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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

The Latin Martyrdom of *Callixtus (bishop and martyr of Rome, S00145), *Calepodius (priest and martyr of Rome, S01411) and Companions narrates the activities in Rome of pagans around the Capitol and of Christians in Trastevere; the conversion and baptism of the consul Palmatius and the senator Simplicius, with their households, and of the soldier Privatus; miraculous healings; the martyrdom of all the protagonists as well as of *Asterius (martyr of Ostia, S01550). Calepodius and Callixtus are both buried in the cemetery of Calepodius on the via Aurelia. Written presumably in Rome, certainly before the early 8th c.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom

Martyrdom of Callixtus, Calepodius and Companions (BHL 1523)


§ 1: Under the emperors Macrinus and Alexander, a fire erupts on the Capitol, partly burning the idol in the temple of Jupiter. Pagan soothsayers and priests obtain instructions from the emperor Alexander that a sacrifice be performed, but this triggers lightning in clear skies on the day of Jupiter [Thursday], that kills four priests and destroys the altar of Jupiter. The sky is darkened, causing the fearful Roman people to go outside the city walls, on the other side of the Tiber (
trans Tiberim), to the temple in the city of the people of Ravenna (in urbem ad templum Ravennatium), where they hear a crowd of Christians chanting, with their bishop Callixtus and his clergy. The consul Palmatius hears this and tells Alexander that they are the cause of the trouble; the city needs to be purified. Alexander decides to punish all those who refuse to offer sacrifice to the gods.

§ 2: Alexander gives power to Palmatius to bring all to sacrifice and torture those who refuse. Palmatius goes with several soldiers to the other side of the Tiber where many Christians are gathered with Callixtus, among whom is the old priest (
presbyter) Calepodius. As ten soldiers enter the place where the Christians dwell, they are immediately blinded. Calepodius asks them what they want, they reply that they need light, and he tells them that they have been blinded by God. As Palmatius realises this, he flees and tells what happened to Alexander, who thinks that it is magic. Palmatius convinces Alexander to send orders for all people to come to the Capitol on the day of Mercury [Wednesday] to perform sacrifice and obtain help from the god Mercury, and to kill all those who are found staying in their homes. On the day, all the Roman people come to the Capitol, including Palmatius with all his household and a pig and calf.

§ 3: As sacrifice is performed, a virgin of the temple named Iuliana is seized by a devil and shouts that the God of Callixtus is the true God and will bring their reign to an end. Palmatius hurries alone to Callixtus on the other side of the Tiber in the city quarters of the people of Ravenna, enters the house where the Christians are gathered, falls at Callixtus’ feet, and tells him that he has learnt that Jesus Christ is the true God and wants to be freed from the cult of idols and be baptised. Bishop Callixtus is dubious about Palmatius’ intentions, but Calepodius tells him not to deny Palmatius’ request to be baptised. Callixtus requires him to fast for one day, initiates him (
catechizare) and baptises him, with a three-fold interrogation about his belief in the Trinity and the creed, Palmatius each time replying ‘I believe’. Palmatius is baptised together with his whole household, in total 42 individuals. He gives all his possessions to the Christian poor, searching them out across the regions of the city (regiones) and crypts, and providing them with food and lodging.

§ 4: After 32 days, Palmatius is summoned by Alexander, tempted by the tribune Torquatus and sent to the Mamertine prison (
custodia mamertina). After three days, he is again summoned by Alexander. A dialogue follows in which Palmatius tells Alexander why he has abandoned the cult of the idols. Alexander tells the senator Simplicius to bring him back to the worship of the gods with mild words. Simplicius dresses Palmatius and brings him to his home, giving authority to Palmatius over it. Palmatius fasts and prays unceasingly to God to repent from his error.

§ 5: A certain Felix, whose wife has been paralysed in bed for four years, comes to Palmatius, asking him, the confessor (
confessor) of the Lord Jesus Christ, for his wife, Blanda, to be healed; in turn he and his wife will receive baptism. Palmatius, Simplicius’ wife being present, falls to the ground and prays weeping with Felix, asking God to heal Blanda. Immediately Blanda arrives on her feet at Simplicius’ house and asks for baptism, as does Felix. Callixtus is called and baptises Felix with his wife. Seeing this, Simplicius falls at Callixtus’ feet and asks to be baptised with all his household. Callixtus initiates (catechizare) Simplicius’ household, in total 68 individuals. Calepodius rejoices. Alexander hears what has happened, sends an army to arrest all those who were baptised, and orders them to be beheaded and their heads to be suspended at the gates of the city of Rome, as an example for Christians.

§ 6: Calepodius is arrested, killed by the sword, and his body dragged through the city, on the Calends of May [= 1 May]. His body is ordered to be thrown into the Tiber before the
insula Lycaonia. Callixtus flees with ten clerics and hides at night in the house of a certain Pontianus, asking fishermen to look for Calepodius’ body. After it is found, Callixtus embalms it with perfume and linen cloth and, with hymns, buries it in the cemetery of the same name [Calepodius], on the 6th day of the Ides of May [= 10 May].

§ 7: From that day, Alexander seeks Callixtus. He learns that he dwells in the house of Pontianus near the city quarters of the people of Ravenna (
iuxta urbem Ravennatium) on the other side of the Tiber. Callixtus is arrested and left to die of hunger. On the fourth day, as Callixtus is still fasting and praying, Alexander orders him to be beaten and sent to prison, ordering that anyone who tires to visit him at night be killed. After several days, Calepodius appears to him at night in a vision, comforts him and tells him that he will be soon martyred and rewarded by God.

§ 8: A certain soldier named Privatus, suffering from ulcers, comes to Callixtus’ feet and asks to be healed, since he believes that Jesus Christ, who freed Blanda, can save him. Callixtus tells him that if he believes and is baptised, he will be purified. Privatus again states his belief, Callixtus baptises him, and he is healed. He starts shouting about the true God and Jesus Christ, and against the idols. Alexander hears about this and orders him to be beaten with lead-weighted scourges and Callixtus to be thrown out of the window, a stone to be bound to his neck, his body immersed in a well, and covered with rubble.

§ 9: After 17 days, one of Callixtus’ priests, named Asterius, comes with clerics at night, takes Callixtus’ body and buries it in the cemetery of Calepodius on the
via Aurelia, on the day before the Ides of October [= 14 October]. After six days, Alexander arrests Asterius and orders him to be thrown from a bridge. His body is found in Ostia and buried by Christians in the same city on the 12th day of the Calends of November [= 21 October].

Acta Sanctorum, Oct., VI, 439-441.
Summary: M. Pignot.

Liturgical Activities

Chant and religious singing


Saint’s feast

Cult Places

Burial site of a saint - cemetery/catacomb

Places Named after Saint


Non Liturgical Activity

Distribution of alms
Composing and translating saint-related texts
Ceremonies at burial of a saint


Miracle during lifetime
Miracle after death
Miracles experienced by the saint
Punishing miracle
Miracles causing conversion
Healing diseases and disabilities
Apparition, vision, dream, revelation
Miraculous sound, smell, light
Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures
Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather)


Bodily relic - entire body
Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops
Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy
Monarchs and their family


Epic martyrdoms
Martyrdom of Callixtus, Calepodius and Companions 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 novelistic 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 light on the rise of the cult of saints.

Martyrdom of Callixtus, Calepodius and Companions
There is only one main early version of the
Martyrdom, BHL 1523, of which more than 130 manuscripts are preserved; see the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta ( and an additional list in Lanéry (2010), 157-158 n. 336. The earliest are all from the 9th c.: Brussels, Bibliothèque des Bollandistes, 14, f. 110v-112r; Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, Aug. XXXII, f. 22v-24r; Paris, BNF, lat. 5299, f. 83v-89v; Trier, Stadtbibliothek, 648/1573 (fragment); Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Pal. lat. 846, f. 128v-130r; Verona, Biblioteca Capitolare, 95, f. 1r-6r; Vienna, ÖNB, lat. 357, f. 70v-72r.


The Martyrdom corroborates other evidence about the memory of Callixtus in Trastevere (on which see more in Verrando 1984, 1040-1047), and his cult as a martyr since the 4th century (see S00145). The narrative is set during Callixtus’ pontificate between 217 and 222, under the emperors Macrinus (217-218) and Alexander (222-235), although Alexander is the emperor persecuting Christians and bringing Callixtus to be martyred (for an analysis of the Martyrdom and its minimal value as a historical source see the detailed studies of Verrando 1984, 1059-1072, and Handl 2014, 404-417). The Martyrdom was presumably written in Rome, in Trastevere (trans Tiberim), as suggested by topographical references to the dwellings of Christians there; it can be hypothesised that it was composed by a cleric of the titulus Iulii. Only Callixtus, Calepodius and Asterius are provided with feast days and details about burial, while the other martyrs and their households, although named, do not have specific cultic references associated with them. Our Asterius, martyr of Ostia, here a priest, must none the less be the same martyr of Ostia in the time of Callixtus, as the aristocratic Asterius who features in the Martyrdom of Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abacuc of Persia (E02093).

Martyrdom is of uncertain date of composition. It was certainly composed before Bede, who made use of it in his martyrology in the early 8th century (E05653). Several hypotheses have been put forward, mostly situating the text in the 5th or 6th century, depending on whether the Martyrdom is situated before or after the biography of Callixtus in the first edition of the Liber Pontificalis (E00327). For a review of some dating hypotheses, see Verrando 1984, 1048-1050. Latin repertories situate it with uncertainty in the 7th century (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2173; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 56).

The most discussed clue for dating the Martyrdom is its relationship to the Liber Pontificalis, and debate shows that it remains unclear whether there is any connection between the two texts, and if so in what direction. Aware of this uncertainty, Verrando, sharing the views of Dufourcq, De’ Cavalieri and Lanzoni, argued that Callixtus’ biography in the first edition of the Liber Pontificalis borrowed from our Martyrdom, which would thus have to have been written before the early 6th century. Verrando noted that the Martyrdom does not attribute the foundation of the basilica of Trastevere to Callixtus, as does the Liber Pontificalis (in the later epitome Cononiana), but seems rather to corroborate the situation attested in the list of tituli of 499 (E02744), in which Callixtus is not yet associated with the titulus Iulii. He added that the information in the Liber that Callixtus was buried in the cemetery of Calepodius could only have come from the Martyrdom. Following Verrando, who also evoked a good number of potential parallels with other late antique Roman martyrdom accounts, Lanéry argued that the Martyrdom was used by the Martyrdom of Marius, Martha and Companions (E02093) and by the Martyrdom of Marcellus and Companions (E02501), which according to her were all composed before or by 550. Moreover, thematic and textual parallels in the Martyrdoms of Anastasia (E02482), Clemens (E02488) and Cornelius (E02489), which according to Lanéry all date from the first half and the middle of the 5th century, brought her to conclude, with Verrando, that our Martyrdom was composed in the later 5th century (this date is also accepted in Lapidge). Such hypotheses are however weakened by the fact that it is difficult to show direct borrowings on the basis of thematic and short textual parallels (often pertaining to polemics against idols, liturgical acts, and topographical markers) in the case of such a stereotypical literature, and that all these other martyrdom accounts, although late antique, are of similarly uncertain date.


Editions (BHL 1523):
Acta Sanctorum, Oct., VI, 439-441

Mombritius, B.,
Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), I, 268-271. The original edition was published c. 1480.

Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 290-296.

Further reading:
Handl, A., “Bishop Callistus I. of Rome (217?-222?): A Martyr or a Confessor?”, Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum 18 (2014), 390-419, esp. 404-417.

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 154-160 (with further bibliography).

Lapidge, M.,
The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 287-290

Verrando, G. N., “La
Passio Callisti e il santuario della Via Aurelia,” Mélanges de l’Ecole Francaise de Rome. Antiquité 96 (1984), 1039-1083 ( ).

Record Created By

Matthieu Pignot

Date of Entry


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00145Callixtus, bishop and martyr of RomeCalixtusCertain
S01411Calepodius, priest and martyr of RomeCalepodiusCertain
S01550Asterius, martyr of OstiaAsteriusCertain

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Matthieu Pignot, Cult of Saints, E02485 -