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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity


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


The Life of *Eusebius (bishop of Vercelli, ob. 371, S01219) is written in Latin at an uncertain date between the late 6th and early 9th c. Setting the narrative in the history of the period and notably the Arian controversy, it narrates Eusebius’ youth and career, the miracles he performed, his exile to Scythopolis and return to Vercelli, where he is martyred and buried in a basilica that he had built next to the body of *Theognistus (martyr of Vercelli, E02469), where many miracles occur.

Evidence ID

E03239

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives

Life of Eusebius (BHL 2748)

Summary:

§ 1:
Prologue

§
§ 2-12: Account setting Eusebius’ youth and career within the religious history of the period, notably the Arian controversy. Eusebius is born of Christian parents from Sardinia, he goes to Rome after the death of his father and is baptised by the bishop Eusebius just before the latter dies in persecutions. He then serves the bishop Melchiades (311-314) and is ordained a reader (lector) under Sylvester (314-335) and a priest under Mark (336) at the age of fifty, then appointed under Julius (337-352) as bishop of Vercelli, where he fight against Arians, ordains clerics, and faces the wrath of emperor Constantius, who convenes a council in Milan to condemn him and Athanasius of Alexandria.

§
§ 12-18: Description and praise of Eusebius’ miracles. Angels lift him from the font at baptism; angels protect him from a lustful woman; Eusebius reveals the bad intentions of a monk and exorcises him; angels join him when he celebrates the Eucharist; the blind are healed with the water used to wash his hands at mass; wounded and lepers are also healed. In Vercelli, Eusebius fights against Arians, who prevent his congregation from entering the church dedicated to Mary. He is expelled from the city and stays in the fortress of Credonium near Vercelli for three months, where he builds an oratory in honour of the mother of God and writes a codex of the four Gospels. Anyone who swears a false oath on this codex is severely wounded or killed. After Auxentius, bishop of Milan is condemned at the council of Rimini, Eusebius returns to Vercelli and appoints Dionysius as bishop of Milan, who performs many miracles and fights the Arians.

§
§ 19-37: Return to the main chronological narrative centred around the Arian controversy. Eusebius travels to attend the council of Milan (miraculously crossing a river) convened by Constantius; there, he overturns an Arian statement condemning Athanasius, which was signed by Dionysius and other Nicene bishops, and causes it to be burnt. He refuses to sign any other statement supporting the Arians, and as a result he is severely beaten and exiled, as he had predicted, together with Liberius of Rome, Hilary of Poitiers, Paulinus of Trier, Lucifer of Cagliari, Dionysius of Milan and other Nicene bishops who had gathered there. He is detained in a cage in Scythopolis, then in a small room, and left starving with very little food. He writes to the guard Patrophilus, denouncing his detention conditions. However he is soon imprisoned in an even smaller cell for a long time, enduring everything with the help of angels. He sends letters everywhere, especially to Vercelli and Milan, to exhort Nicenes not to yield. After Julian becomes emperor (361-363), Eusebius and the other exiled bishops are freed; he goes to Alexandria to convene a council with Athanasius, then to Antioch and the East, and finally to Italy and to Rome, preaching against Arianism, presiding over the restoration of the Nicene creed in the West. At the time of Jovian (363-364), he returns to Vercelli and comforts Nicenes in Milan and elsewhere.

§
§ 38-42: Eusebius’ martyrdom, burial and cult. As he is travelling, Eusebius has a dream: he flies from the top of high mountains to a bright palace. He understands that he will soon be martyred and tells it to his congregation. A few days later, in Vercelli, Arians seize him and stone him to death, breaking his skull. His disciples collect the body and bury it in the basilica that he had built in honour of the martyr Theognistus. Miracles occur at the shrine up to this day. At the time of his death a violent storm killed all Arians of Vercelli. At his tomb, all illnesses are cured, demons expelled, angels appear. Psalms are sung day and night. At the time of his burial, his bleeding skull left a cloud of fragrance in the church, and this still happens. When he was alive he told his disciples to put all his clothes in his tomb and prohibited anyone from taking offerings of his hair or beard. This is why his relics are rare to find. His feast is celebrated on the Calends of August [= 1 August]. Eusebius also ordered with his final words that his written works be preserved and passed on to others.

Text: Ughelli 1719, 749-761. Summary: M. Pignot.

Liturgical Activities

Chant and religious singing

Festivals

Saint’s feast

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)
Oratory
Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Non Liturgical Activity

Composing and translating saint-related texts
Construction of cult buildings
Burial ad sanctos
Oral transmission of saint-related stories
Saint as patron - of an individual

Miracles

Miracles experienced by the saint
Apparition, vision, dream, revelation
Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future)
Exorcism
Healing diseases and disabilities
Punishing miracle
Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather)
Miraculous sound, smell, light

Relics

Bodily relic - entire body
Construction of cult building to contain relics
Bodily relic - blood
Bodily relic - head
Attempts to prevent the veneration of one's relics

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops
Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy
Monarchs and their family
Relatives of the saint
Heretics
Angels
Women
Crowds

Source

There is one main version of the Life, BHL 2748, here summarised. According to the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta (bhlms.fltr.ucl.ac.be), there are 37 manuscripts of the Life, the earliest from the 9th-10th centuries: Ghent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, 244, f. 46v-55r; Paris, BNF, lat. 5321, f. 126v-133v; Rouen, Bibliothèque municipale, 36, f. 41v-49v; Rouen, Bibiothèque municipale, 42, f. 90r-99v; Rouen, Bibliothèque municipale, 3, f. 82v-86r; Turin, Biblioteca Nazionale, F. III.16, f. 60r-72r.


Discussion

The precise date of composition of the Life is uncertain, but, as summarised by Everett (providing bibliography to earlier studies), it should be situated between Cassiodorus’ Historia Tripartita (second half of 6th century) and the 9th century martyrologies of Florus, Hrabanus Maurus, Ado and Usuardus, who borrowed from it. Everett also highlights connections to the Life of Gaudentius (E03237) which he dates around 685-725, our Life potentially being used as a source.


Bibliography

Edition (BHL 2748):
Ughelli, F., Italia sacra; sive de episcopis Italiae et insularum adjacentium, 2nd ed., vol. 4 (Venice, 1719), 749-761.

English translation:
Everett, N., Patron Saints of Early Medieval Italy, AD c. 350-800 (Toronto, 2016), 182-205.

Further reading:
Dal Covolo, E., and Uglione, R., Eusebio di Vercelli e il suo tempo (Rome, 1997).

Everett, N.,
Patron Saints of Early Medieval Italy. AD c. 350-800 (Toronto, 2016), 171-181.

Grégoire, R., “Agiografia e storiografia nella “Vita antiqua” di Eusebio di Vercelli,” in: A. Mastino et al. (eds.),
La Sardegna paleocristiana tra Eusebio e Gregorio Magno. Atti del Convegno Nazionale di studi. Cagliari, 10-12 ottobre 1996 (Cagliari, 1999), 187-200.


Record Created By

Matthieu Pignot

Date Last Modified

15/12/2019

Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristMariaCertain
S01219Eusebius, bishop of Vercelli, ob. 371EusebiusCertain
S02469Theognistus, martyr of VercelliTheognistusCertain


Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Matthieu Pignot, Cult of Saints, E03239 - http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E03239