University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E06472: Jerome mentions cult activities at Rome for the *Apostles (S00084) and *Martyrs (S00060) in his Letters 46, 107, and 127, written in Latin in Bethlehem (Palestine), in the years 386, 403, 412.

online resource
posted on 2018-09-12, 00:00 authored by Philip
Jerome of Stridon, Letter 46.8

In a letter to Marcella, an aristocratic lady in Rome, Jerome questions those who revere the tombs of the martyrs, but not the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem:

Martyrum ubique sepulchra ueneramur et sanctam fauillam oculis adponentes, si liceat, etiam ore contingimus: et monumentum, in quo dominus conditus est, quidam aestimant neglegendum?

'Everywhere we venerate the tombs of the martyrs and put their holy ashes to our eyes; we even touch them, if we may, with our lips. And yet some think that we should neglect the tomb in which the Lord himself is buried?'

Text: Hilberg 1996 (1910). Translation: Fremantle, Lewis, and Martley 1893, adapted.

Jerome of Stridon, Letter 107.1, 9

(1.) Auratum squalet capitolium, fuligine et aranearum telis omnia Romae templa cooperta sunt, mouetur urbs sedibus suis et inundans populus ante delubra semiruta currit ad martyrum tumulos. ... (9.) numquam absque te procedat in publicum, basilicas martyrum et ecclesias sine matre non adeat.

'(1.) For all its gilding the Capitol is beginning to look dingy. Every temple in Rome is covered with soot and cobwebs. The city is stirred to its depths and the people pour past their half-ruined shrines to visit the tombs of the martyrs. ... (9.) Never shall she [Paula] appear in public unless accompanied by you. Let her never visit a church or a martyr's shrine without her mother.'

Text: Hilberg 1996 (1912). Translation: Fremantle, Lewis, and Martley 1893, adapted.

Jerome of Stridon, Letter 127,4

Raro procedebat ad publicum et maxime nobilium matronarum uitabat domus, ne cogeretur uidere, quod contempserat, apostolorum et martyrum basilicas secretis celebrans orationibus et quae populorum frequentiam declinarent.

'She [Marcella] seldom appeared in public and took care to avoid the houses of great ladies, that she might not be forced to look upon what she despised. She frequented the basilicas of apostles and martyrs that she might escape from the crowd and give herself to private prayer.'

Text: Hilberg 1996 (1918). Translation: Fremantle, Lewis, and Martley 1893, adapted.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Apostles, unnamed or name lost : S00084 Martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S00060

Saint Name in Source

apostoli martyres

Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine with Sinai

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Bethlehem Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Major author/Major anonymous work

Jerome of Stridon

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Children Women


The extant letters of Jerome were all published during the author's lifetime, and almost certainly already composed with a wider audience in mind. Jerome used the genre of letter writing as a vessel for various topics since they allowed him to express his thoughts free from stylistic constraints. Letter 46: After Jerome had settled with Paula and Eustochium in Bethlehem in 385/6, Jerome tried to convince Marcella, a leading figure of the Roman ascetic movement among noble women, to join their ascetic community. The letter pretends to be written by Paula and Eustochium but is was undoubtedly composed by Jerome himself. Letter 107: Jerome wrote this letter of advice to Laeta, the daughter-in-law of Paula, on how she should bring up her infant daughter (Paula) as a virgin consecrated to Christ. Letter 127: Jerome wrote this obituary for Marcella, his friend and sponsor in Rome. Jerome made the exaggerated claim that she had been the first noblewoman in Rome to devote herself to the urban monastic life, inspired by her meeting with the Alexandrian bishop Athanasius who had spent time in Rome from 339 to c. 343. However, it is unlikely that she would have truly met him in her young age (she was born in the 330s).


Jerome wrote these lines from Bethlehem, but he had been in Rome multiple times, even as the pope's secretary (382-5). Therefore he was well aware of Roman cultic activities. The references in Letter 46 to the practice of putting the ashes of the martyrs to one's eyes and kissing them, are almost certainly figurative descriptions of viewing and kissing their graves, since there is no evidence from Rome of such close contact with corporeal relics. In Letter 127, though the descriptions are vague, the use of the words basilicae and apostoli suggests Jerome could be referring to the basilicas of Paul and Peter.


Edition: Hilberg, I., (ed.), Hieronymus, Epistulae 1-70, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 54 (Wien: 1996). Hilberg, I., (ed.), Hieronymus, Epistulae 71-120, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 55 (Wien: 1996). Hilberg, I., (ed.), Hieronymus, Epistulae 121-154, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 56/1 (Vienna: 1996). Translation: Fremantle, W.H., Lewis, G., and Martley, W.G., in: P. Schaff and H. Wace (eds.), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 6. (Buffalo NY, 1893). Further Reading: Adkin, N., "The Letter of Paula and Eustochium to Marcella: Some Notes," Maia 51 (1999). Cain, A., The Letters of Jerome: Asceticism, Biblical Exegesis, and the Construction of Christian Authority in Late Antiquity (Oxford, 2009). Feichtinger, B., Apostolae Apostolorum. Frauenaskese als Befreiung und Zwang bei Hieronymus (Frankfurt/M, 1995). Laurence, P., Jérôme et le nouveau modèle féminin: la conversion à la vie parfaite (Paris, 1997), p. 20. Sugano, K., "Marcella von Rom. Ein Lebensbild," in: M. Wissemann (ed.), Roma renascens. Beiträge zur Spätantike und Rezeptionsgeschichte. Festschrift Ilona Opelt (Frankfurt, 1988), 355–370.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity