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SS Carpophorus and Abundius (10th December)

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Consecutive entries in the Roman Martyrology under 10th December read:

  1. “At Rome, Pope St Melchiades .... “

  2. “The same day, the holy martyrs Carpophorus, a priest, and Abundius, a deacon, in the persecution of Diocletian.  They were first cruelly beaten with rods, then imprisoned and denied food and drink; being placed on the rack a second time and again thrown into prison, they were finally beheaded”.  

The implication is that SS Carpophorus and Abundius were martyred in Rome, although this is not explicitly stated.

The Martyrology of Florus (825-40) records that SS Carpophorus and Abundius were martyred on 10th December, “apud Hispolitanum civitatem”: this is probably a corrupt reference to Spoletium, the place given in the slightly later Martyrologies of Adon and Usuard.  Florus records that these martyrs were respectively a priest and a deacon, cruelly tortured and martyred by the judge Martianus in the persecution of Christians undertaken by the Emperor Diocletian (in 303 AD).  They were released by an angel but arrested again, tortured and imprisoned, before being put to the sword.  

Legend of the Twelve Syrians (BHL 1620)

SS Carpophorus and Abundius enjoy a relatively prominent position among the  protagonist of the legend “Sanctii Anastasii et 11 fratrum, qui cum eo de Syriae partibus” (St Anastasius and 11 brothers who came from Syria, which is otherwise known as the Legend of the Twelve Syrians.  According to this legend, St Anastasius travelled to Italy with his sons SS Brictius and Eutychius  and other members of his extended family: SS Carpophorus, Abundius, Laurence, John, Isaac, Teudila, Proculus, Herculanus and Baractalis.  A bishop named Urban ordained:

  1. SS Brictius and Carpophorus as priests; and

  2. SS Laurence and Abundius as deacons.

While in Rome, the family then embarked on a programme of evangelisation that led to their imprisonment.  When St Anastasius was subsequently beheaded, SS Brictius and Eutychius led the rest of the family to safety along  Via Cornelia. They then split up at a place called “Pax Sanctorum”: SS Eutychius and Proculus went their separate ways, while St Brictius and the rest of the family moved to Spoleto.

In the introduction, the events are set in the time of: 

  1. the Emperor Julian the Apostate, who was emperor in the west from 355 and sole emperor in the period 360-3; and  

  2. ss. episcopo Urbano” or variants thereof, which is usually taken to be an anachronistic reference to Pope Urban I (died 230).

The paragraphs specifically dedicated to St Brictius are not set within a specific historical framework.  However, the events unfold at the time of the martyrdom of SS Carpophorus and Abundius, which are set at the time of Diocletian’s persecution of Christians, in 303 AD. 

For an analysis of these chronological inconsistencies, see the Legend of the Twelve Syrians III

Legend of SS Carpophorus and Abundius within BHL 1620

The account that follows is from BHL 1620, lines 30-44 and 68-106, translated by Edoardo d’ Angelo (referenced below, at pp. 217-21).  

Lines 30-44

As noted above, after leaving Rome, SS Carpophorus and Abundius accompanied St Brictius to Spoleto.  There, they were able to covert many people to Christianity.   However, SS Carpophorus and Abundius were arrested in the house of a Christian lady called Sincleta and taken before the magistri militum Turgius and Leontius.  Their defiance led to their severe mistreatment and imprisonment. 

This account is essentially derived from the entry for these saints in the Martyrology of Florus, except that:

  1. the magistri militum Turgius and Leontius are introduced into the narrative; and

  2. the place of the second arrest of SS Carpophorus and Abundius is now specified as the house of Sincleta.

Lines 45-67 - St Brictius

At this point, the narrative turns to the fate of St Brictius.

Lines 68-99

The narrative of SS Carpophorus and Abundius now continues from where we left it at line 44: an angel appeared to the SS Carpophorus and Abundius and released them from prison in Spoleto.  They immediately hid in a grotto on the outskirts of the city.  However, following the publication of the anti-Christian edict in Spoleto on 23rd July, SS Carpophorus and Abundius were discovered and arrested, together with many other Christians who had taken refuge with them.  They were then interrogated by the proconsul Martianus.  

The companions of SS Carpophorus and Abundius refused to sacrifice to idols, they were decapitated outside the city walls.  The date of their martyrdom is given as 25th July.  Sincleta retrieved their bodies and buried them "in cimiterio Pontiani, non longe ab urbe Spoletana": this almost certainly refers to the early Christian cemetery at San Ponziano, which had grown up at the burial site of St Pontian

Martianus now submitted SS Carpophorus and Abundius to a public interrogation in front of the Temple of Jove in the forum of Spoleto.  When they remained defiant, he ordered their further punishment, after which they were returned to prison.

The information in this section is essentially based on the account by Florus.  However, Florus did not mention:

  1. Diocletian’s edict of 23rd July; or

  2. the arrest thereafter of companions of SS Carpophorus and Abundius and their subsequent execution and burial at Spoleto.

More importantly, he had SS Carpophorus and Abundius put to the sword immediately after their interrogation at Spoleto, on 10th December.

Lines 100-6

Martianus then ordered Leontius, the magister militum, to take SS Carpophorus and Abundius to civitas Fulginia and behead them: Leontius duly decapitated them outside the walls of civitas Fulginia on 10th December and abandoned their corpses.  (As he returned to Rome, he was killed by a bear).  An angel appeared to a Christian lady called Eustochia and instructed her to retrieve the bodies of SS Carpophorus and Abundius at “Thanaritanus”, at the foot of "Monte Rotondo" (the round mountain), which was a Roman mile from the city.  The angel further instructed Eustochia that, having found the bodies, she should bury them in a new sarcophagus.  She duly obeyed these instructions and buried SS Carpophorus and Abundius in “spelunca sua” (literally “her cave”, presumably a cavern used for burial).

This material has no known earlier source, and we can reasonably assume that it appeared here for the first time (as discussed below). 

Date of Lines 100-6 of BHL 1620

It is clear from the above that the legend of SS Carpophorus and Abundius, martyrs of Spoleto, was known to Florus in ca. 840.  It was subsequently incorporated into BHL 1620, together with an addendum at lines 100-6 that changed the place of martyrdom from Spoleto to civitas Fulginia and provided new information about the place in which their bodies had been abandoned: at “Thanaritanus”, at the foot of "Monte Rotondo".  There is a parallel here with the legend of St Felician, who was martyred "ad Montem Rotundum" ( a location traditionally, but not necessarily accurately,  thought to be near the site of the ex-convent of San Feliciano di Mormonzone.

It seems to me that this addendum was most probably written in ca. 850, at the time of the translation of the relics of St Abundius to Berceto (see below): Florus had St Abundius martyred at Spoleto, and Bishop Tiberius would have needed a legend that explained how his relics had happened to be in Foligno.   This subject is discussed in more detail in the page on the legend of St Brictius within BHL 1620.

Legend of the Twelve Syrians (BHL 1622)

The versions of BHL 1622 are enumerated and briefly described by Edoardo D’Angelo (referenced below, at pp. 93-4).  The prototype was published under the title “Passio SS Abundii et Carpofori Martyrum” by Bonino Mombrizio, in his “Sanctuarium seu Vitae sanctorum”  (ca. 1478) and republished in 1910 (see pp. 16-9 of this scan).  It was based on lines 1-106 of BHL 1620, and now had only eleven followers of St Anastasius: St Baractalis was omitted.

Edoardo d”Angelo summarised three other versions of this legend:

  1. BHL 1622 b;

  2. BHL 1622 d (two copies of which are included under 9th September in the Leggendari del Duomo di Spoleto, entitled “Passio s. Britii”); and

  3. BHL 1622 f. 

[In the titles given by Edoardo D’Angelo for these versions, St Athanasius replaced St Anastasius.] 

Legend of the 300 Syrians 

St Carpophorus appears as the leader in the version of the Legend of the 300 Syrians that is otherwise devoted to SS Felix and Maurus.  In this legend, some 300 Syrians left Cesarea and Laodicea in Syria for Europe in 516 AD.

Relics of SS Carpophorus and Abundius

Sarcophagus from Santa Maria in Campis (ca. 600 ?)

Luigi Sensi (referenced below) described a sarcophagus that was discovered in the late 19th century in an unknown location in the area around the church of Santa Maria in Campis.  The sarcophagus, which was taken to the museum of Foligno after its discovery, was destroyed in the Second World War.  However, a photograph of it survives (reproduced by Luigi Sensi as Figure 1).  He pointed out that it shared the characteristics of other Umbrian sarcophagi, two of which had housed the relics of saints (those of St Juvenal, in the Duomo of Narni; and those of St Felix, in the crypt of San Felice di Giano).  The sarcophagi in this group  are characterised by a low relief on one side that consists of a rectangle flanked by two triangles and then by two arches with architraves.  A wide variety of dates has been proposed for this group of sarcophagi: that suggested here was suggested by Mario Sensi (referenced below, at p. 90):

  1. “The sarcophagus at Foligno which was contemporary with those from Giano, Narni and Spoleto, is assignable on the basis of [the shared] decorative motif to the 6th or 7th century” (my translation).

Luigi Sensi acknowledged that the find spot recorded for the sarcophagus from Foligno was unspecific, but he suggested that it might have come from the cemetery of an early church at Santa Maria in Campis, which he described (as pp. 30-1) as:

  1. “... an ancient basilica [with an associated cemetery], which retained the memory of the first Christian community of Fulginia ...” (my translation).

He suggested that the sarcophagus had been used for the relics of SS Carpophorus and Abundius after their discovery in this cemetery.  It has to be said that this suggestion was based on purely circumstantial evidence, and there is no surviving evidence for either this early church in the area of Santa Maria in Campis or for its putative Christian cemetery. 

Translation to Berceto of relics of St Abundius

According to the legend BHL 0019 (see “Tractatus Praeliminaris ad Tomem Primum Julii” (1719), search on “Temporibus invectissimorum Imperatorum”), Bishop Domenico of civitas Fulginia gave relics of St Abundius to Abbot Tiberius of Berceto (near Parma) in ca. 850.  Abbot Tiberius was trying at this time to increase the prestige of his abbey in order to avoid its transfer to the Bishop of Parma (unsuccessfully, as it turned out).   He had prepared a new site in its church for the relics of St Moderannus, but this saint had appeared to him in a dream and told him to reserve the new site for the relics of St Abundius.  He learned from Bishop Domenico (whom he met at the Council of Pavia, which the Emperor Lothar convened at Pavia in 850) that Foligno housed the relics of  “SS Abundius and Carpophorus and of those who had suffered with them”.   Bishop Domenico agreed to help Abbot Tiberius, and relics of St Abundius were duly translated to Berceto.  This legend was presumably written soon after the translation, and presumably at Berceto.  It says nothing about the life and martyrdom of St Abundius, concentrating on the miraculous events that attended the translation.

The legend also says nothing about the original location of the relics and those of his fellow martyrs in Foligno.  There was a church dedicated as Sant’ Abbondio at Sant’ Eraclio, some 2 km south of Foligno along the old Via Flaminia.  It was first documented in 1078 and documented again in 1138 and 1661, but it was demolished at an unknown date thereafter, although a street named Via Sant’ Abbondio survives in Sant’ Eraclio.  It is possible that the relics sent to Berceto came from this church.

Luigi Canetti (referenced below, at p. 14) referred to two manuscripts containing BHL 0019:

  1. one from Rouen, which the Bollandists had published in 1672, and which had the rubric: “Abundium m. Spoleti sub Diocletiano”; and

  2. another in a 15th century codex in the Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana, Florence, which the Bollandists had published in 1719 (as above).

It seems likely that the first of these (given its rubric) described the translation of relics of St Abundius, identified in relation to the entry in the Martyrology of Florus.  However, this would not have explained how the relics came to be in Foligno.  It seems to me that this requirement might well have stimulated the elaboration of Florus’ account in BHL 1620 and, in particular, the addition of lines 100-6.

Abbazia di Sassovivo

Ludovico Jacobilli (referenced below) believed that the lady Eustachia had buried the saints on the future site of the Abbazia di Sassovivo.  He added that, when the church of a the new Benedictine abbey was built there in 1080, these relics were translated to an altar inside it.  Ludovico Jacobilli also recorded that the relics were translated to the high altar of the church at Sassovivo on 22nd July 1555.   It seems likely, given the precision of the date, that he had seen an inscription to this effect.  However, they no longer seem to be in the church. 

There used to be interesting corroboration for Jacobillli’s account on the website of the Piccoli Fratelli di Jesus Caritas (the monks who now own Sassovivo), although the link is no longer active: in the paragraphs on the Blessed Mainardo, the founder of the abbey, who also died on 10th December (in his case, in 1096), the author said that the monks celebrated his feast a week later, to avoid a clash with the feast of SS Carpophorus and Abundius.

Read more

E. d’Angelo, “Terni Medievale: La Città, la Chiesa, i Santi, l' Agiografia”, (2015) Spoleto 

L. Canetti, “Culti e Dedicazioni nel Territorio Parmense: Il Dossier Bercetano dei Santi Moderanno e Abbondio (secoli VIII-X)”, in:

  1. R. Greci (Ed.), “Studi sull'Emilia Occidentale nel Medioevo”, (2001) Bologna, pp. 65-100

M. Sensi, “Le Cattedrali di Foligno”, in

  1. G. Benazzi (Ed.), “Foligno A.d. 1201:  La Facciata della Cattedrale di San Feliciano”, (1994) Foligno, pp 88-111 

L. Sensi, “Un Sarcofago Paleocristiano da Santa María in Campis”, Bollettino Storico della Città di Foligno, 6 (1982) 19-34

L. Jacobilli, “Vite de' Santi e Beati di Foligno” (1628) 

  1. Republished in Foligno in 2001

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