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E07505: Latin verse inscription praising *Felicitas and her seven sons (martyrs of Rome, S00525). Once ascribed to Pope Damasus, but much more probably composed to celebrate the restoration of the basilica and tomb of Felicitas by Pope Boniface I (418-422), in a style imitating the Damasan verse. Now lost, but probably displayed in the surface basilica at the Cemetery of Felicitas/Cemetery of Maximus on the Via Salaria, Rome. [provisional entry]

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posted on 2019-03-30, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Intonuit metuenda dies, surrexit in hostem,
       impia tela mali vincere cum properat.
(3) Carnificis superare vias tunc mille nocendi
       sola fides potuit quam regit Omnipotens.
     Corporeis resoluta malis, duce praedita Christo,
(6)   aetheris alma parens atria celsa petit.
     Insontes pueros sequitur per amoena virecta,
       tempora victricis florea sera ligant.
(9) Purpuream rapiunt animam caelestia regna,
       sanguine lota suo membra tegit tumulus.
     Si titulum quaeris, meritum de nomine signat,
(12)  ne opprimeris [- - -] fuit ista mihi

1. veneranda dies Cent. || 4. quem Vird. || 5. om. Cent. || 6. aetheriis Vird. || partens Laur. || 8. tempore Cent. Laur. || seria Vird. || 9. purpuriam Cent. || purpoream Laur. || quoq. recipiant Vird. instead of rapiunt || 10. tenet Vird. instead of tegit - favoured by Ferrua || 11. si tumulum Vird. - favoured by Ferrua, situmulum Cent. || 12. om. Cent., Laur.

Note: The apparatus does not include many corrupted forms of the codex Petropolitanus. The translation by Michael Lapidge, which we reproduce here, has verse 12 in the following form: ne opprimerer [vitiis dux] fuit ista mihi (with opprimerer taken from de Rossi's edition, contra Ferrua, and vitiis dux supplemented by Lapidge). Other attempts to restore this verse include: ne opprimer[er bello dux] (de Rossi), ne opprimer[er tenebris lux] (Doulcet), ne opprimer[er poenis spes] fuit (Garrucci), and, more aggressively: signat | neo pari matris, [dux] fuit (Bücheler in Ihm's edition). We also think, unlike Lapidge, that the phrase meritum de nomine signat in verse 11 refers to the titulus, not Felicitas, and should rather be understood 'it reveals her distinction in her name'.

'The fearful day arrived; she arose against the Enemy.
When she hastened to conquer the wicked weapons of evil,
her faith alone, which the Almighty directs, was able
to overcome the executioner’s thousand ways of inflicting injury.
Freed from bodily evils, endowed with Christ as her guide,
the kindly parent seeks the lofty halls of heaven.
She follows her guiltless sons through lovely meadows:
a garland of flowers binds the temples of this conquering woman.
The heavenly kingdom receives her bloodied soul;
this tomb covers her limbs, drenched with her own gore.
If you seek a label, she reveals her distinction in her name:
so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed , this (woman) was my .'

Text: ICVR, n.s., VIII, no. 23394 = EDB19972. Transl. Michael Lapidge.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Felicitas, martyr of Rome with her seven sons : S00525

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.) Literary - Poems


  • 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

Suburban catacombs and cemeteries

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

Suburban catacombs and cemeteries Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Major author/Major anonymous work

Damasan and pseudo-Damasan poems

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - Popes


The poem is composed in six elegiac couplets. The text survived through the codex Petropolitanus F. XIV 1 f. 128 of the Sylloge Centulensis, the codex Vaticanus Palatinus 833 f. 79 (verses 5-11) of the Sylloge Laureshamensis, and the codex Virdunensis 45 f. 213 col. 1 of the Sylloge Virdunensis. First published by Jan Gruter in 1602 from the codex Vatic. Palat. The first edition based on all the codices was offered by Giovanni Battista de Rossi. In the Sylloge Virdunensis, the poem is prefaced by the following lemma: Isti versiculi sunt scripti in introitu ecclesiae (sc. Sanctae Felicitatis)/'These verses are written at the entrance to the church' (i.e. of Saint Felicitas)'.


Ferrua accepts de Rossi's supposition that the poem may have labelled an image, possibly a mosaic, or a painting. Alternatively, it could be written on a marble plaque in two columns. According to the Sylloge Virdunensis it was placed at the entrance to the church but Lapidge is careful about detailed statements on its location (p. 48: 'somewhere within it'). A donation to St Felicitas by Pope Boniface I, the most likely commissioner of this poem, is described in the Liber pontificalis (E01285). From this passage we also learn that he sought refuge at the cemetery of Felicitas during his conflict with Eulalius, and arranged to be buried there. Ferrua and Ihm both noticed that the poem heavily draws upon Damasan phrasing, whilst the phrase purpurea anima is, notably, borrowed from Vergil's Aeneid (IV 349). It is, therefore, a work imitating the form, and probably also the context of most of Damasus' epigraphical poetry, which normally accompanied the monumentalisation of the saints' tombs. This is also what Boniface did with the tomb of Felicitas – either planning a proper burial place for himself, or in an act of gratitude for the saint's protection. What is important to the history of the cult of Felicitas is that the poem gives us a plausible argument that by the time of Pope Boniface (418-422) she had been commonly taken as the mother of the seven martyrs of 10 July (see the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, E04877), whereas this association is missing in the Chronography of 354 (E01052). Felicitas may have been originally a martyr venerated on 23 November (MH: E05028) later associated with these seven through an assimilation of the legend of the seven Maccabaean martyrs and their mother (for an account of this theory, see Lapidge 2018, 48-49).


Edition: Epigraphic Database Bari, no. EDB19972. see De Rossi, G.B., Ferrua, A. (eds.) Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae Septimo Saeculo Antiquiores, n.s., vol. 8: Coemeteria viarum Nomentanae et Salariae (Vatican: Pont. Institutum Archaeologiae Christianae, 1983), no. 23394 (with further bibliography). Ferrua, A. (ed.), Epigrammata Damasiana (Sussidi allo studio delle antichità cristiane 2, Rome: , 1942), no. 72(1). Ihm, M., Damasi Epigrammata: accedunt Pseudodamasiana aliaque ad Damasiana inlustranda idonea (Lipsiae: in aedibus B. G. Teubneri, 1895), no. 86. De Rossi, G. B., Inscriptiones christianae Urbis Romae septimo saeculo antiquiores 2.1 (Rome: Ex Officina Libraria Pontificia, 1857-1888), 88, nos. 33-34; 116, no. 92; 136, no. 13. Further reading: Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 45-49 (including an English translation on p. 48).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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