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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world

The second edition of the Liber Pontificalis, written in Latin in Rome between the 530s and 546, in its account of *John I (bishop of Rome, ob. 526, S00308), lists his renovation works in the cemeteries of *Nereus and Achilles (eunuchs and martyrs of Rome, S00403), of *Felix and Adauctus (martyrs of Rome, S00421), and of Priscilla, all in the suburbs of Rome; his adornment of the confessio of *Paul (the Apostle, S00008); as well as offerings made by the emperor Justin I to the churches in Rome of *Peter (the Apostle, S00036), of *Paul (the Apostle, S00008), of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033), and of *Laurence (deacon and martyr of Rome, S00037).

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Major author/Major anonymous work

Liber Pontificalis

Liber Pontificalis 55

First edition (as reconstructed by Duchesne)

The passage on John's foundations and offerings can be found only in the second edition.

Second edition

Hic papa Iohannis refecit cymiterium beatorum martyrum Nerei et Achillei via Ardiatina; item renovavit cymiterium sanctorum Felicis et Audacti; item renovavit cymiterium Priscillae. Eodem tempore positum est ornatum super confessionem beati Pauli apostoli de gemmis prasinis et yachintis. Item huius temporibus Iustinus imperator optulit:
patenam auream cum gemmis, pens. lib. XX;
calicem aureum cum gemmis, pens. lib. V;
scyphos argenteos V;
pallea aurotexta XV;
quod ipse Iohannis detulit ad beatos apostolos Petrum et Paulum et ad sanctam Mariam et ad sanctum Laurentium.

'Pope John rebuilt the cemetery of the blessed martyrs Nereus and Achilleus on the via Ardeatina. He also renewed the cemetery of saints Felix and Adauctus. He also renewed the cemetery of Priscilla. At that time an adornment was placed above the
confessio of saint Paul the apostle, of prase and jacinth jewels. Also in his time the emperor Justin presented:
a gold paten with jewels, weighing 20 lb;
a gold chalice with jewels, weighing 5 lb;
5 silver
15 gold-worked
John himself brought these to St Peter’s, St Paul’s, St Mary’s, and St Laurence’s.'

Text: Duchesne 1886, 276. Translation: Davis 2010, 49, lightly modified.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)
Burial site of a saint - cemetery/catacomb

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops
Monarchs and their family

Cult Related Objects

Precious cloths
Chalices, censers and other liturgical vessels
Precious material objects


The Liber Pontificalis consists of a series of very short lives of popes. The preface attributes it to pope Damasus (366-384), but this attribution is obviously false. According to Louis Duchesne, the first modern editor of the Liber Pontificalis, the original series of lives was written in Rome by an anonymous author, probably a member of the lesser clergy, in the 530s, and contained the lives from *Peter the Apostle to Felix IV (ob. 530). Shortly after, before 546, the text was re-edited by another anonymous author and only this edition survives. The first edition, however, can be reconstituted on the basis of its two epitomes (and the second edition). The second edition started to be continued systematically from the time of pope Honorius (625–638). It should be noted that Theodor Mommsen dated both editions of the Liber Pontificalis to the 7th century, but his opinion is widely rejected and the commonly accepted dating is that of Duchesne.

For the pre-Constantinian period (before 312), the credibility of the
Liber Pontificalis is very low. The chronology is confused, and details concerning the personal lives, decisions and ordinations of the bishops of Rome at best reflect what people in the 6th century trusted to be true, at worst are a pure invention of the author. The situation changes with the later lives. Already the information of 4th-century papal foundations and offerings are generally trustworthy. The early 6th-century evidence, based on the author's first hand knowledge is even better, though still imperfect.


Duchesne, L., Le Liber pontificalis. 2 vols (Paris: E. Thorin, 1886-1892) (with substantial introduction and commentary).

Davis, R., The Book of Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis) (Translated Texts for Historians 6; 3rd ed.; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010).

Further reading:
Krautheimer, R., Corpus Basilicarum Christianarum Romae: The early Christian Basilicas of Rome (IV–IX Centuries), Vatican City 1937–1977

Brandenburg, H.,
Ancient churches of Rome from the fourth to the seventh century: the dawn of Christian architecture in the West, Turnhout 2005.

Record Created By

Robert Wiśniewski

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00008Paul, the ApostlePaulusCertain
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristMariaCertain
S00036Peter, the ApostlePetrusCertain
S00037Laurence/Laurentius, deacon and martyr of RomeLaurentiusCertain
S00403Nereus and Achilleus, eunuchs and martyrs of Rome, and companionsCertain
S00421Felix and Adauctus, martyrs of Rome, buried on the via OstiensisCertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Robert Wiśniewski, Cult of Saints, E01357 -