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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

The short Life of *Boniface IV (bishop of Rome, ob. 615, S00841) in the Liber Pontificalis, written in Latin in Rome, early in the 7th c., mentions his conversion of the Pantheon into the church of the blessed *Mary, 'ever-virgin' (S00033), and of All Martyrs (S02818), and Boniface's burial in the church of *Peter (the Apostle, S00036), all in Rome.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Major author/Major anonymous work

Liber Pontificalis

Liber Pontificalis 69

Bonifatius, natione Marsorum, de civitate Valeria, ex patre Iohanne medico, sedit ann. VI mens. VIII dies XIII.
Huius temporibus famis, pestilentiae et inundationes aquarum gravissime fuerunt. Eodem tempore petiit a Focate principe templum qui appellatur Pantheum, in quo fecit ecclesiam beatae Mariae semper virginis et omnium martyrum; in qua ecclesia Focas princeps dona multa optulit. Hic domum suam monasterium fecit, quem et ditavit.Quo defuncto sepultus est ad beatum Petrum apostolum.

'Boniface, born among the Marsi, from the city of Valeria, son of Iohannes, a physician, held the see 6 years 8 months 13 days. In his time there were a very serious famine, plagues, and floods. At that time he asked the emperor Phocas for the temple called the Pantheon, and in it he made the church of the blessed Mary ever-virgin and all martyrs; in this church the emperor presented many gifts. He made his own house into a monastery and enriched it. On his death he was buried at the blessed Peter the apostle.'

Text: Duchesne 1886, 317. Translation: Davis 2010, 61.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)
Burial site of a saint - crypt/ crypt with relics

Non Liturgical Activity

Burial ad sanctos
Appropriation of older cult sites


Bodily relic - entire body

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops
Monarchs and their family


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.


The Pantheon was one of the first pagan temple converted into a church in the West, see Wiśniewski (2015).


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:
Wiśniewski, R., "Pagan temples, Christians, and demons in the late antique East and West”, Sacris Erudiri 54 (2015), 111-128.

Record Created By

Robert Wiśniewski

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristMariaCertain
S00036Peter, the ApostlePetrusCertain
S00060Martyrs, unnamed or name lostomnes martyresCertain
S00841Boniface IV, bishop of Rome, ob. 615BonifatiusCertain
S02818All martyrsomnes martyresCertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Robert Wiśniewski, Cult of Saints, E01429 -