Site logo

The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

Three relic labels, datable by their script to the 7th/8th c., for relics, at the monastery of Saint-Maurice d'Agaune (Agaunum, south-east Gaul), of various saints. Written in Latin, either where the relics originated, or at Saint-Maurice d'Agaune.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Documentary texts - Relic label

Archives de l'Abbaye de Saint-Maurice

[CHN 64/1/6; Smith 2015, 234, Et.6]

s(an)c(t)i Iohannis martyris

'Of saint Iohannes/John, martyr'

[Probably *Iohannes, martyr of Rome under the emperor Julian buried on the via Salaria vetus, S00514]

[CHN 64/1/7; Smith 2015, 234, Et.7]

de uestieuentu s(an)c(t)e maree

'Of the clothing of saint Mary'

[*Mary, Mother of Christ, S00033]

[CHN 64/2/6A; Smith 2015, 240, Et.33]

s(an)c(t)e vitale

'Of saint Vitalis'

[Probably Vitalis, one of the *Theban Legion, commanded by Maurice, martyrs of Agaunum, S00339; or possibly *Vitalis, martyr of Ravenna, S02826, or *Vitalis, martyr of Bologna, S00310]

Cult Places

Cult building - monastic


Unspecified relic
Contact relic - saint’s possession and clothes
Transfer, translation and deposition of relics
Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries


Three small strips of parchment: 92 x 7 mm [Iohannes]; 79 x 9 mm [Mary]; 27 x 13 [Vitalis]. Written on in script which can be approximately dated to the period 650/750. The form and wording of these parchment scraps is typical of relic labels.

Around 100 such relic labels survive at Agaune, though all now detached from the small relic bundles that they once identified. Of these, twenty-eight can be dated by their script as probably, or possibly earlier than 700 (the cut-off date for our database). Of the twenty-eight, four relate to Holy Land relics or relics associated with Christ, and so have not been entered by us (Smith 2015, Et.10, 15, 20 and 66), but the remaining twenty-four all relate to saints (for these, see also E07438, E08075, E08076, E08077 and E08078).

The saints recorded in these early labels are an interesting mix: only two are biblical (Mary and Matthew); a few are from distant lands (Alexandria and Chalcedon at one geographical extreme, Ireland at the other); several are Italian, particularly from Rome and Milan; some are long-established saints of Gaul; a few are saints of Agaune itself; and, somewhat unexpectedly, several are Merovingian bishops, only recently dead.

Only one label identifies the nature of the relic within the bundle to which it was attached (in this case, a fragment of the clothing of the Virgin Mary), which suggests little interest in the physical character of the holy object. What mattered was that the relic (whatever it was) had been closely associated with the saint or saints named on the label, and was therefore infused with their power.

For a full discussion of the Agaune relic labels, see the works by Julia Smith listed below.


John, 'martyr', is probably the martyr of Rome buried on the via Salaria vetus (S00514).

That the relic label for Mary, the mother of Christ (S00033), alone of all the early labels at Agaune, specifies the physical form of the relic inside the bundle (part of her clothing), may well be because of the belief (first recorded in the west by Gregory of Tours at the end of the sixth century, E00369) that she had bodily ascended to Heaven. It was therefore important to specify that this was not a corporeal relic.

The identity of Vitalis is uncertain. He may be a Vitalis who, sometime after the origins of the cult of the Theban legion, is identified as one of its number; but it is also possible that he is Vitalis of Ravenna (S02826), or Vitalis of Bologna (S00310), both major figures in their home-towns.


Text and discussion:
J.M.H. Smith, "Les reliques et leurs étiquettes," in Pierre Alain Mariaux, ed., L'abbaye de Saint-Maurice d'Agaune 515-2015. Volume 2 - Le trésor (Gollion 2015), 221-57.

Further discussion:
J.M.H. Smith, "One site, many more meanings. The community of Saint-Maurice d'Agaune and its relic collection", in M.C. Miller and E. Wheatley (eds),
Emotions, Communities and Difference in Medieval Europe. Essays in Honour of Barbara H. Rosenwein, (Routledge, London and New York 2017), 59-76.

J.M.H. Smith, "The Remains of the Saints: the Evidence of Early Medieval Relic Collections,"
Early Medieval Europe, 28 (2020), 388-424.


John martyr: from Smith 2015, 234, Et.6

Mary: from Smith 2015, 234, Et.7

Vitalis: Smith 2015, 240, Et.33

Record Created By

Bryan Ward-Perkins

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristMareaCertain
S00310Agricola and Vitalis, master and slave, martyrs of BolognaVitalisUncertain
S00339Theban Legion, commanded by Maurice, martyrs of Agaunum, GaulVitalisUncertain
S00514Iohannes, martyr of Rome under the emperor Julian buried on the via Salaria vetusIohannesUncertain
S02826Vitalis, martyr of RavennaVitalisUncertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Bryan Ward-Perkins, Cult of Saints, E08079 -