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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

The Martyrdom of *Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abacuc of Persia (martyrs of the via Cornelia near Rome, S01163) and of *Valentinus (priest and martyr of Rome, S00433) is written in Latin probably in the diocese of Silva Candida near Rome, probably no later than the 6th c. Narrates how Marius and his family travel from Persia to Rome; their care for persecuted Christians and for the burial of martyrs, in particular *Blastus (martyr of Rome, S00476) in a crypt on the via Salaria, and *Cyrinus/Quirinus (martyr of Rome, S01551) in a crypt in the cemetery of Pontianus; the trial of the priest Valentinus and his conversion of the princeps *Asterius (martyr of Ostia, S01550) and all his household; the latter's arrest, martyrdom and burial at Ostia, where a church is built; Valentinus’ martyrdom and burial on the via Flaminia; the martyrdom of Marius and his family on the via Cornelia, and their burial. Miracles abound up to this day at the burial places of the martyrs.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom

Martyrdom of Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abacuc of Persia, and of Valentinus (BHL 5543)


§ 1: At the time of the emperor Claudius, Christians from Persia, Marius, his wife Martha and their sons Audifax and Abbacuc (Habakkuk), come to pray to the Apostles. In Rome they are looking for the bodies of saints in jails and tombs. They come to the
Castra on the other side of the Tiber and find a man named Cyrinus [or Quirinus] in jail who has suffered greatly for Christ and has been despoiled of everything. They ask him to pray for them and stay with him for eight days, taking care of Cyrinus and of all those who are captive there, washing their feet and pouring water over their heads.

§ 2: Claudius orders Christians, free or in custody, to be punished. Two hundred and sixty Christians are arrested on the
via Salaria ; they are jailed in Figlina outside the walls of the porta Salaria and killed with arrows in the amphitheatre of the city.

§ 3: Marius and Martha are saddened and go with their sons and the priest (
presbyter) Iohannes to the place where the saints have been killed and find that their bodies are being burnt. They take them from the fire and bury them with linen cloth which they pay for, since they are very rich. They bury them in a crypt on the via Salaria near the Clivum Cucumeris. They also bury with them a certain tribune of Claudius named Blastus. Prayers with vigils and fasting are celebrated there for many days with the priest Iohannes.

§ 4: Claudius hears about this and wants to meet Marius and Martha, but he cannot find them since they are in hiding. They come to see Cyrinus at the
Castrum but cannot find him, but instead meet a priest (presbyter) named Pastor who tells them that Cyrinus was killed by the sword at night and thrown into the Tiber; his body lies on the insula Lycaonia. At night they go with Pastor to collect his body and bury it in the cemetery of Pontianus (coemiterium Pontiani) in a crypt on the 8th day before the Calends of April [= 25 March].

§ 5: Marius, Martha and their sons hear at night a crowd of Christians chanting in a room (
caenaculum) on the other side of the Tiber. They reach them but fail to enter, because the crowd inside refuses to open the door out of fear. A bishop present there named Callixtus hears them knocking and comforts the crowd, stating that they should have no fear; he opens the door and sees Marius, Martha and their sons Audifax and Abbacuc, who throw themselves at his feet. They kiss each other and Callixtus prays to God for the faith of his congregation, all the people replying “Amen”. They stay there hiding for two months.

§ 6: Claudius arrests a priest (
presbyter) named Valentinus and sends him in chains to jail. After two days, he interrogates him in his residence (palatium) near the amphitheatre. Claudius asks why he refuses his friendship and follows superstition, although he seems to be wise. Valentinus replies that the emperor needs to reject demons and idols and confess the only one and almighty God the Father and his son Jesus Christ, creator of all things. A legal adviser (legisconsultor) asks Valentinus what he thinks of the gods Jupiter and Mercury. Valentinus replies that he thinks that they are filthy men who have lived bad lives, as is clear from their genealogy. The legal adviser shouts that Valentinus blasphemes against the gods and the governors of the state (gubernatores reipublicae).

§ 7: Claudius wants Valentinus to show him that Christ is God. Valentinus explains to him that, if he believes, his soul will be saved and his reign will be full of success. He requires him to repent for killing saints, to believe in Christ and be baptised. Claudius tells his people that Valentinus’ teaching (
doctrina) is sound. The prefect Calpurnius however says that the emperor has been seduced, and he argues against abandoning the religion of one’s youth.

§ 8: Claudius changes his mind and asks Calpurnius to hear Valentinus and decide whether he is to be punished for sacrilege. Calpurnius hands Valentinus to Asterius, stating that, if he is able to convince the
princeps Asterius, he (Valentinus) will become a friend of the emperor and a rich man. Asterius brings Valentinus to his house; as he enters, Valentinus kneels and quoting Matthew 11:28, he prays to God for the conversion of the household and for light to free them from darkness.

§ 9: Asterius tells Valentinus that he admires his wisdom when he states that Christ is the light. Valentinus asserts that Christ is the light born from the Virgin Mary and from the Holy Spirit. Asterius remarks that he will know if God is able to illuminate mankind, since he has an adoptive daughter who has been blind since the age of two because of cataracts (
hypochyma). He will bring her to him and, if she is cured, he will do whatever Valentinus orders. Valentinus agrees and she is brought to him. Valentinus raises his hands, weeps and prays to God to grant him the power to enlighten the girl, referring to Christ’s miraculous resurrection of Lazarus and healing of the man born blind. He then puts his hand on her eyes asking Jesus Christ to enlighten her, and she sees.

§ 10: Asterius and his wife fall at the feet of Valentinus and ask him to save their souls. Valentinus tells them to believe, destroy the idols, and fast: all their sins will be forgiven and they will be baptised and saved. He then asks them to fast for three days. Asterius frees the many Christians that he held captive. After three days, Valentinus baptises Asterius and all his household. He calls the bishop Callixtus who gives unction to Asterius and all his household, in total forty-six people.

§ 11: Marius, Martha and their sons hear of this story, come to the house of Asterius with great joy and thanking God, and stay there for thirty-two days. Then, when Claudius convokes Asterius, he hears that his daughter has been healed and that all his household has been baptised by Valentinus. The angry emperor sends soldiers and arrests them all, including Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abbacuc. Asterius and all his household are brought to Ostia to be judged.

§ 12: They are handed to the judge Gelasius who sends them to jail. After twenty days, he convokes them and asks them about the ruling of the emperor. As they say that they know nothing about it, Gelasius reminds them that whoever refuses to sacrifice is to be killed. Asterius states that they have offered themselves as a sacrifice to God and his son Jesus Christ. Gelasius orders Asterius to be tortured on a rack and all the others to be beaten with cudgels. They pray to Jesus Christ to be spared from suffering like the three youths in the fiery furnace (
Daniel 3:1-30).

§ 13: Gelasius orders Asterius to be put in jail, in preparation for heavier torture. He invites all the people to gather at dawn for the spectacle. Asterius and all the saints (
omnes sancti) are brought into the amphitheatre. Gelasius requires Asterius to sacrifice to the gods to avoid torture and the death of all. Asterius speaks for all, stating that they are ready to suffer for Jesus Christ and reach the kingdom of heaven. Gelasius orders them to be thrown to wild beasts. They are brought to the place called Ursarius close to the golden temple (fanum aureum) where beasts are kept. As the saints enter, the beasts are sent to kill them, but Asterius makes the sign of Christ and prays to God asking for the protection of an angel, invoking the cases of Daniel and the prophet Habakkuk. The beasts lie at their feet.

§ 14: Gelasius tells the people that it is magic but many say that it is God that saved them. Gelasius orders the saints to be burned; Asterius comforts the saints reminding them of the three youths in the furnace. The flames are extinguished and nobody is hurt. Gelasius sees that he is defeated, he orders them to be thrown outside the walls of Ostia, punished by death and hidden with stones. Their bodies are then buried by Christians with great care on the 15th day before the Calends of February [= 18 January].

In quo loco fabricata est ecclesia, et ibi florent beneficia martyrum usque in praesentem diem.

‘In the same place a church has been built and the favours of the martyrs abound there up to the present day.'

§ 15: The emperor decides that he will himself interrogate Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abbacuc, while the priest Valentinus is beaten with cudgels and beheaded on the
via Flaminia the 16th day before the Calends of March [= 16 February].

Cuius corpus colegit quaedam matrona Savinilla et sepelivit in eodem loco, ubi decollatus est, ubi multa miracula operatur Dominus ad laudem et gloriam nominis sui.

‘A certain matrona Savinilla took his body and buried it in the same place where he had been beheaded, where the Lord performs many miracles for the pride and glory of his name.'

§ 16: Claudius summons Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abbacuc. Guessing that they are rich, he asks them where they come from, how they are related, why they have come, and what is their condition and wealth. Audifax the elder son tells him that they are from Persia, that he and his brother are sons of Marius and Martha, and that they have come to pray to the Apostles. Concerning their wealth and condition, Marius and Martha tell Claudius that they are of noble birth: Marius is the son of the emperor Maromenus and Martha the daughter of the sub-king (
subregulus) Cusinitus. As Claudius wonders why they have abandoned the gods of their parents, Marius explains that they are servants of Christ and have come to the Apostles to receive their help. Marius adds, when Claudius asks him about their wealth, that they have given it away. Claudius, full of anger, hands them to the vicarius Muscianus, ordering them to be tortured if they refuse to sacrifice.

§ 17: Muscianus orders an assembly to be made ready in the temple of Tellus (
gremium in Tellude) and several torture instruments to be brought there. He asks them if they know of the emperor’s orders. As Audifax says that they do not, at the request of Marius and Martha, Muscianus tells them, after having made ready the torture instruments, that they will be tortured if they refuse to sacrifice, otherwise they will be held in great honour. Audifax tells Muscianus that he finds the order stupid, and the others agree.

§ 18: Muscianus orders Marius and his sons to be undressed and beaten with cudgels, while Martha is required to watch. She encourages her sons, while Marius praises the Lord Jesus Christ. They are then put on a rack; as their bodies are stretched, Audifax glorifies God for having permitted them to become his servants. Muscianus then orders their sides to be burned and their bodies scraped with iron claws (
ungula ferrea). Full of joy, they thank God. Muscianus, as Martha is watching, orders their hands to be cut off. Martha joyfully collects the pouring blood and rubs it (linebat) over her head. Muscianus orders them to be shown around the city with their hands attached to their necks, and everyone to be told that the gods should not be blasphemed. However Marius, Audifax and Abbacuc shout that these are not gods but demons.

§ 19: The same day they are sentenced to death. They are brought to the
via Cornelia, to the thirteenth mile at the Fountain of Catabassus (Nympha Catabassi) and beheaded there on the arenarium. Martha however is killed in the Nympha itself. Muscianus orders their bodies to be burned to avoid them being buried.

Matrona vero quaedam, nomine Felicitas, rapuit corpora eorum semiusta, et in praedio suo sepelivit. Martham vero levavit de puteo, et iunxit corporibus sanctis, sub die tertio decimo Kalendarum Februariarum: ubi praestantur beneficia Domini nostri Iesu Christi usque in hodiernum diem ...

‘However, a certain matrona named Felicitas stole their half-burned bodies and buried them on her property. Martha however she lifted from the well (puteus) and joined to the other holy bodies on the thirteenth day before the Calends of February [= 20 January], where favours of the Lord Jesus Christ are given up to the present day ...’

Acta Sanctorum, Jan. II, 580-583 (216-219). Summary and translations: M. Pignot.
Liturgical Activities

Chant and religious singing
Other liturgical acts and ceremonies
Liturgical invocation


Saint’s feast

Cult Places

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

Non Liturgical Activity

Composing and translating saint-related texts
Visiting graves and shrines
Distribution of alms
Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings
Construction of cult buildings


Miracle during lifetime
Miracles causing conversion
Healing diseases and disabilities
Miracle with animals and plants
Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather)
Miracle after death
Unspecified miracle


Bodily relic - entire body
Construction of cult building to contain relics

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops
Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy
Foreigners (including Barbarians)
Relatives of the saint
Monarchs and their family


Epic martyrdoms
Martyrdom of Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abacuc of Persia, and of Valentinus is an anonymous literary account of martyrdom written long after the great persecutions of Christians that provide the background of the narrative. It is part of a widely spread literary genre, that scholars often designate as "epic" Martyrdoms (or Passiones), to be distinguished from earlier, short and more plausible accounts, apparently based on the genuine transcripts of the judicial proceedings against the martyrs.

These texts narrate the martyrdom of local saints, either to promote a new cult or to give further impulse to existing devotion. They follow widespread stereotypes mirroring the early authentic trials of martyrs, but with a much greater degree of detail and in a novel-like style. Thus they narrate how the protagonists are repeatedly questioned and tortured under the order of officials or monarchs, because they refuse to sacrifice to pagan gods but profess the Christian faith. They frequently refer to miracles performed by the martyrs and recreate dialogues between the protagonists. The narrative generally ends with the death of the martyrs (often by beheading) and their burial. These texts are literary creations bearing a degree of freedom in the narration of supposedly historical events, often displaying clear signs of anachronism. For these reasons, they have been generally dismissed as historical evidence and often remain little known. However, since most certainly date from within the period circa 400-800, often providing unique references to cult, they are an essential source to shed new light on the rise of the cult of saints.

The Martyrdom of Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abacuc of Persia, and of Valentinus
The most widespread and earliest attested version, here summarised, is BHL 5543 (an abbreviated variant is BHL 5543a; BHL 8463-8466 are extracted from the main account and focus on Valentinus). There are more than 130 manuscripts of the
Martyrdom in its variant versions; see the database Bibliotheca Hagioraphica Latina (, and an additional list in Lanéry 2010, 253 n. 338. The earliest are from the 9th century: Paris, BNF, lat. 5299, f. 15v-21v; Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, HB XIV.13, f. 76v-81v; Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Reg. lat. 516, f. 24v-28r.


For a summary of the cult of the martyrs mentioned in this narrative, see Lapidge 2018, 420-425. Our Asterius, martyr of Ostia, here an aristocratic convert, is none the less presumably the same martyr of Ostia (also in the time of Callixtus) found in the Martyrdom of *Callixtus (E02485), although there he is one of Callixtus' priests.

The Martyrdom is of uncertain date of composition, but must have been written before Bede, who borrows from it in his martyrology (E05658). It is generally dated to the 5th or 6th century (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2208; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 77).

For Lanéry it should be dated after around 510, since similarities of characters' names and features, and of narrative patterns, would suggest that it borrowed from the martyrdoms of *Pudentiana and Praxedis (E02507), *Callixtus (E02485), and in particular *Polychronius, Sixtus, Laurence, Hippolytus and others (E02504). Lanéry adds that it should be dated more precisely to around 550, in the aftermath of the Gothic war: our
Martyrdom would have been written against the Goths, situating for this reason the narrative under the emperor Claudius Gothicus and containing anti-Arian polemic. It would also have taken inspiration for the torture of cutting off hands from the same torture inflicted upon the bishop of Silva Candida, Valentinus, under king Totila (as narrated by Procopius). Lanéry also argues that this dating fits with her suggestion that our Martyrdom was in turn borrowed from in hagiographical accounts from central Italy, which she dates after 550, in particular those of *Rufina and Secunda (E02510), and *Valentinus (E02517). However, Lanéry’s dating of these latter accounts is based on the suggested borrowings from our Martyrdom. Lapidge broadly follows Lanéry’s dating, suggesting a composition between 550 and 600.


Edition (BHL 5543):
Acta Sanctorum, Ian. II, 580-583 (216-219).

Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 426-435.

Further reading:
Lanéry, C., "Hagiographie d'Italie (300-550). I. Les Passions latines composées en Italie,” in: Philippart, G. (ed.), Hagiographies. Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550, vol. V (Turnhout, 2010), 15-369, at 250-257 (with bibliography).

Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 420-426.

Record Created By

Matthieu Pignot

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00433Valentinus, priest and martyr of RomeValentinusCertain
S00476Blastus, martyr of RomeBlastusCertain
S01163Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abacuc, husband, wife and two sons from Persia, martyrs of the via Cornelia near RomeMarius, Martha, Audifax et Abacuc PersiaeCertain
S01550Asterius, martyr of OstiaAsteriusCertain
S01551Cyrinus/Quirinus, martyr of Rome, buried in the cemetery of PontianusCyrinusCertain

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