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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 *Theodorus (bishop of Rome, ob. 649, S00856) in the Liber Pontificalis, written in Latin in Rome soon after his death, records his transfer of the bodies of *Primus and Felicianus (martyrs of Rome, S00855) from the via Nomentana outside Rome to the intramural church of *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030), and his gifts there; the building of a church of *Valentinus (priest and martyr of Rome, S00433) on the via Flaminia to the north of Rome; and oratories dedicated to *Sebastianus (martyr of Rome, S00400) at the Lateran, and *Euplus (martyr of Catania, S00207) outside the gate of St *Paul (the Apostle, S00008). It also refers to the church of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033) 'at the Crib' [= S. Maria Maggiore], and to Theodorus' burial at St. *Peter's (the Apostle, S00036) on 14 May.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Major author/Major anonymous work

Liber Pontificalis

Liber Pontificalis 75

Theodorus, natione Grecus, ex patre Theodoro episcopo de civitate Hierusolima, sedit ann. VI mens. V dies XVIII.
Hic fuit amator pauperum, largus, benignus super omnes et multum misericors.

'Theodore, born Greek, son of Theodore a bishop from Jerusalem, held the see 6 years 5 months 18 days. He was a lover of the poor, generous, the kindliest of all men, and very compassionate.'

There follows an account of the unsuccessful plot of the cartularius Mauricius, who sinned 'against saint Peter'.

Et ingressus Romam, fugit Mauricius ad beatam Mariam ad Praesepe. Quem tollentes eum de ecclesia miserunt boiam in collo eius; similiter et omnibus, qui in consilio cum ipso fuerunt, inboiatis misit eos Ravenna per manus Marini scriboni et Thomati cartularii.

'Coming into Rome Mauricius fled into St Mary’s at the Crib (
ad Praesepe). They took him from the church, put a halter round his neck, and did the same to all who were in the plot with him.'


Eodem tempore levata sunt corpora sanctorum martyrum Primi et Feliciani, qui erant in arenario sepulta via Numentana, et adducta sunt in urbe Roma; qui et recondita sunt in basilica beati Stephani protomartyris, ubi et dona obtulit: gabatas aureas III, tabula ex argento ante confessionem, arcos argenteos II. Fecit et ecclesiam beato Valentino via Flamminea iuxta pontem Molbium a solo, quam et ipse dedicavit et dona multa optulit. Fecit et oratorium beato Sebastiano intro episcopio Lateranense, ubi et dona largitus est; fecit et oratorium beato Euplo martyris foris porta beati Pauli apostoli, quem etiam ornavit.

'At that time the bodies of the martyrs saints Primus and Felicianus, which were buried in the
arenarium on the via Nomentana, were lifted and brought into Rome; they were deposited in the basilica of the blessed Stephen the first martyr, and there he [Theodore] presented gifts: 3 gold bowls, a silver panel in front of the confessio, 2 silver arches. He also built from the ground up the church to the blessed Valentinus on the via Flaminia near the Milvian Bridge; he dedicated it and presented many gifts. He also built an oratory to the blessed Sebastianus inside the Lateran Episcopium, and there too he bestowed gifts. He built an oratory to the blessed Euplus the martyr outside St Paul’s Gate, and this he also decorated.'


Qui etiam sepultus est ad beatum Petrum apostolum sub die prid. id. mai.

'He was buried at the blessed Peter the apostle on 14 May.'

Text: Duchesne 1886, 331-333. Translation: Davis 2010, 65-66, lightly modified.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)
Cult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)

Places Named after Saint

Gates, bridges and roads

Non Liturgical Activity

Seeking asylum at church/shrine
Burial ad sanctos
Construction of cult buildings


Bodily relic - entire body
Transfer, translation and deposition of relics

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Related Objects

Precious material objects
Water basins


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 church 'ad Praesepe', named after its principal relic, is Santa Maria Maggiore.


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
S00030Stephen, the First MartyrStephanusCertain
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristMariaCertain
S00036Peter, the ApostlePetrusCertain
S00207Euplius/Euplos, deacon and martyr of CataniaEuplusCertain
S00400Sebastianus, martyr of RomeSebastianusCertain
S00433Valentinus, priest and martyr of Rome, buried on the via FlaminiaValentinusCertain
S00855Primus and Felicianus, martyrs of Numentum, near RomePrimus, FelicianusCertain
S00856Theodorus, bishop of Rome, ob. 649TheodorusCertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Robert Wiśniewski, Cult of Saints, E01629 -