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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

Evagrius Scholasticus in his Ecclesiastical History (5.21) reports that the future emperor Maurice (r. 582-602), while offering incense at the altar of the basilica of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033) in Antioch (Syria), received a sign of his future greatness. Written in Greek at Antioch, 593/594.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Major author/Major anonymous work

Evagrius Scholasticus

Evagrius Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, 5.21.1-14

21. Γεγόνασι δὲ καὶ θεοσημεῖαι τὴν βασιλείαν αὐτῷ προφητεύουσαι. Πόρρω γὰρ τῶν νυκτῶν ἐπιθυμιῶντί γε αὐτῷ τῶν ἀνακτόρων εἴσω τοῦ ἱεροῦ οἴκου τῆς ἁγίας καὶ πανάγνου παρθένου καὶ θεοτόκου Μαρίας, ὃς πρὸς τῶν Θεουπολιτῶν Ἰουστινιανοῦ προσηγόρευται, τὸ ἀμφὶ τὴν ἱερὰν τράπεζαν παραπέτασμα πυρίφλεκτον γέγονεν, ὡς καὶ πρὸς ἔκπληξιν καὶ θάμβος ἐλθεῖν τὸν Μαυρίκιον καὶ δεῖσαι τὸ ὅραμα· ᾧ παρεστὼς Γρηγόριος, ὁ τῆς πόλεως ἀρχιερεύς, εἶπε θειασμοῦ τινος εἶναι τὸ χρῆμα, καὶ μέγιστα καὶ ἔξοχα μηνύειν αὐτῷ. Ἐφάνη δέ οἱ κατὰ τὴν ἑῴαν καὶ Χριστὸς ὁ θεὸς ὕπαρ ἐκδίκησιν ζητῶν, ὅπερ ἄντικρυς βασιλείαν ἐδήλου. Παρὰ τίνος γὰρ ἂν ἢ παρὰ βασιλέως καὶ οὕτως ἐς αὐτὸν εὐσεβοῦς τὰ τοιαῦτα ἐξῄτησεν;

‘21. There also occurred portents which presaged the imperial power for him. For late at night, as he was offering incense within the sanctuary of the sacred Church of the holy and immaculate Virgin and Mother of God Mary, which is called by the people of Theopolis [Antioch] the Church of Justinian, the curtain surrounding the holy altar was engulfed in flames, so that Maurice was filled by surprise and astonishment, and was at awe at the sight. Gregory, the archbishop of the city, was standing beside him and stated that the event was a divine sign, indicating very great and distinguished things for him. Christ our God also appeared in a waking vision to him while in the East, asking for vengeance, which obviously signified imperial power. For from whom other than an emperor, and one so devoted to Him, would He have requested such a thing?’

Text: Bidez and Parmentier 2014.
Translation: E. Rizos.

Liturgical Activities


Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)


Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family
Ecclesiastics - bishops


Evagrius was born in about 535 in the Syrian city of Epiphania. Educated at Antioch and Constantinople, he pursued a career as a lawyer at Antioch, serving as a legal advisor to Patriarch Gregory (570-592). He wrote the Ecclesiastical History in 593/4, with the express purpose of covering the period following the coverage of the mid 5th century ecclesiastical histories of Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret. His narrative starts with Nestorius and the Council of Ephesus (431) and stops with the death of Evagrius’ patron, Gregory of Antioch, in 592. The work offers a balanced mixture of ecclesiastical and secular events in the East Roman Empire, being best informed about Antioch and Syria. Evagrius also published a dossier of original documents from the archive of Patriarch Gregory of Antioch, which has not survived.


The story of Maurice’s vision must be one of the stories Evagrius had heard from his employer, Patriarch Gregory, or from the emperor’s parents whom he met in Constantinople. The incident is an interesting attestation of private nocturnal devotions, including the offering of frankincense, celebrated by a high standing official and the bishop within the sanctuary of a church.

The basilica of Mary in Antioch was built by Justinian after the Persian sack and earthquake of 526 (mentioned by Malalas 423, 1-4, E05735). It was probably a three-aisled basilica, which was heavily damaged during the earthquake of 588 (Evagrius,
Ecclesiastical History, 6.8.21-23).


Text and French translation:
Bidez, J., and Parmentier, L., Evagre le Scholastique, Histoire ecclésiastique (Sources Chrétiennes 542, 566; Paris, 2011, 2014), with commentary by L. Angliviel de la Beaumelle, and G. Sabbah, and French translation by A.-J.Festugière, B. Grillet, and G. Sabbah.

Other translations:
Whitby, M., The Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius Scholasticus (Translated Texts for Historians 33; Liverpool, 2000).

Hübner, A.,
Evagrius Scholasticus, Historia ecclesiastica = Kirchengeschichte (Fontes Christiani 57; Turnhout, 2007).

Carcione, F.,
Evagrio di Epifania, Storia ecclesiastica (Roma, 1998).

Further Reading:
Allen, P., Evagrius Scholasticus, the Church Historian (Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense, Etudes et Documents 41; Leuven, 1981).

Treadgold, W.,
The Early Byzantine Historians (Basingstoke, 2006), 299-308.

Mayer, W. and Allen, P.
The Churches of Syrian Antioch (300‒638 Ce). Late Antique History and Religion 5. Leuven / Paris / Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2012, 107-109.

Treadgold, W. T. The Early Byzantine Historians. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, 299-308.

Record Created By

Efthymios Rizos

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristΜαρίαCertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
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