Key to Umbria: Spoleto

St Laurence of Spoleto (4th February) and

St Laurence of Farfa (8th July)

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St Laurence of Spoleto (4th February)

According to the oldest known legend of St Laurence (BHL 4748b, Vienna), he lived “in finibus Geniolati” (at the limit of Geniolatim), eight Roman miles outside Spoleto.  He became Bishop of Spoleto in the reign of Pope Caius (283-96) and held his post for eleven years, before he fled the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian in the year of Diocletian’s sixth consulate (i.e. in 296). 

This legend is linked to the account of Pope Caius in the Liber PontificalisIt is likely that both of these derive from the unreliable legend of St Susanna, which is thought to date to the 6th century:

  1. According to the Liber Pontificalis, Pope Caius was a relative of Diocletian.  He was also the uncle of St Susanna, whom he supported when she refused to marry Diocletian’s son because of her Christian faith.  St Susanna was executed and Pope Caius was forced to flee, in what was a portent of the more widespread executions of 303. 

  2. By placing the persecution of St Laurence in 296, the year of the death of Pope Caius, the author of the legend underlines his close links between them.

St Laurence and the 300 Syrians

Another version of this legend of St Laurence (BHL 4748d) in the Leggendari del Duomo refers to him as “Sancti Laurentii Confessoris Illuminatoris”  (St Laurence the Illuminator), apparently because he could cure both physical and spiritual blindness by inspiring the afflicted to have faith.  This version retains the basic information in the legend of St Laurence of Spoleto (BHL 4748b above), including the feast day. 

In this account, St Laurence was one of an “infinita turba” (boundless multitude) of Syrian immigrants received by Pope Caius in the reign of the Emperor Diocletian and in the year of the Consuls Marcus Aurelius Carus and Marcus Aurelius Carinus (i.e. in 283).  The party also included:

  1. SS Lazarus and John, who lived at Ferentillo, where Duke Faroald built a monastery (the Abbazia di San Pietro in Valle) for them;

  2. SS Felix and Maurus, who killed a dragon in the Val di Narco an built a church there (later the Abbazia di San Felice di Narco); and

  3. four others who, like St Laurence, also featured in the Legend of the Twelve Syrians (see below):

  4. St Isaac, who founded a monastery outside Spoleto (San Giuliano);

  5. St Eutychius, who also built a monastery (presumably the Abbazia di Sant’ Eutizio, Norcia);

  6. St John Penariensis, who established founded a monastic community (probably San Giovanni di Panaria, outside Spoleto); and

  7. St Brictius, who became Bishop of Spoleto and built the church of San Pietro, where he was buried after his death.

There is no mention here of Susanna, the sister of St Laurence. 

Pope Caius appointed St Laurence to succeed St Brictius as bishop of Spoleto.  After 11 years, he gave up his office and lived in solitude in a place called “Geniolatim”, eight Roman miles outside Spoleto,where he died in peace.

It seems likely that the hagiographer had actually seen the epitaph of the bishop who had built San Pietro, albeit that his name (Bishop Achilleus, who was documented in 419) could no longer be read.  He had probably also seen the epitaph of his successor, identified as Bishop Laurence (perhaps in the same church), since this seems to have been the likely source for the precise biographical data that he presents.  Thus it seems reasonable  to assume that the Bishop Laurence, whom the hagiographer placed in the late 3rd century, had actually been the successor to Bishop Achilleus in the early 5th century.

Local scholars in the late 16th and early 17th centuries incorporated St Laurence and the other figures named in this version of his legend (members of the “infinita turba” or boundless multitude of Syrian immigrants) into the Legend of the 300 Syrians, in which a large group of Syrian monks arrived in Umbria in 516.

St Laurence of Farfa (8th July)

A privilege that Pope John VII granted to the restored Abbazia di Farfa in  705 affirms that “the venerable monastery of Santa Maria” had been founded by  “Laurentius quondam episcopus venerandae memoriae de peregrinis veniens in feudo, qui dicitur Acutianus, territorii Sabinensis” (Laurence, formerly a bishop, of blessed memory, a pilgrim come to the  estate called Acutianus in the Sabina).   Acutianus refers to the nearby Monte Acuziano.  

The prologue to the Libellus Constructionis Farfensis (ca. 850-7), gave a fuller account of original foundation of the Abbazia di Farfa.  It no longer survives, but it provided the basis for the liturgy used when the monks at Farfa celebrated the feast of their founder on 8th July.  Brother Gregory of Catino also made use of it in:

  1. his register of charters, the Regestum Farfense (1092-1100); and

  2. his historical account, the Chronicon Farfensis (1107-19).

According to these accounts, St Laurence travelled from Syria to Rome, presumably as a pilgrim, together with his sister Susanna and two other men, John and Isaac.  Gregory of Catino specifically says that he did not know the era in which St Laurence had lived, so he presumably did not know the legend of St Laurence of Spoleto above.  Nevertheless, the inclusion of Susanna as his sister must surely have been inspired by the earlier legend. 

According to Gregory of Catino, the Syrians then travelled to the Sabina, where St Laurence became a bishop.  He subsequently renounced his office to live as a hermit on Monte Acuziano.  He killed a dragon there and then built a church dedicated to the Virgin.  (This account had also been known to St Peter Damian (died 1073), who wrote in a letter to Pope Nicholas II that St Laurence had been Bishop of Sabina, and that he had renounced his office in order to become a monk).

St Laurence and the 12 Syrians

In his Liber Floriger (1130-2), which he wrote in despair after Farfa had passed to papal control, Gregory of Catino claimed to have new information about St Laurence.  In fact, his account was now based on the Legend of the Twelve Syrians:  St Laurence travelled to Italy from Syria in the time of the Emperor Julian the Apostate in a party that was led by St Anastasius.  The party included the sons of St Anastasius,  SS Brictius and Eutychius, and a number of his nephews, who included St Laurence.  The Liber Floriger names Susanna, the sister of St Laurence as a member of the party, in substitution for the more usual Teudila.

When the party arrived in Rome, Bishop Urban ordained:

  1. SS Brictius and Carpophorus as priests; and

  2. SS Laurence and Abundius as deacons. 

The Emperor Julian ordered the beheading of St Anastasius “in loco ubi dicitur Aquae Salviae” (in the place known as Aquae Salviae).

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”.  St Eutychius left the party for Bolsena and then “ad locum qui Cample dicitur abiit” (he went to a place called Cample), where he built a monastery.  SS Brictius led the rest of the family to Spoleto, before the party dispersed. 

St Laurence and his sister, Susanna travelled to the Sabina.  St Laurence refused to become bishop of “Aterno” and became a hermit in a place called “Turianum”, where he killed a dragon and built a church.  He then found a more remote place called “Casalis Acutianus” and began to build a monastery there (later the Abbazia di Farfa) in the time of the Emperor Gratian (375-83).  [Where were Aterno and Turianum ??]  

Gregory of Catino seems to have based his account on the version of the Legend of the Twelve Syrians that had been adapted to provide the foundation legend for the Abbazia di Sant’ Eutizio (see the page on St Eutychius): while the “classic” version leaves St Eutychius at Bolsena, the version from Sant’ Eutizio adds the account from the Dialogues of Pope Gregory I in which he became the abbot of a monastery at “Cample”, which is presumed to be Sant’ Eutizio.  This version is also one of the versions that specifies that St Anastasius was beheaded at Aquae Salviae, information also included in the Liber Floriger. 

However, there is an important difference in the list of the names in these two versions of the legend given for the nine “nepotes” (best taken to mean other younger relations) who accompanied Anastasius and his sons, Brictius and Eutychius: 

  1. Both include the following from the classic version: John, Isaac, Laurence, Herculanus and Paractalis.  However:

  2. The version from Sant’ Eutizio (which, perhaps unsurprisingly, places Eutychius before Brictius) adds: “Theotila” (a form of the more usual Teudila, but coupled here with Isaac); Abundius and Carpophorous (in that unusual order); and “Paulus” (unknown in other versions: perhaps an error in the transcription of the more usual name Proculus).

  3. The Liber Floriger adds Proculus (present also in the classic version), together with Susanna, the sister of Laurence, in place of Teudila.  Carpophorus and Abundius do not appear among the nepotes, although Bishop Urban consecrates them as (respectively) priest and deacon immediately after the list is given.  Their place in the list is taken by Vincent and Crispolitus, two figures who appear towards the end of the classic account when Brictius ordains them as bishops.  (They are completely omitted from the Sant’ Eutizio version, presumably because they had no connection with Eutychius).

Read more:

E. Paoli, “Agiografia e Strategie Politico-Religiose: Alcuni Esempi da Gregorio Magno al Concilio di Trento”, Spoleto (1997) pp 39-50

E. Paoli, “L’ Agrofia Umbra Altomedievale”, in

  1. Umbria Cristiana dalla Diffusione del Culto al Culto dei Santi”, Spoleto (2001)

The legends BHL b and d are reproduced in the original Latin in pp 525-9

Return to Saints and Venerated Objects of Spoleto.