University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E06531: The Martyrdom of *Censurinus, Aurea and Companions (martyrs of Ostia and Portus, S00898) is written in Latin at an uncertain date, perhaps in the 7th or 8th c. It narrates the trial and martyrdom of the official Censurinus and the virgin Aurea, together with the bishop Quiriacus, the priest Maximus, the deacon Archelaus, and a number of other Christians and converts. Their bodies are buried in different sites near Ostia and in Portus. Later employed in a reworked martyrdom account centred around Aurea (E03244).

online resource
posted on 2018-09-17, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Martyrdom of Censurinus and Companions (BHL 1722)


At the time of Claudius and of the vicarius Ulpius Romulus there is a great persecution against Christians. There is a praepositus magisteriae potestatis who is secretly Christian, daily praying, fasting and giving alms. He comforts Christians who are persecuted, taking care of prisoners. Claudius hears about this and interrogates him. The man, named Censurinus, gives a summary of the Christian creed to Claudius, who, angered, orders him to be imprisoned. In prison Censurinus sings praise to God day and night.

In the same city there is a virgin of royal blood named Aurea (Aura) who stays in her estate (praediolus) with religious men and virgins. She takes care of Censurinus, bringing him food and washing him. In prison there are also the priest (presbyter) Maximus and the deacon Archelaus, who daily celebrate liturgy. Maximus miraculously looses the ties of anyone who comes and exhorts the guards to abandon the idols and convert. They ask what they should do and he tells them to be baptised, believe in Christ, abandon the idols and repent for the persecutions. Then Felix, Maximus, Taurinus, Herculanus, Nevirius, Historacinus, Mena, Commodius, Hermis, Maurus, Eusebius, Rusticus, Monaxius, Amandinus, Olympius, Eipros and the tribune Theodorus fall at Maximus’ feet and ask for baptism. It is performed as usual, then the bishop Quiriacus anoints them with the chrism.

In the same place there is Sotor, whose son has just died. The priest Maximus tells him that if he believes, his son will be brought back to life. Sotor is asked to repent then states his belief and is baptised. His son is brought to Quiriacus and Maximus. Quiriacus prays to the Lord Jesus Christ, recalling the miraculous resurrections of the Gospels. All reply “Amen”, the son lives again and tells that he has seen Jesus Christ bringing him back from darkness to light. He is initiated and baptised, Aurea acting as his godmother. He is ten years old and named Faustinus.

Claudius hears about the miracle and states that it is magic. He asks the vicarius Ulpius Romulus to arrest Aurea and to free her if she agrees to offer sacrifice, otherwise to kill her together with those who stay with her. Ulpius Romulus comes to Ostia and interrogates Aurea, blaming her for having abandoned her rank and for performing magic. Aurea states that she has rejected demons and idols and has learnt about Jesus Christ the son of God, while they will be condemned to darkness. Romulus summons her to recall her nobility but she blows at his face, cursing him. Romulus orders her to be tortured on a rack, but she thanks Jesus Christ. As she tells Romulus that Christ can destroy him and Claudius, the rack is broken. She is beaten with sticks but she blesses Jesus Christ; her sides are burned with flames, but she rejoices and tells Romulus that he should be ashamed of watching her genitals burning. Romulus replies that she deserves it and orders her to be imprisoned.

The priest Maximus and the deacon Archelaus are summoned and accused of leading people to abandon ancient cults. Maximus replies that they free them from error. Romulus orders the bishop Quiriacus, the priest Maximus and the deacon Archelaus and all soldiers [of Christ] to be beheaded at the arch before the theatre and their bodies thrown in the sea. The blessed Eusebius collects them, hides them on the seashore and in a field, and buries them next to the city in a crypt on the via Ostiensis; Taurinus and Herculanus in Portus (portus romanus), the tribune Theodorus in his tomb (mausoleum), and all the others next to the bodies of the bishop Quiriacus and the priest Maximus.

After five days, Romulus orders Aurea to be brought before him. She admonishes him to abandon the idols and worship Jesus Christ. He again tells her to sacrifice or face death but she refuses. Romulus orders her mouth to be crushed but she praises Jesus Christ. Romulus again asks her to offer sacrifice and marry, but she replies that her husband is Jesus Christ and then curses him. Romulus orders her to be tortured with lead-weighted scourges (plumbatae), then to be thrown in the sea with a huge stone bound to her neck. Her body comes to the seashore and the blessed Nonnus collects it and buries it in the estate (praedius) where she had lived outside the walls of the gate of Ostia (porta Hostiae), on the 9th day before the Calends of September [= 24 August].

Romulus arrests a certain peasant (agricola) of that place named Sabinianus, asking him to reveal where Aurea’s riches are hidden and to offer sacrifice to the gods. Sabinianus however replies that he has been taught by Aurea to believe in Jesus Christ and that he has no riches. As he further resists and proclaims his faith, Romulus orders him to be beaten with lead-weighted scourges. The blessed old man Hippolytus hears this, comes to Romulus and curses him. Angered, Romulus orders him to be thrown alive in a pit (fovea) with his hands and feet tied. For an hour, a voice is heard from the pit, before the walls of Potus (portus Romanus), almost the voice of infants thanking God. Romulus states that it is magic, then orders Sabinianus to be beaten with sticks, requiring him to return the riches and worship the gods. However, Sabinianus gladly thanks God, even when he is beaten further. Romulus orders him to be tortured on a rack but Sabinianus does nothing else but thank Jesus Christ. Romulus orders him to be burnt. As his sides are burnt, he gives up his spirit. Romulus orders his body to be thrown in a well. A certain priest (presbyter) Concordius comes at night, takes the body, and joins it to that of Aurea, on the 5th day before the Calends of January [= 28 December].

Text: Mombritius 1910, I, 349-351. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Aurea and Companions, martyrs of Ostia : S00898

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

Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Ostia Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Eucharist associated with cult

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - crypt/ crypt with relics

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracles causing conversion Freeing prisoners, exiles, captives, slaves Power over life and death Miracle at martyrdom and death Miraculous sound, smell, light

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Officials Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Children Peasants Pagans Prisoners

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Censurinus and Companions is an anonymous literary account of martyrdom written long after the great persecutions of Christians that provide the background of the narrative. It is part of a widely spread literary genre, that scholars often designate as "epic" Martyrdoms (or Passiones), to be distinguished from earlier, short and more plausible accounts, apparently based on the genuine transcripts of the judicial proceedings against the martyrs. These texts narrate the martyrdom of local saints, either to promote a new cult or to give further impulse to existing devotion. They follow widespread stereotypes mirroring the early authentic trials of martyrs, but with a much greater degree of detail and in a novelistic style. Thus they narrate how the protagonists are repeatedly questioned and tortured under the order of officials or monarchs, because they refuse to sacrifice to pagan gods but profess the Christian faith. They frequently refer to miracles performed by the martyrs and recreate dialogues between the protagonists. The narrative generally ends with the death of the martyrs (often by beheading) and their burial. These texts are literary creations bearing a degree of freedom in the narration of supposedly historical events, often displaying clear signs of anachronism. For these reasons, they have been generally dismissed as historical evidence and often remain little known. However, since most certainly date from within the period circa 400-800, often providing unique references to cult, they are an essential source to shed light on the rise of the cult of saints. The Martyrdom of Censurinus and Companions According to Lanéry 2010, 317-318, the Martyrdom (BHL 1722) was at the basis of a later reworking, the Martyrdom of Aurea and Companions (E03244). Our Martyrdom was also translated into Greek (BHG 466).


The Martyrdom connects into a single narrative the cult of a number of martyrs said to be buried both outside the walls of Ostia and in Portus. There is evidence for early cult of Aurea, in parcitular an entry in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum (see S00898), although the date given (20 May) does not match that of our Martyrdom (24 August). The date of composition of our Martyrdom is uncertain but should be situated no later than the early 9th century, since it was reused in the Martyrdom of *Aurea and Companions (E03244), composed probably between the late 8th and mid 9th century. Lanéry underlines potential borrowings from the martyrdoms of Marius, Martha and Companions (E02093), and Marcellus (E02501), which would speak in favour of a dating of our Martyrdom in the 7th or 8th century.


Edition (BHL 1722): Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), I, 349-351. The original edition was published c. 1480. Further reading: Amore, A., I Martiri di Roma (Rome, 1975), 220-221 and 244-250 (new edition published in 2013). Dufourcq, A., Étude sur les Gesta martyrum romains, vol. I (Paris, 1900), 246-249. Lanéry, C., "Hagiographie d'Italie (300-550). I. Les Passions latines composées en Italie,” in: Philippart, G. (ed.), Hagiographies. Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550, vol. V (Turnhout, 2010), 15-369, at 317-318. Vocino, G., “L’Agiografia dell’Italia centrale (750-950)”, in: Goullet, M. (ed.), Hagiographies. Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550, vol. VII (Turnhout, 2017), 95-268 at 211-212.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager