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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 *Firmus and Rusticus (martyrs of Verona, S01487) and Translations of Firmus and Rusticus are written in Latin, presumably in Verona, at an uncertain date, between the 8th and mid 9th c. The Martyrdom narrates Firmus and Rusticus’ arrest, trial in Milan and travel to Verona, where they are further tortured and beheaded. Their bodies are taken away on a boat by seven angels. The Translations follow, narrating that they are buried by angels in Precones in the province of Carthage; their bodies are later miraculously found by a merchant named Terentius and his son Gaudentius, who is freed from a demon by touching the saints’ tomb; then the bodies are purchased and brought by them to Capris in Istria and buried in a church dedicated to the Virgin *Mary (mother of Christ, S00033). Finally, after an invasion of the Avars, the bodies are brought to Trieste, purchased by bishop Anno of Verona together with the bodies of Primus, Marcus, Apollinaris and Lazarus, translated to Verona and buried in a basilica dedicated to them, miracles occurring on the way to Verona and in their shrine.

Evidence ID

E03246

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom

Martyrdom of Firmus and Rusticus (BHL 3020)

Summary:

At the time of the emperor Maximinus there is in Milan a great persecution against Christians, and there is a citizen of Bergamo called Firmus of noble birth, wealthy and well-known to the emperor. He spends his time praying, fasting, giving alms to the poor, and helping persecuted Christians. The emperor learns that Firmus has become Christian and speaks against the gods. He sends his quaestor with soldiers to arrest Firmus. They seize him in his garden as he reads the Gospel [cf. Matthew 19:29] and take him to Milan.

On their way not far from Bergamo, Firmus’ relative Rusticus, who is also Christian, sees him and tells him that he wants to die with him. Interrogated by the soldiers, he rejects their claim that Firmus and he use magic, but states that he is Christian and ready to suffer for Jesus Christ. As they both proclaim to be Jesus’ Christ servants, they are bound together and a burden is put on them. They both sing psalms. The next day they enter Milan and the emperor is told about Rusticus’ arrest. The emperor Maximinus orders them to be brought to prison to his counsellor Anolinus. The next day the emperor orders a tribunal to be prepared at the circus and Firmus and Rusticus to be brought before him. Firmus and Rusticus proclaim that they believe in the only and true God creator of all things. The emperor tells them that if they offer sacrifice to the gods Saturn and Apollo they will be freed and restored to their status. The holy martyrs refuse to worship man-made and inanimate statues and do not fear any threat; they only adore Jesus Christ and offer themselves as sacrifice. The emperor orders them to be stripped and beaten. They pray to God asking to be freed. The emperor exhorts them again to sacrifice, promising them honours. However, they reject his suggestion and exhort him to believe in Jesus Christ instead of demons. The emperor orders them to be imprisoned.

As Anolinus is leaving Milan for the region of
Venetia he sends a message threatening the martyrs. They reply that they fear no earthly punishment, but that he will be punished much more severely by Jesus Christ on the day of judgement. Anolinus requests and obtains that they are handed over to him, after they still persist in proclaiming their devotion to Christ. As he is leaving for the region of Venetia Anolinus orders Firmus and Rusticus to be brought to Verona. There, they are entrusted to the soldier Cancarius the vicarius of the city, who leaves them without bread or water until Anolinus’ arrival, following his instructions. Cancarius puts them in a secret cell in his palace. Around midnight he hears an earthquake and voices chanting psalms. From a window he sees a great light and a table dressed with every delicacy in the cell, he is so amazed that he falls as dead. Firmus touches him and tells him to get up. He immediately rises and asks them why they are imprisoned. They tell him that they suffer for Christ. Then Cancarius and his whole household believe. After six days Anolinus arrives in Verona and invites all the people to a show the following day.

The bishop Proculus, who hides with a few Christians not far from the city walls, prays all night hoping to share the martyrs’ fate. In the morning he goes to the palace of Cancarius, kisses Firmus and Rusticus and tells them that he wants to join them in the fight. They reply ‘Amen’. Anolinus orders the martyrs to be brought to him. The officials find Proculus with them and wonder why. Proculus asks to be bound with them and it is done. A great crowd assembles at the tribunal presided by Anolinus. The martyrs are summoned, but Proculus enters first. Learning about Proculus’ wish to share the martyrs’ fate, Anolinus says that Proculus is mad because of old age. Proculus is freed, beaten, thrown out of the city and then tells fellow Christians what happened.

The martyrs refuse to comply with Anolinus’ order to offer sacrifice to Jupiter, Juno, Saturn and Apollo. Anolinus orders their bodies to be stretched out and rolled on stones. Suddenly there is a deep smoke and their heads seem like flames in a furnace. All those present are frightened. The martyrs however are unharmed, they raise their hands towards heaven and thank Jesus Christ for sending an angel to protect them. All are amazed and some even praise the god of Christians. The people however ask to be freed from these sorcerers. Anolinus orders a great fire to be prepared and Firmus and Rusticus to be thrown into it. The martyrs enter the fire after making a sign of the cross, and immediately the fire is divided into four parts burning those who lit it but leaving them unharmed. With a single voice they thank God. Then the people ask Anolinus to take the sorcerers away from Verona. Anolinus orders them to be brought outside the city, beaten with cudgels and beheaded.

The martyrs Firmus and Rusticus are beheaded outside the walls of Verona on the river Adige (
athesis) under the emperor Maximinus and his counsellor Anolinus on the 5th day before the Ides of August [= 9 August].

Anolinus orders all written accounts about Christians to be brought to him and burnt, so as to avoid their tombs (
sepulchra) being worshipped more than the temple of the gods. Anolinus also orders their bodies to be left unburied to dogs and wild beasts. However Cancarius, with two relatives of Firmus arriving from Bergamo, keeps vigils and watch over their bodies. Seven men, introducing themselves as merchants, bring a funeral-bed (lectulus) and a most bright shrouds (syndones), and use them for the saints’ burial. They weep and chant psalms. Followed by Cancarius and Firmus’ relatives, they find a boat, place the bodies on it and leave, never to be seen again. Cancarius and Firmus’ relatives return to Verona, believe and are baptised.


Translations of Firmus and Rusticus
(BHL 3021):

After this, the martyrs are brought to the province of Carthage (
Cartaginensis provincia) in the city of Precones where they are buried by angels. Long afterwards, in the province of Istria in the city of Capris [Koper/Capodistria], there is a gentile called Terentius, of noble birth and wealthy, who often trades goods by sea. One day, his son Gaudentius travelling with him on a boat, is possessed by a demon and says that he can only be freed by Firmus and Rusticus. His father does not know what he refers to and can only weep. After several days they come to the island called Carthage in the city of Precones. In that place there are many tombs of saints. The boy walks around and at some point he comes where Firmus and Rusticus’ relics (exuviae) rest. As soon as he touches the tomb (sepulchrum), he is freed from the demon. His father Terentius, a catechumen (catechumenus), thanks God. He opens the tomb (tumba) and finds two bodies with a little book (libellus) by their head, with a titulus stating: 'Firmus and Rusticus were beheaded in the city of Verona on the border of the river Adige (Athesis) under the emperor Maximinus, and his counsellor Anolinus, at the time of bishop Proculus'. Terentius with his son Gaudentius buys the bodies of the martyrs Firmus and Rusticus for a high price, to earn treasures for eternity. They take the bodies, wrap them in a white shroud, place them in their boat, and reach Capris, where they bury the saints in the church of the virgin Mary. The bodies would rest there for a long time until, through God’s power, they would be revealed again. Terentius and his son Gaudentius and all their household believe in Jesus Christ and are baptised.

Not many years later, with Desiderius and Adalgis reigning in Italy, the Lombards raid and occupy the land and cities of Istria. Then the pagan Avars attack Istria and Greece but Christians come to defend Istria and the pagans are stopped as the Christians reach Capris. There, they learn that Firmus and Rusticus rest there, go to their tomb, open it and find the bodies fragrant. Fearing pagans, they take the bodies to Trieste (
oppidum Tergesti). At that time Anno is bishop of Verona and learns that the bodies of the saints have been found. He rejoices and comes with priest, clerics and all the people, to the place where they are buried. He buys the bodies of Firmus and Rusticus, and of Primus, Marcus, Apollinaris and Lazarus, with a great amount of silver and gold.

As they come back from Trieste, one among the servants is suffering from fever. Someone in the crowd says that if these are the bodies of Firmus and Rusticus, or if they still have in them some of God’s power, they should free the servant, so that all may believe that they are disciples of Christ. Immediately the man is healed. Several other miracles are performed on the way back to Verona, to the extent that all those suffering from illness come to the saints’ litter and are healed.

All thank God for bringing the bodies back to Verona where the saints were martyred. The bodies are brought by the bishop of Verona not far from the walls of the city, in a basilica that had been build in their honour and buried there with every care, with perfume and incense. He places them in an underground stone sarcophagus (
arca), its cover decorated with silver, gold and precious stones. The inhabitants greatly rejoice and the saints’ reputation grows, the sick come to the tomb and are healed. This happens thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Firmus and Rusticus were martyred in the city of Verona under the emperor Maximinus and his counseillor Anolinus, the 5th day before the Ides of August [= 9 August].

Text: Golinelli 2004, 13-23. Summary: M. Pignot.

Liturgical Activities

Chant and religious singing

Festivals

Saint’s feast

Cult Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave
Cult building - independent (church)
Burial site of a saint - sarcophagus/coffin
Descriptions of cult places

Activities accompanying Cult

Meetings and gatherings of the clergy

Rejection, Condemnation, Sceptisism

Acceptance/rejection of saints from other religious groupings

Non Liturgical Activity

Prayer/supplication/invocation
Fast
Distribution of alms
Composing and translating saint-related texts
Magic
Ceremonies at burial of a saint

Miracles

Miracles experienced by the saint
Miracle during lifetime
Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money)
Apparition, vision, dream, revelation
Miraculous sound, smell, light
Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather)
Miracles causing conversion
Exorcism
Bodily incorruptibility
Healing diseases and disabilities

Relics

Bodily relic - entire body
Miraculous books about saints
Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics
Transfer, translation and deposition of relics
Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries
Other activities with relics

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Aristocrats
Officials
Soldiers
Relatives of the saint
Monarchs and their family
Crowds
Ecclesiastics - bishops
Merchants and artisans
Angels
Unbaptized Christians
Foreigners (including Barbarians)
Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy

Cult Related Objects

Inscription
Precious cloths

Source

Epic martyrdoms
The Martyrdom of Firmus and Rusticus 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.

The Martyrdom and the Translations of Firmus and Rusticus
The earliest attested version of the Martyrdom, and our focus here, is BHL 3020, the earliest manuscript of which dates from the 9th or 10th century: St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, 566, f. 251-260. In later manuscripts, the earliest from the 11th-12th centuries (Verona, Biblioteca Capitolare, LXXVIII, f. 2v-13r), the Martyrdom is also often followed by the narrative of the bodies’ translations, BHL 3021 (a variant ending is BHL 3023). As argued by Golinelli, however, the Verona manuscript contains a text closer to the original than the St Gall manuscript. There is also a variant version, BHL 3022-3022c, first attested in an 11th century manuscript: Paris, BNF, lat. 5593, f. 113v-118r. See an up-to-date list of manuscripts for both versions, with further details, in the recent edition by Golinelli.


Discussion

The Martyrdom and Translations clearly state that although Firmus and Rusticus are venerated in Verona, their bodies were not to be found there until they were brought to the city in the 8th century by bishop Anno (around 759-760). Africa being the primary place of burial of the saints according to the narrative, it is possible, as already highlighted by Lanzoni, that cult in Verona originated from cult of martyrs named Firmus and Rusticus in Africa, before the saints were reclaimed as local martyrs.

The Martyrdom is of uncertain date, but must have been written by the mid 9th century, as it is then borrowed in Hrabanus Maurus’ martyrology, while the earliest manuscript preserved dates from the 9th-10th century. Repertories of Latin sources date it with uncertainty to the 6th century (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2191a; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 66). The dating of the Martyrdom largely depends on its relation to the narrative of the translation of the bodies to Verona at the request of bishop Anno. While at first scholars suggested that the Martyrdom was late antique and the translation was added to it later, scholars now generally agree to connect the composition of the Martyrdom to that of the translation. There is still disagreement, however, on the chronology and date of composition, whether the Martyrdom and the Translations were composed successively in the 8th century, or at the same time shortly after the translation to Verona, or later in the 9th century (see hypotheses discussed and summarised in Golinelli-Brenzoni, Vocino and Lanéry). Parallels with the Milanese martyrdoms of Nabor and Felix and of Victor the Moor (E01987 and E02060) have been highlighted by Anti, while Vocino shows thematic parallels with hagiography composed in Aquileia.


Bibliography

Edition (BHL 3020-3021):
Golinelli, P., “Passione e Translazione dei santi Fermo e Rustico,” in: Golinelli, P., and Brenzoni, C.G. (eds.), I santi Fermo e Rustico. Un culto e una chiesa in Verona (Verona, 2004), 13-23.

Further reading:

Anti, E., “Verona ed il culto dei santi Fermo e Rustico fino al XII secolo,” Studi Storici Luigi Simeoni 52 (2002), 256-266.

Golinelli, P., and Brenzoni, C.G. (eds.),
I santi Fermo e Rustico. Un culto e una chiesa in Verona (Verona, 2004).

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 322.

Lanzoni, F.,
Le diocesi d’Italia dalle origini al principio del secolo vii, 2 vols. (1927), 919-923.

Vocino, G., "Santi e luoghi santi al servizio della politica carolingia (774-877). Vitae e Passiones del regno italico nel contesto europei,"
PhD dissertation, Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia-Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes Paris (2008-2009), 227-242.


Record Created By

Matthieu Pignot

Date Last Modified

29/05/2019

Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristMariaCertain
S01487Firmus and Rusticus, martyrs of VeronaFirmus, RusticusCertain


Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Matthieu Pignot, Cult of Saints, E03246 - http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E03246