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E06568: Aldhelm, in his prose On Virginity, names *Chrysanthus (martyr of Rome with his chaste wife Daria, S00306), as an exemplary virgin. Written in Latin in southern Britain, for the nuns at the monastery at Barking (south-east Britain), c. 675/686.

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posted on 2018-09-20, 00:00 authored by bsavill
Aldhelm, prose On Virginity, 35

Nec meminisse pigeat incliti militis Christi Chrisanti, quem pater ab Alexandria proficiscens Romae gimnosofistis et rethoribus traditum cunctis liberalibus litterarum studiis erudiri fecit. Erat enim, ut fertur, tam ardentis ingenii et capax memoriae, ut quicquid lectitando et scrutando enixius rimaretur, velut visco glutinatum praepropere in praecordiis puerilibus lentesceret et intra sagacis animi conclave radicatum haeresceret. Igitur consummatis grammaticorum studiis et philosophorum disciplinis [...] cum ad sacratissimos evangeliorum apices venisset, quantocius cuncta Stoicorum argumenta et Aristotelicas i categorias, quae X praedicamentorum generibus distinguuntur, dicto citius despexit, dum solerter animadverteret, quantum caelestis philosophiae dogma mundi disciplinas et mortalium commenta praestaret [...]

[...] Deinde quidam de contribulibus hortantur patrem, ut filius blandis conubii nexibus nodaretur et illecebroso matrimonii lenocinio vinciretur, quatenus Daria, virgo vestalis satis pulchra et eleganti forma, gemmis auroque radians ad Chrisantum procaciter ingrederetur, ut militem Christi tam urbana verborum facundia quam falerata colli crepundia ad thalami copulam inclinarent. Sed secus cessit, quam rati sunt. Oritur namque inter eos satis prolixa sermonum concertatio et reciproca sententiarum disputatio, eo quod Daria dialecticis artibus imbuta et captiosis sillogismi conclusionibus instructa fuisse ferebatur ita dumtaxat, ut disertissimi oratores tam sagax virginis ingenium alterno experire conflictu vererentur. Quid plura? tandem vir vitae venerabilis non fraudis argumento, sed ratiocinationis documento in reciprocis conflictibus victoriae palmam adeptus eandem Dariam iam catholicae fidei sacramenta credentem suscipiens simulato hymenei commercio simul conversantur, donec ipsa salubris lavacri latice lustratur. Mox relictis dialecticorum disciplinis, quibus dudum in gimnasii studio exercebatur, canonicis scripturis et commentis spiritalibus instruitur, nec laterculo dinumerari nec calculo computari ullatenus valet, quanta multitudo promiscui sexus illorum magisterio fanatica delubrorum superstitione ad fidem catholicam catervatim confluxerit. Huius rei gratia beatus Chrisantus iubente Claudio tribuno LXX militibus diverso poenarum cruciatu torquendus traditur [...]

[...] Post haec decreto Numeriani Augusti pariter in una cripta martirizantes occubuerunt in consortio sanctorum simul percepturi praemia meritorum, sicut simul participes extiterunt tormentorum.

'Nor let it be disagreeable to remember the renowned soldier of Christ CHRYSANTHUS, whom his father, leaving Alexandria, handed over to the philosophers and rhetors of Rome and had him instructed in all liberal studies of arts. He was, so they say, of so burning an intellect and so retentive a memory that, whatsoever he investigated by reading and studying diligently very quickly stuck – as if by glue – in his young intelligence, and would cleave, firmly rooted, within the receptacle of his subtle mind. Wherefore the studies of the grammarians and the teaching of the philosophers [...] having been completed, he came to the most holy scripture of the Gospels, without delay and quicker than telling of it he rejected all the arguments of the Stoics and the Aristotelian categories – which are distinguished by ten kinds of predication – as soon as he perceived how much the doctrine of celestial philosophy excelled the teachings of the world and the fictions of mortals [...]

[...] Some of the relatives urge the father that his son be bound with the pleasant chains of marriage and be fastened down by the seductive allurement of matrimony; so that Daria, a very beautiful vestal virgin of elegant appearance, radiant with jewels and gold, should approach Chrysanthus boldly, in order that both the polished eloquence of her speech as well as the ornamented gew-gaws on her bosom should incline the soldier of Christ to the tie of marriage. But (Chrysanthus) gave in in a different way than they anticipated. For there arose between Daria and Chrysanthus a very lengthy verbal debate and exchange of ideas – since Daria was said to have been so well trained in dialectical arts and so well versed in the sophistical procedures of the syllogism that even the most eloquent orators feared to test the sagacious intellect of the young girl in an argument. Why say more? At length the man of venerable life achieved the palm of victory in their reciprocal debates, not by an argument of deception, but through a demonstration of reason; and taking this very Daria, who now believed in the sacraments of the catholic faith, they lived together under the simulated intercourse of marriage, until at length Daria was purified through the water of the redeeming font. Abandoning at once the disciplines of dialectic, with which she had occupied her school studies, she is instructed in canonical writings and exegetical commentaries. Nor could one enumerate in a list or compute in any way by any system of reckoning what a great multitude of either sex would flock in crowds from the fanatical superstition of pagan shrines to the catholic faith as a result of the instruction (of Daria and Chrysanthus). As a result of this, the blessed Chrysanthus is given over at the command of the tribune Claudius to seventy soldiers to be punished by varying excruciation [...]'

Many miracles occur as the couple are tortured and punished, causing many to convert and themselves become martyrs.

'[...] After these (aforementioned trials), by the decree of Numerianus Augustus they died as martyrs, put to rest together in the one crypt in the company of saints, ready to receive together the rewards for their merits, just as they had shared together their torments.'

Ehwald 1919, 276-80. Translation: Lapidge and Herren 1979, 96-9.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Chrysanthus and Daria, chaste couple and martyrs of Rome, and companion martyrs : S00306

Saint Name in Source

Chrisantus, Daria

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Britain and Ireland

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

St Albans St Albans Verulamium

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - crypt/ crypt with relics

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracles causing conversion

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Pagans Relatives of the saint


Aldhelm’s prose treatise On Virginity (De Virginitate), for Abbess Hildelith and the nuns of Barking (south-east Britain), survives in twenty manuscripts, the earliest of which are 9th c. Together with its later, poetic counterpart, it forms what Bede described in 731 as a ‘twinned work’ (opus geminatum), although there is a notable difference between the content and style of the two sections, the second part constituting more than a straightforward ‘versification’ of the first (see E06659). Aldhelm (ob. 709/10) appears to have been a son of Centwine, king of the Gewisse or West Saxons (south-west Britain) from 676 until 682/5, when he abdicated and retired to a monastery. We do not know when Aldhelm himself took religious vows, but he definitely attended, perhaps for many years, Archbishop Theodore and Abbot Hadrian’s school at Canterbury (from shortly after 670?), and possibly studied at the Irish foundation of Iona, off the coast of north-west Britain (perhaps in the 660s?). Around 682/6 he became abbot of the West Saxon monastery of Malmesbury, and in 689 probably accompanied King Cædwalla on his pilgrimage to Rome (see E05710 and E06661). In 705/6 he was appointed ‘bishop west of the wood’ in his home kingdom (later identifiable with the diocese of Sherborne). (For all aspects of Aldhelm’s career see now Lapidge, 2007.) At the core of On Virginity is a lengthy catalogue of exemplary virgins, first men (Old Testament prophets; New Testament figures; martyrs and other saints of the Roman Empire), then women (Mary; martyrs and other saints of the Empire), followed by some remarks on a group of non-virginal, Old Testament sancti who in some sense prefigured Christ. As with Bede in his Marytrology (725/31), Aldhelm makes good use of Roman Martyrdoms and Acts in his accounts of many post-Biblical saints. Although he does not seem to have had the same range of hagiographical material at hand as Bede later would at the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow (north-east Britain), his use of the texts is more creative, and he extensively reworks them in his characteristically florid prose style. The prose On Virginity presents difficulties with dating, but the author’s reference to himself in its preface as only a ‘servant’ (bernaculus) of the Church would seem to place it before his abbacy in 682/6 (ibid., 67-9). Meanwhile – if the twelfth-century chronicler John of Worcester is correct – Aldhelm’s chief dedicatee Hildelith only appears to have taken control over Barking in 675, thus allowing us to date the work cautiously to somewhere within 675/86. This is significant, since it suggests that the many Martyrdoms which Aldhelm used among his sources (including several translated from the Greek) were available to him in southern Britain before his probable visit to Rome in 689.


Aldhelm's main source for this passage is the Martyrdom of Chrysanthus and Daria (E02487) (Lapidge and Herren, 1979, 177).


Edition: Ehwald, R., Aldhelmi opera (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi 15; Berlin, 1919). Translation: Lapidge, M., and Herren, M., Aldhelm, The Prose Works (Cambridge, 1979). Further reading: Lapidge, M., "The Career of Aldhelm," Anglo-Saxon England 36 (2007), 15-69.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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