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E03220: The Latin Martyrdom of *Eleutherius and his mother Antia (martyrs of Rome, S01661) is written in closely related variant versions, the earliest by the 8th c. at the latest. It narrates Eleutherius’ education in Rome and consecration as bishop, the miracles and conversions triggered, his arrest, the tortures he endured, and his martyrdom in Rome together with his mother. One version narrates that after their death their bodies are buried just outside Rieti (civitas Reatina) and a church is built on the site where miracles happen. Another version tells of the translation of relics from Rome to the city of Aecae in Apulia (modern Troia in southern Italy), where Eleutherius was bishop. Variant versions translated and adapted from a Greek text.

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posted on 11.07.2017, 00:00 by Nikolaos, dlambert
Martyrdom of Eleutherius and his mother Antia

The Martyrdom is preserved in variant versions closely related but bearing important differences regarding the cult of Eleutherius; here we have provided summaries of two of the earliest attested, the first (BHL 2450) situating Eleutherius’ cult in Rieti near Rome, the second (BHL 2451) setting it in Aecae in Apulia.


BHL 2450:

Summary:

§ 1: In the 25th year of his reign, the emperor hears about a boy named Eleutherius as he comes to Rome from the East. Eleutherius is the only son of Antia, a widow who, after the death of her husband, the senator Eugenius, educates her son in the Christian religion and then entrusts his instruction in the Bible to the bishop Dynamius. Eleutherius makes great progress and is made a deacon at the age of sixteen, a priest at eighteen and, as he heals the sick and expels demons, a bishop at the age of twenty.

§§ 2-3: Hearing this, the emperor asks his count (comes) Felix to summon Eleutherius with the help of soldiers. Felix finds Eleutherius teaching to a great crowd; Felix is rebuked by Eleutherius for attempting to seize him by force, and is converted. They go to Rome with all the soldiers and on the way Eleutherius instructs them on Jesus Christ’s coming and resurrection. Then Felix is baptised in a river and his companions also believe.

§§ 4-7: In Rome, the emperor Hadrian interrogates Eleutherius about his conversion to Christianity and attempts to bring him to adore pagan gods. As he refuses, Eleutherius’ body is stretched naked on a bronze bed with fire burning underneath. The Roman people come to watch the show and praise Eleutherius. Eleutherius is then freed and walks unharmed, preaching in favour of Christianity and against idols to the crowd. Hadrian prepares a burning gridiron for torture but it is instantly cooled as Eleutherius is put on it; he then orders a huge frying-pan full of oil to be heated. After referring to the three young Hebrews in the furnace (Daniel 3:8-30), Eleutherius is put in the frying-pan, which stays cool, and he refuses to offer sacrifice. Referring to the miracles that have just happened, he attempts to convert Hadrian.

§§ 8-10: The prefect Corribon suggests that Eleutherius should be put in jail, then shut in a great oven to be prepared in the amphitheatre. As this is done the next day, in front of all the Roman people, Eleutherius is summoned to adore the gods but says that either he will be defeated by this torture and adore the gods or he will overcome it and the prefect will believe in Jesus Christ. After a prayer to God, Eleutherius is thrown into the oven but it becomes cool and he is unhurt.

§§ 11-12: Seeing this, Corribon states his belief in God to Hadrian. He asks Eleutherius for baptism and receives the Holy Spirit thanks to Eleutherius’ prayer. He is put into the oven but it becomes cool. Then the emperor orders Corribon to be beheaded and Eleutherius to be shut again in the oven. After two hours, the oven is opened and Eleutherius is standing unhurt in it, glowing like an angel. The Roman people praise God.

§§ 13-15: Angered, Hadrian holds a meeting in his palace to find a way to kill Eleutherius. In jail without food for many days, Eleutherius receives food from a dove and thanks God with reference to Elijah receiving food in the desert (1 Kings 17) and Daniel in the Lions’ Den (Daniel 6). The emperor orders for Eleutherius to be put on a chariot and torn apart by wild horses. However, he is freed by an angel and the horses bring him to a high mountain where there is fresh water and fruits. All wild beasts come to stay next to him and are tamed. Hunters come to seize beasts that they need for games. They see Eleutherius and tell the emperor, who sends soldiers to summon him. Eleutherius sends away the wild beasts that defend him and converts the soldiers with a short speech. On the way down from the mountain, more than 608 men are baptised among whom three counts who tell Eleutherius that he is free to go. However Eleutherius replies that he will remain steadfast and obtain his crown of martyrdom.

§§ 16-17: As the emperor hears that Eleutherius has been brought back, he organises games with wild beasts. In the arena Eleutherius tames a lioness and a huge lion. The Roman people are torn apart and fight each other, some despising, others praising, Eleutherius. Hadrian again asks Eleutherius to change his mind but he replies cursing him. Hadrian orders Eleutherius’ mouth to be crushed with a block of lead but it melts in the hands of one of the assistants, burning his fingers. Hadrian is troubled as he finds no way to kill Eleutherius. Seeing this Eleutherius, fears that he will not be martyred and prays to Jesus Christ, asking to be crowned with martyrdom in the arena on the same day.

§ 18: Two executioners come and kill him. A voice from heaven welcomes Eleutherius in heaven. Many hear this and are frightened. His mother Antia weeps over his body, collects the blood with linen cloth and aims to take care of his burial. However she too is killed by the sword and both bodies are left unburied.

Venientes autem nocte sancti viri, rapuerunt corpora eorum: et una cum episcopo, nomine Primo, venerunt ab urbe Roma in campum Reatinum, juxta ipsam civitatem Reatinam milliarium unum, et ibi sepelierunt corpora eorum, in praediolo quod est episcopi Primi, in campo Reatino, in olco qui nominatur Urbanianus, qui est ab urbe Roma milliariis XLI juxta civitatem Reatinam, quique est in via Salaria. In ipso vero praedicto loco, ubi corpora eorum recondita fuerunt, unam sancti Eleutherii et Antiae matrie ejus fabricaverunt ecclesiam, in qua operantur sancti martyres multa beneficia. Usque in hodiernum diem, ad eorum corpora aegri veniunt et sanantur, energumini veniunt et liberantur.

‘However holy men came at night, stole ther bodies, and together with the bishop, named Primus, they came from Rome to the campus Reatinus next to the civitas Reatina at the first milestone, and buried their bodies there, in a small estate belonging to the bishop Primus, in the campus Reatinus, in the place that is called Urbanianus, which is 41 miles away from Rome, next to the civitas Reatina, which is on the via Salaria. And in the same above-mentioned place, where their bodies were buried, they build a church for the saints Eleutherius and his mother Antia, where the holy martyrs bestow many favours. Up to this day, the sick come to their bodies and are healed, and the possessed come and are freed.'

§ 19: We, the brothers Eulogius and Theodulus, who were ordained by him, have written this, taking note of what he have seen and heard, to earn mercy from God thanks to those who read and hear it. Their feast day is on the 8th day before the Calends of December [= 24 November].

Text: Acta Sanctorum, Apr. II, 530-532. Summary and translation: M. Pignot.


BHL 2451:

Summary:

After the death of his father, who was first among the senate and gave games three times, Eleutherius is left to his mother Antia, who entrusts his instruction in sacred letters to a bishop. Eleutherius grows in the faith; he is made a deacon at the age of 17 [according to AASS; Mombritius reads 12], ordained priest at 18 [Mombritius reads 23]. As he is 20, the bishop sees the miracles that Eleutherius performs and how he expels demons; he is thus asked by many to ordain him a bishop and Eleutherius then becomes bishop in Apulia in the city of Aecae [in Apuliam civitatem Hecanam, according to AASS, while Mombritius has simply in Apuliam].

The emperor Hadrian comes back from the East, hears about Eleutherius’ reputation in Rome and in the place where he has been sent to be a bishop. The emperor sends his count (comes) Felix to summon Eleutherius with the help of soldiers. Felix finds him in church in the city of Aecae, discussing the word of God. After a short dialogue, Eleutherius teaches them and they are all amazed. Felix falls at Eleutherius’ feet, asks to be instructed and rejects his former religion. After a prayer, Eleutherius makes him a Christian through the imposition of his hand. On their way to Rome in a place where there is water, Felix is baptised by Eleutherius on his own request.

In Rome, the emperor Hadrian interrogates Eleutherius about his conversion to Christianity, and attempts to bring him to adore pagan gods. As he refuses, Eleutherius’ body is stretched on a bronze bed with fire burning underneath. Eleutherius is then freed and walks unharmed, preaching in favour of Christianity and against idols to the crowd. Hadrian prepares a burning gridiron for torture but it is instantly cooled as Eleutherius is put on it; he then orders a huge frying-pan full of oil to be heated. After referring to the three young Hebrews in the furnace (Daniel 3:8-30), Eleutherius is put in the frying-pan, which stays cool, and he refuses to offer sacrifice, mocking Hadrian.

The prefect Correbor comes to help Hadrian, he orders a burning oven to be prepared. When it is ready, Eleutherius prays to Christ. Seeing this prayer, Correbor proclaims that the God of Christians is great and that there is no evil in Eleutherius. Hadrian asks the prefect whether he has received gold or silver from Eleutherius’ mother to defend the boy and reminds him that he has granted him the prefecture. Correbor replies that he wants to believe in Eleutherius’ God and that he rejects his former religion. The God of Christians is great since this single boy is able to overcome the emperor. Hadrian orders Correbor to be sent into the oven that he had prepared. Before entering it, Correbor asks for Eleutherius’ help, who promises that he will not be hurt. Indeed, Correbor enters the oven and the fire does not touch him. He is sentenced to die by the sword, but before his death, he asks Eleutherius to pray for him so that he may

History

Evidence ID

E03220

Saint Name

Eleutherios/Eleutherius, martyr of Rome, and his mother Antia : S01661

Saint Name in Source

Eleutherius, Antia

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom

Language

Latin

Evidence not before

400

Evidence not after

750

Activity not before

117

Activity not after

138

Place of Evidence - Region

Rome and region Italy south of Rome and Sicily Italy south of Rome and Sicily

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Rome Aecae Rieti

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē Aecae Adriatic Sea Adriatic Sea Adriaticum Mare Rieti Adriatic Sea Adriatic Sea Adriaticum Mare

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Saint as patron - of a community

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Miracles experienced by the saint Miracles causing conversion Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Miracle with animals and plants Healing diseases and disabilities Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money) Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous sound, smell, light Exorcism

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Children Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Pagans Relatives of the saint Aristocrats Monarchs and their family Soldiers Officials Crowds Angels Animals Family

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Construction of cult building to contain relics Theft/appropriation of relics Noted absence of relics

Source

Epic Martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Eleutherius and his mother Antia 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 Eleutherius and his mother Antia The Martyrdom is preserved in three variant versions (BHL 2450, 2451-2451a and BHL 2452). BHL 2450 and BHL 2451-2451a (the two numbers recording slight variants in the beginning and end) are the most widespread and earliest attested. Here we have provided a summary of BHL 2450, published in the Acta Sanctorum, and BHL 2451 published by Mombritius. As summarised by Gaillard-Goullet, the Martyrdom seems to be translated and adapted from the Greek (BHG 568-571b, on which see De’Cavalieri). BHL 2450 is found in 4 manuscripts, the earliest from the 9th c.: Paris, BNF, lat. 5296D, f. 72v-76v (fragmentary); BHL 2451 is found in 30 manuscripts, the earliest from the late 8th century and the 9th century: Montpellier, Bibliothèque Interuniversitaire, Faculté de Médecine, H 55, f. 201v-203v (9th c.); Munich, BSB, Clm 4554, f. 56r-59v (end of 8th c.); Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, HB.XIV.13, f. 141r (9th c.). BHL 2451a is found in 8 manuscripts, the earliest from the late 8th century: Turin, Biblioteca Nazionale, D.V.3, f. 176v-183v (see the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta (bhlms.fltr.ucl.ac.be) and the lists of manuscripts on the cd-rom attached to Goullet 2014).

Discussion

The two variant versions here summarised have small differences in the main narrative, but more significant ones relating to Eleutherius’ cult, which has obscure origins. The beginning of BHL 2450 simply tells of Eleutherius’ education and ordination in Rome, but its end gives precise geographical co-ordinates about the burial place of the martyrs in Rieti (the ancient civitas Reatina) near Rome, where a church is said to be built and miracles happen. Thus the saints depicted by the hagiographer in BHL 2450 are said to be venerated in Rieti although their martyrdom takes place in Rome. This shows how the saints were appropriated for local cult by the hagiographer of this version. In the alternative version BHL 2451, however, Eleutherius is rather said to be ordained bishop in Aeca in Apulia, although his martyrdom then takes place in Rome. The end of the text refers to people from the city of Aecae taking the relics to their homeland and upsetting the Romans. The feast days also do not correspond, BHL 2450 giving 24 November, and BHL 2451 giving 18 April. There are a number of other early sources about the martyrs’ cult (see a list under S01661), in particular feasts recorded in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, although references to Eleutherius do not all point to our martyr and, as is clear already from the variant versions of our Martyrdom, there is great confusion and uncertainty about the origins of cult of Eleutherius in Rieti, Aecae and elsewhere, due to the existence of various saints with the same name venerated in various places across the Mediterranean (the Greek metaphrastic version for instance situates Eleutherius’ cult in Illyricum; see a discussion of issues regarding the Latin versions in Lanzoni and Saxer). The dating of the earliest Latin version of the Martyrdom is uncertain, particularly because of the uncertainties related to the early cult of the two saints, but it must have been written by the 8th century at the latest, when the earliest preserved manuscripts of BHL 2451/2451a were copied (while for BHL 2450, the earliest date from the 9th century). In the 9th century, Florus of Lyons also borrowed from BHL 2451/2451a (or a closely related version), in his martyrology, as he refers to Eleutherius’ connection to Apulia (see Quentin, H., Les martyrologes historiques du Moyen Âge. Etude sur la formation du martyrologe romain (Paris, 1908), 256-257).

Bibliography

Editions: BHL 2450: Acta Sanctorum, Apr. II, 530-532. BHL 2451: Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), I, 443-446 (the original edition was published c. 1480); Acta Sanctorum, Apr. II, 533-534 (selected readings). BHL 2451a: Gaillard, M., and Goullet, M., “Passio Eleutheri et matris eius Antiae,” in: Goullet, M. (ed.), Le légendier de Turin. MS. D.V.3 de la Bibliothèque Nationale Universitaire (Florence, 2014), 625-639, at 630-639. Further reading: De’Cavalieri, F., I martiri di s. Teodoto e di s. Ariadne. Con un’appendice sul testo originale del martirio di s. Eleuterio (Rome, 1901), 137-161 (edition of the Greek text at 149-161). Lanzoni, F., Le diocesi d’Italia dalle origini al principio del secolo vii, 2 vols. (Faenza, 1927), I, 268-271 and 356-358. Gaillard, M., and Goullet, M., “Passio Eleutheri et matris eius Antiae,” in: Goullet, M. (ed.), Le légendier de Turin. MS. D.V.3 de la Bibliothèque Nationale Universitaire (Florence, 2014), 625-639 at 625-629. Saxer, V., “I santi e i santuari antichi della via Salaria da Fidene ad Amiterno,” Rivista di archeologia cristiana 66 (1990), 245-305, at 273-277.

Continued Description

become a Christian through the effusion of his blood. After the prefect is executed, Hadrian goes back to his palace angered. Hadrian holds a meeting with his counts to find a way to kill Eleutherius. In jail without food, Eleutherius receives food from the Spirit of God and gives thanks for being fed on spiritual food, recalling Daniel in the Lion’s Den (Daniel 6). He then tells the emperor that he should be ashamed of his defeat and that Correbor now rests in the bosom of Abraham. The emperor orders for Eleutherius to be put on a chariot and torn apart by wild horses. However, he is freed by an angel and the horses bring him on a high mountain. There he praises the Lord and all sorts of wild beasts come to him. Eleutherius teaches them to praise and bless God; as they cannot praise God, they only raise their right foot as a blessing. Hunters come to seize lions that they need for games planned by Hadrian in Rome, see Eleutherius and tell the emperor, who sends counts and soldiers to summon him. Eleutherius sends away the wild beasts that defend him and converts many of those who have come to seize him with a speech. They are baptised on the way down from the mountain. As the emperor hears that Eleutherius has been brought back, he organises games with wild beasts. In the amphitheatre Eleutherius tames a lioness and a lion. The Roman people are torn apart and fight each other, some despising, others praising, Eleutherius. Hadrian further asks Eleutherius to change his mind but he replies cursing him. Eleutherius prays to God asking to receive the crown of martyrdom. He then orders that he be killed by the sword. Hadrian rejoices. After Eleutherius’ death, a voice from heaven welcomes him. The Roman people bless the God of Christians and Eleutherius’ mother rejoices. She then throws herself on her son’s body and asks Hadrian never to be set apart from her son. Hadrian grants it: he orders her to be killed by the sword. Many had followed Eleutherius from the city of Aecae [de civitate Hecana, while Mombritius has de civitate Enechum, a corrupt reading], where he was ordained a bishop. They take the relics (reliquiae) and bring them to his homeland [patria sua - Mombritius has the obviously wrong patria Romana]. The next day people in Rome look for the relics and cannot find them, and there is a great upheaval among them. Those who have taken them then reveal that these were the relics of their bishop and his mother Antia. This calms the anger of the Romans. The martyrdom of the bishop Eleutherius and his mother Antia happened in Rome on the 14th day before the Calends of May [= 18 April] under the emperor Hadrian.Mombritius 1910, I, 443-446 (with readings given in AASS, Apr. II, 533-534). Summary: M. Pignot.

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