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E07403: Pope Gregory the Great, in his Book of Responses to Augustine, bishop of Canterbury (south-east Britain), announces that he is sending relics of *Xystus/Sixtus II (bishop and martyr of Rome, S00201) to Britain, in order that they might be venerated, thus replacing a dubious local cult surrounding the body of another *Sixtus (martyr(?) venerated in Britain, S02783). Written in Latin in Rome, c. 601, in reply to a letter sent from Canterbury. Written in Latin in Rome.

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posted on 2019-02-19, 00:00 authored by bsavill
Pope Gregory the Great, Libellus responsionum (Obsecratio)

Full text of Augustine's tenth question, and Gregory's tenth answer:

Obsecratio Augustini. Obsecro ut reliquae sancti Sixti martyris nobis transmittantur.

Concessio Gregorii. Fecimus quod petisti, quatenus populus qui in loco quodam sancti Sixti martyris corpus dicitur venerari, quod tuae fraternitati nec verum nec veraciter sanctum videtur, certa sanctissimi et probatissimi martyris beneficia suscipiens, colore incerta non debeat. Mihi tamen videtur, quia, si coprus quod a populo esse cuiusdam martyris creditur nullis illic miraculis coruscat et neque eliqui de antiquioribus existunt, qui se a parentibus passionis eius ordinem audisse fateantur, ita relqiuiae quas petisti seorsum condendae sunt, ut locus in quo praefatum corpus iacet modis omnibus obstruatur nec permittatur populo certum deserere et incerta venerari.

'Augustine: I ask that relics of St Sixtus be sent to us.

Gregory: We have done what you requested, in order that the people, which in some place is reported to venerate the body of St Sixtus the martyr (though it seems to you that it can be neither the true body nor truly a saint), should, by receiving certain benefits of a most holy and authentic martyr, cease to worship what is uncertain. For it seems to me that, if the body which is believed by the people to be that of a martyr does not shine there with miracles, and there are none from among the elders who can say that they heard the narrative of his passion from their forbears, then the relics that you have requested should be enshrined separately, in order that the place where the aforesaid body lies may be blocked off in every possible way. It must not be permitted to the people to desert the certain and venerate the uncertain.'

Text: Ewald and Hartmann, 1881-99, ii. 337. Translation: Sharpe 2002, 124 (format lightly modified).


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Xystus/Sixtus II, bishop and martyr of Rome : S00201 Sixtus, martyr(?) venerated in Britain : S02783

Saint Name in Source

Sixtus Sixtus

Type of Evidence

Documentary texts - Letter Canonical and legal texts


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Britain and Ireland Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Canterbury Rome

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

Canterbury St Albans St Albans Verulamium Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Appropriation of older cult sites

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Uncertainty/scepticism/rejection of a saint

Cult Activities - Miracles

Observed scarcity/absence of miracles

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - Popes Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Unspecified relic


The Book of Responses (Libellus responsionum) consists of ten questions posed by Augustine, the first bishop of Canterbury (597-?609) on problems facing the early English church, together with replies by Pope Gregory the Great (590-604). It did not circulate in the middle ages as part of the selected compendium of Gregory's correspondence known to us as his Register, and appears to have had a distinct manuscript tradition as a canon law text. Bede reproduced the Book almost in full in his Ecclesiastical History of 731 (1.27), but he did not include this tenth and final question, generally known now as the Obsecratio. Doubts about the Book's authenticity no longer carry serious weight (see Meyvaert, 1986).


The Obsecratio provides a valuable and extremely rare insight into a Roman or post-Roman British saint's cult, apparently one still surviving in some form in southern / south-eastern Britain into the early 7th century. Its location is uncertain. If the site described was a suburban martyrium of the Gallic type, then the old Roman cities of Chichester, Silchester or Cirencester are candidates; alternatively, it could have been a smaller grave site for a lower-status saint (Sharpe, 2002, 125). Nicholas Brooks suggested that the placename Chich in Essex might derive from Sixtus, and thus point to the cult site known to Augustine (cited in Flechner, 2015). It is unclear why Bede or his source chose to excise the Obsecratio from the Book of Responses. 'The omission... may be an attempt to suppress the memory of Christian worship in Kent before the [Gregorian] missionaries' arrival.' (ibid.)


Edition: Ewald, P., and Hartmann, L, Gregorii I papae registrium epistolarum, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1881-99). Translation and discussion: Sharpe, R., "Martyrs and Local Saints in Late Antique Britain," in: A. Thacker and R. Sharpe (eds.), Local Saints and Local Churches in the Early Medieval West (Oxford, 2002), 123-125. Further reading: Flechner, R., "Pope Gregory and the British: Mission as a Canonical Problem," in: H. Bouget and M. Coumert (eds.), En Marge, Histoires des Bretagnes 5 (Brest, 2015), 47–65 (online at Meyvaert, P., 'Le Libellus responsionum à Augustin de Cantorbéry: une oeuvre authentique de Saint Grégoire le Grand," in: J. Fontaine, R. Gillet, and S. Pellistrandi (eds.), Grégoire le Grand: Actes de le Colloque international du Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Chantilly, Centre culturel Les Fontaines, 15-19 septembre 1982 (Paris, 1986), 543–50.

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