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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 *Secundus (martyr of Victimulae and Turin, S02500) is written in Latin, presumably in Turin at an uncertain date. It narrates Secundus’ travel to Italy with a legion, his trial and death witnessed by the future martyr *Mauritius (commander of the Theban legion, S00339), who holds vigils at his body on the site of martyrdom in Victimulae; the theft of the body which is brought to Turin and buried next to the river Dora, where miracles abound. Additional account about visitors to the oratory of the Virgin *Mary (mother of Christ, S00033) in Turin taking dust and scraps from the tomb of Iuliana, who buried the saint *Solutor ad his companions (martyrs of Turin, S01116).

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom

Martyrdom of Secundus (BHL 7568)


§ 1-2: At the time of Diocletian and Maximian, there is a most noble and Christian young man called Secundus from the province of Thebaid. His name, Secundus (“second”) reflects the fact that he was to be martyred, as martyrs are second only to the Apostles. Secundus is a general and he strives to convert others to Christianity; the emperors hear about it and summon him to Rome.

§§ 3-4: Secundus comes to the emperors with a full legion of 6600 soldiers, is accused by Maximian and given the choice between sacrificing or facing death together with his soldiers. As he refuses, he and the soldiers are imprisoned. Mauritius, a fellow soldier and primicerius who would later be martyred with this same legion in Acaunus, exhorts Secundus to keep his resolve. The day of his beheading coming, Secundus exhorts his friends and companions to be ready to die for Christ.

§ 5-8: Some of them, however, question this and exhort the soldiers to avoid suffering and death. Secundus therefore gives a speech contrasting the deaths of the body and of the soul and exhorting them to suffering in this life in order to obtain eternal life. Maximian learns about this and orders him to be sent to the governor of the province, Egrestius, to be beheaded.

§ 9: After his beheading, Secundus’ tongue praises Christ. His spirit (
spiritus) is taken to heaven by an angel. This is witnessed by Mauritius, who takes the body and wraps it in a fine linen cloth. In the evening, the future martyr Mauritius keeps vigils at the body together with his friends. The body however is taken by other faithful, following God’s arrangement, and is buried at the place where it lies now. Waking up, Mauritius and his friends do not find the body but only remains of his blood (reliquiae sanguinis) on the site of his beheading. That place is found in the field (ager) of a pater familias named Probus and his wife Proba, one mile from the Castellum Caesarium, which is called Victimolae since the time of Hannibal to recall 15,000 men who were defeated there in a battle against Hannibal.

§ 10: The body of Secundus was taken by Christians to Turin (
urbs Taurinensis) and buried with perfume near the river Dora (Duria), where his favours abound up to this day. The ill and the possessed are cured if they pray with faith at his tomb, and souls are saved from death as visitors to the body amend their way of life.

§ 11: Favours are also bestowed in the oratory of the Virgin Mary, mother of God. Those who come to venerate the tomb of the holy Iuliana, who had buried the saints Solutor and his companions, take dust (
pulvis) or scrape ploda [unknown word; AASS editors conjecture that it refers to plaster] and take it away with them as a means of healing. Secundus was martyred on the 5th day before the Calends of September [= 28 August] under Diocletian and Maximian.

Acta Sanctorum, Aug. V, 795-797. Summary: M. Pignot.


Saint’s feast

Cult Places

Place of martyrdom of a saint
Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Non Liturgical Activity

Composing and translating saint-related texts
Visiting graves and shrines


Miracle after death
Changing abilities and properties of the body
Healing diseases and disabilities
Other specified miracle


Transfer, translation and deposition of relics
Theft/appropriation of relics
Bodily relic - blood
Bodily relic - entire body
Contact relic - dust/sand/earth
Contact relic - other

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family

Theorising on Sanctity

Considerations about the hierarchy of saints


Epic martyrdoms
The Martyrdom of Secundus 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 of Secundus
The earliest version of the Martyrdom is BHL 7568, found in 2 manuscripts, the earliest from the 12th-13th centuries according to the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta (


To some extent, the narrative is presented as a prequel to the martyrdom of Mauritius and his companions of the Theban legion (S00339). Secundus is said to come from Thebaid, and Mauritius to be part of the same legion. Moreover, Mauritius encourages Secundus to martyrdom and witnesses his death. The hagiographer also evokes Mauritius’ martyrdom, which was to follow that of Secundus. Thus our Martyrdom has to be set within a broader trend in late antique hagiography from northern Italy, developing on the basis of the Theban legend, to promote local cults of soldier martyrs (for other examples, see for instance E01910, E01915, E04651, E04652). Secundus’ case is also peculiar because of the narrative of the translation of the body from the site of martyrdom Victimulae, an ancient settlement (near modern Salussola in Piedmont) that was abandoned in the early middle ages, and Turin, where the body was found when the hagiographer wrote.

The Martyrdom is of uncertain date of composition but was written before the early 9th century when it was borrowed by Florus of Lyon in his martyrology (Quentin 282). It must have been written after the 5th century however, as it seems to show knowledge of the Martyrdom of Adventor, Octavius and Solutor (E01910, probably written in the 6th century). This martyrdom account indeed mentions that Iuliana took care of burying Solutor and his companions in Turin, where she is said to be later buried. Moreover, as said, Secundus’ figure is based on the legend of the Theban legion lead by Mauritius, which became widespread in the 5th century, particularly thanks to Eucherius’ account (E06108). Although it was generally dated to the 6th century (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2232; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 87), Lanéry has recently argued that our Martyrdom should rather be dated to the 8th or 9th century.


Edition (BHL 7568):
Acta Sanctorum, Aug. V, 795-797.

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 323-324.

Record Created By

Matthieu Pignot

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristDei genitricis semper virginis MariaCertain
S00339Theban Legion, commanded by Maurice, martyrs of Agaunum, GaulMauritiusCertain
S01116Adventor, Octavius and Solutor, martyrs of TurinSolutorCertain
S02500Secundus, martyr of Victimulae and TurinSecundusCertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Matthieu Pignot, Cult of Saints, E03249 -