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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

The Breviarius, a brief guide to the holy places of Jerusalem, which survives in two distinct versions,mentions a number of buildings and relics associated with saints and Old Testament figures. Written in Latin, presumably in Jerusalem, perhaps (in its two surviving states) around AD 500.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Pilgrim accounts and itineraries

Breviarius de Hierosolyma


1. At Golgotha (line 46):

Version A: Vbi est ille discus ubi caput sancti Iohannis portatum fuit. Vbi est illud cornu, quo Dauid unctus est et Salomon. Et ille anulus ibidem, unde Salomon sigillauit demones et est de electro.

Version B: Ibi est ille missurius ubi portatus fuit caput Iohannis Baptiste ante Herodem regem.
Et ibi est cornus ille unde unctus est David.

Version A: 'Where the dish on which the head of saint John was carried is. Where the horn with which David was anointed is, and Solomon. And the ring with which Solomon sealed the demons, and it is of electrum.'

Version B: 'The dish on which the head of John the Baptist was carried before King Herod is there. And the horn with which David was anointed is there.'

2. By the Holy Sepulchre (line 70):

Version A (only): Ante ipso sepulchro est altare, ubi Zacharias sanctus occisus est, ubi arescit sanguis eius.

Version A (only): 'In front of the Sepulchre is an altar, where the holy Zechariah was killed, where his blood dried.'

3. At the church of Holy Sion (line 93):

Version A: Inde uenis ad sacrarium, ubi est ille lapis unde lapidatus est sanctus Stephanus.

Version B: Et inde uenis ad sacrario et ibi est lapis ille unde lapidatus est sanctus Stephanus.

Version A: 'From there you come to the holy treasury, where there is a rock with which saint Stephen was stoned.'

Version B: 'And from there you come to the holy treasury, and a rock with which saint Stephen was stoned is there.'

4. The church of Peter (house of Caiaphas) (line 105):

Version A (only): Inde uadis ad domum Caiphan, ubi negauit sanctus Petrus, ubi est basilica grandis sancti Petri.

Version A (only): 'Then you go to the house of Caiaphas, where saint Peter denied [Christ], where there is a large basilica of saint Peter.'

5. The church of the Dormition:

Version B (only): Et ibi est basilica sanctae Mariae et ibi est sepulchrum eius.

Version B (only): 'And the basilica of saint Mary is there her grave is there.'

Text: Weber 1965. Translation: Bryan Ward-Perkins.

Cult Places

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

Non Liturgical Activity

Visiting graves and shrines


Bodily relic - blood
Bodily relic - entire body
Contact relic - saint’s possession and clothes
Contact relic - instrument of saint’s martyrdom
Public display of relics


The Breviarius de Hierosolyma ('Brief notes on Jerusalem') survives in two distinct versions (known as 'A' and 'B'). However, the two versions share much text in common, and it is clear that they are both versions, expanded independently of each other, of a single earlier work.

None of the texts - neither the reconstructible earlier work, nor the two expanded versions - are readily datable. The former has enough for pilgrims to visit to show that it must post-date the elaboration of Jerusalem pilgrimage (Wilkinson 2002, 3-4 thinks it might date from around AD 400), while a date of around 500 is possible (but undemonstrable) for the two expanded versions.

These are very short texts, with little detail in them. They were presumably written in Jerusalem for the use of Latin-speaking pilgrims.


In Extract 1, it is hard to tell whether the platter on which the Baptist's head was carried, the horn from which David was anointed, and the ring of Solomon were being exhibited as biblical curiosities, or as 'relics' in the full Christian sense of powerful holy objects.

The Zechariah of Extract 2 is probably the father of John the Baptist, who in Christian thought was associated with the Zechariah 'killed between the temple and the altar' (
Matthew 23:35); but there was (and there remains) considerable uncertainty over the identity of various biblical Zechariahs. The wording in Breviarius A suggests that his dried blood was shown to pilgrims.

That the author of
Breviarius B was shown the grave of Mary (Extract 5) suggests a date before the later sixth-century, by which time the belief in her bodily assumption was circulating and had even reached Gregory of Tours in north-western Gaul (E00369).


Weber, R. (ed.), Breviarius de Hierosolyma, in Itineraria et alia geographica (Corpus Chistianorum, series Latina 175; Turnholti: Typographi Brepols editores pontificii, 1965), 109-112.

English translation:
Wilkinson, J.,
Jerusalem Pilgrims Before the Crusades (2nd ed.; Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 2002), 117-121.

Record Created By

Bryan Ward-Perkins

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00020John the BaptistIohannes BaptistaCertain
S00030Stephen, the First MartyrCertain
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristCertain
S00036Peter, the ApostleCertain
S00269David, Old Testament king of Israel, PsalmistCertain
S00270Solomon, Old Testament king of IsraelCertain
S00283Zechariah, Old Testament prophetUncertain
S00597Zechariah, father of John the BaptistUncertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Bryan Ward-Perkins, Cult of Saints, E07942 -