg 1982, vol. 2, 549-50. Translation: Martyn 2004, vol. 2, 52-3, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S00060

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 - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Transmission, copying and reading saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops


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).


This is an important text for the information it gives us about the knowledge of the martyrs available in a major ecclesiastical city, in this case Rome. Gregory has a martyrology, that lists the date in the year and the place of each martyr's passion, but no major collection of their written Martyrdoms.


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: Dal Santo, M., Debating the Saints' Cult in the Age of Gregory the Great (Oxford: OUP, 2012). 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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