University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E06496: The Martyrdom of *Symphorianus (martyr of Autun, S00322) is written in Latin in Gaul, probably in the 5th c. The Martyrdom refers to the construction of a church dedicated to Symphorianus by an unnamed bishop of Autun, probably Euphronius (bishop of Autun c. 450-c. 480).

online resource
posted on 2018-09-13, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Martyrdom of Symphorianus of Autun (Passio sancti Symphoriani Augustodunensis, BHL 7967, CPL 2143)


(§ 1) During the reign of the emperor Aurelian, when a vicious storm of persecution was unleashed against the Christians and imperial decrees aimed to destroy the Catholic faith, Symphorianus, son of the nobleman Faustus, was living in Autun. The family was Christian. He was well-educated and of good character. Although in the prime of youth, he evinced a purity of mind in advance of his years.

(§ 2) As he passed from childhood into adolescence and youthful strength and vigour, his divine qualities aroused much admiration in all good men. A heavenly wisdom and a priceless spiritual simplicity cast lustre upon him. Following the just pathway of life, protected by the defence of the good helmsman, he escaped the shipwreck of an evil era.

(§ 3) At that time, the ancient noble city of Autun, was held in the grip of empty superstition, filled with the signs and ceremonies of perverted religion, with many different temples of idols; in thrall to paganism. The cult of the Berecynthian (Cybele) was especially venerated, along with that of Apollo and Diana. One day, a crowd had gathered for the profane rite of the Berecynthian mother of devils. Heraclius, a man of consular rank in Autun, was stirred to seek out and scatter the Christians by cunning interrogation. When Symphorianus refused to worship the statue of the Berecynthian, which was being conveyed on a carriage, thronged with crowds of people, he was arrested on the grounds of public sedition and was taken before Heraclius for cross-examination.

(§ 4) The consular, Heraclius, seated on the tribunal, asked Symphorianus his name and status. He gave his name and said he was a Christian. The judge, somewhat surprised, remarked that he had escaped notice up until then, as there were not many Christians in Autun. Heraclius asked why he had insulted the image of the Mother Goddess and had refused to worship it. Symphorianus replied that he had already given his answer; he was a Christian, who worshipped the True God, who reigned in heaven. Not only would he not worship the image of a devil but he would smash it with hammers, given the chance.

(§ 5) The judge accused Symphorianus of breaking civil as well as religious laws. It was confirmed from the official record that Symphorianus was a citizen of the town, and from a good family. The judge affected to believe that Symphorianus was joking and that a misunderstanding had arisen. Perhaps he was unaware of what the imperial edict said. It was duly read from the record. The emperor Aurelian had informed his officials and governors that it had been ascertained that the law being broken by those who called themselves Christians. They were to be arrested and executed.

(§ 6) After the imperial edict was read, the judge asked Symphorianus for his response. Should this decree be torn up? Symphorianus was doubly accused; he had shown contempt both for the laws of the gods and those of men. Unless he conformed to those laws, he would pay the price with his blood. Symphorianus replied that he would never consider the statue anything other than a devilish image, to be cursed: any Christian who left the true path and looked back again upon the evils of a worse life would always fall into Hell, taking the path of error, deprived of Christian grace, he would be vulnerable to the nets of the ancient foe. Symphorianus declared that the God of the Christians, knowing how to reward goodness, likewise knew how to punish sins, giving life to those obeying his name, while killing the rebellious. Therefore, it was safer for Symphorianus, staunchly confessing God’s name, to keep to the harbour of the eternal king than to enter the fatal shipwreck of the devil.

(§ 7) When the judge saw that Symphorianus would not obey his commands he ordered the lictors to beat him and for him to be imprisoned. When after some days’ delay the judge ordered him into his presence again, the son of light was brought forth from the darkness, from the hallway of that deadly prison, about to be victorious with the eternal king, for ever, in eternity. The skin hung from his emaciated arms, beaten black and blue. During his blessed punishment, while he raised his mind to the contemplation of heavenly joy, he consumed as much blood as he shed.

(§ 8) Then the judge told Symphorianus how much better off he would be, serving the immortal gods. He would be enriched by the public treasury and have a splendid military position. All he had to do was to worship the image of the Mother Goddess on bended knee and to declare himself a devotee of Apollo, Diana and the other sublime deities. Heraclius would give orders for the altars to be wreathed with garlands and Symphorianus would perform sacrifices fitting for the gods, with frankincense and smells of incense. Symphorianus replied that a judge, to whom the state is entrusted, ought not to proffer such a boastful opinion (reading iactantem for subiacentem). If it was dangerous not to add something each day towards the growth of the soul, how much more dangerous was it for one, departing from safety, to be dashed in shipwreck on the rocks of sinners.

(§ 9) The judge told Symphorianus to sacrifice to the gods to be able to enjoy the rewards of the palace. Symphorianus replied that a judge who commits robbery (reading latrocinatur for glutinatur) in public using the sword of the law, pollutes his tribunal and ensures the everlasting death of his soul, and his life is reviled by evil words of constant criticism. Why should he, who was about to give up his life for Christ, as owed, give it up for a pagan vow? To become afraid beneath the gaze of the judge is a repentance too late. The ‘gifts’ of Heraclius mixed with the sweetness of false honey, gave birth to poisons in credulous minds. By contrast, his riches were always in Christ, which neither age nor the passing of time itself could corrupt. Heraclius’ greed to have everything in the end possessed nothing; it originated in the devil. For him however, the ephemeral human condition carried off nothing in this world. Heraclius’ joys would burst asunder like glass shattering in face of the sun’s splendour. Everything has an end, chance overwhelms, devouring time envelops the eternal revolution of the world. God alone claims happiness for himself. Antiquity has no knowledge of the start of His glory, because it was not aware of those events. Of its end, the succession of the centuries will have no knowledge, because it has no end.

(§ 10) The judge said his patience was worn out, listening to Symphorianus preaching about the greatness of his Christ. Unless he sacrificed to the mother goddess that day he would be torn apart by every punishment and condemned to death. Symphorianus said he feared the almighty God, who had created him. Him alone did he serve. Heraclius had his body in his power at that moment, but he did not possess his soul.

[But now do not direct your unnatural superstition on the cult of this idol, which you disgracefully and fatally venerate. In her rites, young men, exulting, strike their castrated genitals on her unholy statue. You mistake a dreadful wickedness for a great sacrifice, the impious are mistaken for priests; an immense crime is clothed in the garment of religion, where the priests of Cybele play screeching flutes and pipes, inflated by the madness of their fanatical frenzy and strike the cymbals. As for Apollo, who does not know that he was once the herdsman of King Admetus by the River Amphrysus? Contemplating the attractions of his lust, he delights in crowns of laurel. With twisted words, in the echoing cave of Delphi (reading tripodum for tropidum) (he utters) devilish voices. Here frequently he has deceived but he is said on other occasions to have prophesied truthfully. The work of the saints has shown Diana also to be a noonday devil. She runs through the crossroads and wanders the woods and scatters thorns of darnel with wicked skill. The name Trivia is given to her since she waits in ambush in three ways.]

[The bracketed passage is rejected as an interpolation in the Acta Sanctorum edition.]

(§ 11) As Symphorianus continued to speak, the judge said, furiously, that he had committed treason by refusing to sacrifice to their gods and that he had also inflicted insult on the altars. He was to be struck down by the sword of vengeance and when his deadly crimes were curtailed, the injury suffered by gods and the laws equally would be avenged. When the sentence was pronounced, the blessed man of God was led off to execution. His aged mother (was watching) from the wall of the town and she advised him with her familiar voice. ‘My son, my son, Symphorianus, have the living God in your mind. Take courage, my son. We cannot fear a death which, without doubt, leads to life. Lift up your heart, my son. Gaze upon him who reigns in heaven. Today your life is not taken from you but changed for the better. Today, you will migrate to a heavenly life.’

(§ 12) Sic sanctus Symphorianus extra murum ductus, a percussore prostratus est. Purpurei sanguinis sui unda perfusus, a religiosis latenter inde sublatus est. Sic Martyr delatus ad fontem, qui extra publicum campum est, et ibi in parva cellula sepultus, semper tamen virtutibus se publicavit; ita ut ipsis quoque gentilibus, ob miracula et sanitatum beneficia stupentibus, in maximo honore ea tempestate haberetur, non longe a basilica sua, quae studio summo antistitis nostri ecclesiae celsum protulit aedificata fastigium; fulget non uno muneris sui ornata privilegio, patroni nostri Symphoriani martyris referta virtutibus, qui praetervolantis vitae naufragia, dum de diabolo triumpharet, exclusit, defensor factus patriae suae, dum ad veram patriam festinaret; apparuitque turris fortitudinis contra facie


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Symphorianus, martyr of Autun (Gaul) : S00322

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Gaul and Frankish kingdoms

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Autun Tours Tours Toronica urbs Prisciniacensim vicus Pressigny Turonorum civitas Ceratensis vicus Céré

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Healing diseases and disabilities


The Martyrdom of Symphorianus has usually been dated to the second half of the 5th century on the basis of its reference to the construction of the church at Autun dedicated to Symphorianus. In the Martyrdom, the building of the church is attributed only to 'our bishop' (antistes noster), who is not named. Gregory of Tours, in Histories 2.15 (E02024), says that the church of Symphorianus at Autun was built by Euphronius (PCBE 4, 'Eufronius 1'), who is attested as bishop of the city from the early 450s to the late 470s (though Gregory states that he built it before becoming bishop). Most scholars have therefore accepted that the Martyrdom is contemporary with Euphronius' tenure as bishop, though this has occasionally been questioned (see Heinzelmann 2010, 39).


The Martyrdom of Symphorianus is one of several Gallic martyrdoms which are portrayed as taking place under the emperor Aurelian (270-275); others include those of Columba of Sens (E06285), Priscus of Auxerre (E06510), Patroclus of Troyes (E06480), and Hereneus, Benignus, Andochius, Thyrsus and Felix (E06532). Aurelian was in Gaul in the years 274 and 275 (mainly engaged in defeating the breakaway Gallic Empire), but what, if any, factual basis there may be to the traditions about Gallic martyrdoms at this time, none of which is recorded until nearly two hundred years after his death, is unknown. The Martyrdom (§ 12) makes reference to a small cell (parva cellula) where Symphorianus' body was buried. The late 6th century Life of Amator (E05672) claims that Amator, bishop of Auxerre in the early 5th century, constructed a parvissima cella in honour of Symphorianus, echoing the words of the Martyrdom. The Life of Amator is almost entirely fictional, so this information cannot be regarded as trustworthy, but it is possible that it reflects local traditions. The story of Symphorianus' destruction of a statue of the Berecynthian goddess (= Cybele) is repeated by Gregory of Tours in Glory of the Confessors 76 (E02698), who cites the Martyrdom as his source.


Edition: Acta Sanctorum, Aug. IV, 496-497. Further reading: Heinzelmann, M., "L'hagiographie mérovingienne. Panorama des documents potentiels," in: M. Goullet, M. Heinzelmann, and C. Veyrard-Cosme (eds.), L'hagiographie mérovingienne à travers ses réécritures (Beihefte der Francia 71; Ostfildern, 2010), 27-82. Pietri, C., "Autun," in: N. Gauthier and J.-C. Picard (eds.), Topographie chrétienne des cités de la Gaule des origines au milieu du VIIIe siècle, vol. 4: Province ecclésiastique de Lyon (Lugdunensis Prima) (Paris, 1986), 37-45. Van der Straeten, J., "Les actes des martyrs d'Aurélien en Bourgogne. Étude littéraire," Analecta Bollandiana 79 (1961), 115-144.

Continued Description

m adversantis inimici, quam sanguinis sui effusione construxit. Inexpugnabilem murum auxilia corporis sui perennis patrocinii mediator attollit, innumeras curationes meritorum suorum virtute donat. Denique per eum nobis apud Dominum Iesum Christum evidens misericordiae panditur via, ut in omnium votorum plenitudinem felix aperitur ingressus, praestante Domino nostro Iesu Christo, qui est vita omnium sine fine Sanctorum, et regnat cum Patre in unitate Spiritus sancti Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.'And so, the holy Symphorianus was led outside the wall and laid low by the murderous executioner. Covered in a wave of his scarlet blood, he was secretly taken away from there by some religious folk. Thus the martyr was brought to a fountain, which is beyond the public field, and there was buried in a small cell. Always however he made himself known by his virtues, in such a way that he was held in the greatest honour at that time even by the pagans, amazed on account of his miracles and the benefits of health. This place was not far from his lofty church, built by the great enthusiasm of our bishop. It gleams, adorned not with a single privileged gift from him, but filled with the virtues of our patron martyr Symphorianus, who defeated the devil and avoided the shipwrecks of fleeting life, became the protector of his community until he hastened to his true home (in heaven). A tower of strength appeared against the face of the enemy, which he built by the outpouring of his own blood. Our constant patron and intercessor raised an impregnable wall with the aid of his body and grants countless cures by the virtue of his good deeds. In conclusion, through him the path of mercy to our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed for us, so that the blessed gateway is opened in fulfilment of all our prayers, with the Lord Jesus Christ as our leader, who is the life of all the saints without end, and who reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit with the Father for ever. Amen.' Text: Acta Sanctorum, Aug. IV, 496-497. Summary and translation: Philip Beagon.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager