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E04212: Prudentius, in his Latin Crowns of the Martyrs (Peristephanon), written c. 400 in Calahorra (northern Spain), in a poem on the martyrdom of *Hippolytus (martyr of Rome, S00509), describes the underground tomb (crypta) in which Hippolytus was buried, and the cult he is receiving there from Romans and pilgrims from other regions.

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posted on 24.10.2017, 00:00 by mszada
Liber Peristephanon, Poem XI.153-214

Haud procul extremo culta ad pomeria uallo
mersa latebrosis crypta patet foueis.
155 Huius in occultum gradibus uia prona reflexis
ire per anfractus luce latente docet.
Primas namque fores summo tenus intrat hiatu
inlustratque dies limina uestibuli.
Inde ubi progressu facili nigrescere uisa est
160 nox obscura loci per specus ambiguum,
occurrunt celsis inmissa foramina tectis,
quae iaciant claros antra super radios.
Quamlibet ancipites texant hinc inde recessus
arta sub umbrosis atria porticibus,
165 at tamen excisi subter caua uiscera montis
crebra terebrato fornice lux penetrat.
Sic datur absentis per subterranea solis
cernere fulgorem luminibusque frui.
Talibus Hippolyti corpus mandatur opertis,
170 propter ubi adposita est ara dicata deo.
Illa sacramenti donatrix mensa eademque
custos fida sui martyris adposita
seruat ad aeterni spem uindicis ossa sepulcro,
pascit item sanctis Tibricolas dapibus.
175 Mira loci pietas et prompta precantibus ara
spes hominum placida prosperitate iuuat.
Hic corruptelis animique et corporis aeger
oraui quotiens stratus, opem merui.
Quod laetor reditu, quod te, uenerande sacerdos,
180 conplecti licitum est, scribo quod haec eadem,
Hippolyto scio me debere, deus cui Christus
posse dedit quod quis postulet adnuere.
Ipsa illas animae exuuias quae continet intus
aedicula argento fulgurat ex solido.
185 Praefixit tabulas diues manus aequore leui
candentes, recauum quale nitet speculum,
nec Pariis contenta aditus obducere saxis
addidit ornando clara talenta operi.
Mane salutatum concurritur; omnis adorat
190 pubis, eunt redeunt solis adusque obitum.
Conglobat in cuneum Latios simul ac peregrinos
permixtim populos religionis amor.
Oscula perspicuo figunt inpressa metallo,
balsama defundunt, fletibus ora rigant.
195 Iam cum se renouat decursis mensibus annus
natalemque diem passio festa refert,
quanta putas studiis certantibus agmina cogi,
quaeue celebrando uota coire deo!
Vrbs augusta suos uomit effunditque Quirites,
200 una et patricios ambitione pari
confundit plebeia falanx umbonibus aequis
discrimen procerum praecipitante fide.
Nec minus Albanis acies se candida portis
explicat et longis ducitur ordinibus,
exultant fremitus uariarum hinc inde uiarum,
indigena et Picens plebs et Etrusca uenit.
Concurrit Samnitis atrox, habitator et altae
Campanus Capuae iamque Nolanus adest,
quisque sua laetus cum coniuge dulcibus et cum
210 pigneribus rapidum carpere gestit iter.
Vix capiunt patuli populorum gaudia campi,
haeret et in magnis densa cohors spatiis.
Angustum tantis illud specus esse cateruis
haud dubium est, ampla fauce licet pateat.

'Not far outside the wall, near the belt of cultivation just beyond it, yawns a cave which goes deep down in dark pits. Into its hidden depths a downward path shows the way by turning, winding steps, with the help of light from a source unseen, for the light of day enters the first approach as far as the top of the cleft and illumines the entrance, then as you go forward easily you see the dark night of the place fill the mysterious cavern with blackness, but you find openings let into the roof far above, so as to throw bright rays down into the chasm. (163) However doubtful you may feel of this fabric of narrow halls running back on either hand in darksome galleries, still through the holes pierced in the vault many a gleam of light makes its way down to the hollow interior of the disembowelled mount, and thus underground it is granted to see the brightness of a sun which is not there, and have the benefit of its light. (169) Such is the place of concealment to which the body of Hippolytus was committed and by it has been set an altar dedicated to God. That table both gives the sacrament and is set there as faithful guardian of its martyr; it keeps his bones in the tomb for the hope of their everlasting deliverer and feeds the dwellers on Tiber's banks with the holy food. (175) Wonderful is the grace that attaches to the spot, and the altar, ever ready to receive its suppliants, fosters the hopes of men with kindly favour. Whenever I bowed in prayer here, a sick man diseased in soul and body both, I gained help. My glad return, my chance to embrace you, reverend priest, my writing these very words, I know that I owe to Hippolytus, to whom Christ our God has given power to grant one's request. (183) The shrine itself which holds within it that body which the soul sloughed off, gleams with massive silver. On its front a rich hand has fixed plates whose smooth surface has a sheen like the brightness of a concave mirror, and not content to cover the approach with stones of Paros, has added shining precious metals to ornament the work. In the morning people assemble to pay their respects; all that are grown up do reverence, coming and going till set of sun. (191) The love of their religion masses Latins and strangers together in one general body. They print kisses on the clear metal, they pour down balsams, and wet their faces with their tears. And then when the months have run their course and the year begins afresh, when the festival of his passion brings again its anniversary, can you imagine what multitudes gather with emulous zeal, what prayers join together to honour God? (199) The majestic city disgorges her Romans in a stream; with equal ardour patricians and plebeian host are jumbled together shoulder to shoulder, for the faith banishes distinctions of birth and equally from Alba's gates the white-robed troops deploy and pass on in long lines. Loud sounds of rejoicing rise from diverse roads leading from different places; natives of Picenum and the people of Etruria come; (207) the fierce Samnite and the Campanian dweller in lofty Capua meet together, and men of Nola too are there, everyone in happy mood with wife and dear children and eager to get quickly on the way. Scarcely can the broad plains hold the joyous multitudes; the close-packed company sticks fast even in the wide spaces. For these great throngs the cavern is clearly too confined, for all the wideness of its mouth.'

Text: Cunningham 1966, 375-377. Translation: Thomson 1953: 315-19.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Hippolytus, martyr of Rome : S00509

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom



Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Iberian Peninsula

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Calahorra Osset Osset Osen (castrum) Osser castrum

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Eucharist associated with cult

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places


Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Crowds Other lay individuals/ people Women Children


Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348–after 405) was a Christian aristocrat from Calahorra in the Spanish province of Tarraconensis. He was a high official in the imperial bureaucracy in Rome, but withdrew from public life, returned to Calahorra, and dedicated himself to the service and celebration of God. Most of what we know about his biography comes from the preface to the ensemble of his works, which can be reliably dated to 404 (Cunningham 1966, 1-2), and other autobiographical remarks scattered throughout his works (for a detailed discussion, see Palmer 1989, 6-31). He composed several poetical works, amongst them the Peristephanon (literally, On the Crowns [of the Martyrs]), a collection of fourteen poems of different length describing martyrdoms of saints. We do not know exactly at which point in his literary career Prudentius wrote the preface (possibly at the very end, just before publication); for attempts at a precise dating of the Peristephanon, see Fux 2013, 9, n. 1. The poems in the Peristephanon, written in elegant classical metres, deal mainly with martyrs from Spain, but some of them are dedicated to saints of Rome, Africa and the East. The poems were widely read in the late antique and medieval West, and had a considerable influence on the diffusion of cult of the saints included. In later periods they were sometimes used as hymns in liturgical celebrations and had an impact on the development of the Spanish hymnody. Some indications in the poems suggest that they were written to commemorate the saints on their feast days, but Prudentius probably did not compose them for the liturgy of his time. Rather, they probably provided 'devotional reading matter for a cultured audience outside a church context' (Palmer 1989, 3; see also Chapter 3 in her book).


Editions of the Peristephanon: Cunningham, M.P., Prudentii Carmina (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 126; Turnhout: Brepols, 1966), 251-389. Bergman, J., Prudentius, Carmina (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 61; Vienna, 1926), 291-431. Translations of the Peristephanon: Eagan, C., Prudentius, Poems (Fathers of the Church 43; Washington D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1962), 95-280. English translation. Thomson, H.J., Prudentius, vol. 2 (Loeb Classical Library; London Cambridge, Mass: W. Heinemann; Harvard University Press, 1953), 98-345. Edition and English translation. Further reading: Brent, A., Hippolytus and the Roman Church in the Third Century: Communities in Tension before the Emergence of a Monarch-Bishop (Leiden: Brill, 1995). Fux, P.-Y., Prudence et les martyrs: hymnes et tragédie. Peristephanon 1. 3-4. 6-8. 10. Commentaire, (Fribourg: Academic Press, 2013). Malamud, M.A., A Poetics of Transformation: Prudentius and Classical Mythology (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989). Palmer, A.-M., Prudentius on the Martyrs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989). Roberts, M., Poetry and the Cult of the Martyrs: The "Liber Peristephanon" of Prudentius (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993).

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