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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

Gregory the Great in a papal letter (Register 9.49) of 598, to Bishop Chrysantus of Rieti, asks him to consecrate contact relics (sanctuaria) of *Hermes (martyr of Rome, buried on the via Salaria vetus, S00404), *Hyacinthus (companion of Protus, and martyr of Rome, S01556) and *Maximus (martyr of Rome, buried on the via Salaria vetus, S00173) at a font in a church dedicated to Christ and to *Mary (the mother of Christ, S00033) in Rieti (central Italy). Written in Latin in Rome.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory the Great (pope)

Pope Gregory the Great, Register of Letters 9.49

Full text of the letter:

Paulus ecclesiae Reatinae diaconus petitoria nobis insinuatione poposcit ut ad fontes in basilica beatae Mariae semper uirginis genetricis Dei et domini nostri Iesu Christi, quae est intra ciuitatem Reatinam posita, reliquiae beatorum martyrum Hermes, Hyacinthi et Maximi debeant collocari. Et ideo, frater carissime, si in eodem loco nullum corpus constat humatum, sanctuaria praedictorum martyrum cum reuerentia sine ambiguitate suscepta diligenter consecrabis.

Paul, deacon of the church of Rieti, requested in a petition to us that relics (
reliquiae) of the blessed martyrs Hermes, Hyacinthus and Maximus should be located at the font of the church of Saint Mary, ever virgin and mother of God, and of our Lord Jesus Christ, which lies inside the city of Rieti. And so, dearest brother, if it is established that no human body has been buried in the same place, you will diligently consecrate the contact relics (sanctuaria) of the aforesaid martyrs with reverence and without any equivocation.’

Text: Norberg 1982, vol. 2, 608. Translation: Martyn 2004, vol. 2, 575, lightly modified.

Liturgical Activities

Ceremony of dedication

Cult Places

Cult building - secondary installation (fountain, pilgrims’ hostel)


Contact relic - cloth
Transfer, translation and deposition of relics

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops
Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy


A letter transmitted as part of Gregory the Great’s Register of Letters. This letter collection, organised into fourteen books, is large and contains letters to a variety of recipients, including prominent aristocrats, members of the clergy and royalty. The issues touched on in the letters are equally varied, ranging from theological considerations to mundane administrative matters. This collection of letters, which was possibly curated by Gregory, was originally much larger. The surviving Register comprises several groups of letters which were extracted at several later moments in history, the largest of which took place in the papacy of Hadrian I (772-795).


Hermes, Maximus/Maximilianus and Hyacinthus were all martyrs buried in the same cemetery of the via Salaria (see, for instance, E06999).

The use of the term sanctuaria strongly suggests that the relics mentioned here were contact relics, made by placing a piece of cloth in close contact with the grave of the saint. For more detail about the process, see E00615 and E00617, and on the word, McCulloh 1976, 158-165.


Norberg, D., S. Gregorii Magni, Registrum epistularum. 2 vols. (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 140-140A; Turnhout: Brepols, 1982).

English translation:

Martyn, J.R.C.,
The Letters of Gregory the Great, 3 vols. (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2004).

Further Reading:

McCulloh, J., "The Cult of Relics in the Letters and Dialogues of Gregory the Great,"
Traditio 32 (1976), 145-184.

Neil, B., and Dal Santo, M. (eds.),
A Companion to Gregory the Great (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

Record Created By

Frances Trzeciak

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristMariaCertain
S00173Maximus/Maximilianus, martyr of Rome, buried on the via Salaria vetusMaximusCertain
S00404Hermes, martyr of Rome, buried on the via Salaria vetusHermesCertain
S00464Protus and Hyacinthus, eunuchs and martyrs of RomeCertain
S02341310 martyrs of PersiaCertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Frances Trzeciak, Cult of Saints, E06388 -