Key to Umbria

In 1586, the Dominican scholar, Giovanni Battista Bracceschi (referenced below) confronted the problems with the chronology of the legend the Legend of the Twelve Syrians, in the context of one of them in particular: St Herculanus of Perugia.   He observed that, while the main legend was set in the reign of the Emperor Julian the Apostate (who was emperor in the west from 355 and sole emperor in the period 360-3), the version of it specific to St Herculanus also included an account of his martyrdom in ca. 549 (taken from a separate account in the Dialogues of Pope Gregory I).  Fr. Bracceschi came to the conclusion that there must have been two waves of Syrian emigration, one in the 4th century and one in the 6th century (and two Syrian saints named Herculanus). 

Fr. Bracceschi drew on an copy (1583) of an extract from an account (ca. 1474) by Pietro Antonio Nardi of the lives of four saints of Terni: SS Anastasius, Proculus, Valentine and Cyril [beati Cirilli civis Interamnensis, episcopi Hierusalem].   Fortunately, the Bollandists drew on a later copy of the relevant extract, and reproduced it in 1898 (search on “Nardus”).  It had St Proculus and his brother James (whom Nardi claimed as his ancestors) travelling from Damascus to Bologna in the reigns of  the Emperor Justinian and of Pope Hormidas, “qui pontifex fuit anno 516”.  (In this account, St Proculus became Bishop of Terni in 536). 

His other main source was the collection of saints lives in the Leggendari del Duomo di Spoleto.  Specifically:

  1. legend of SS Felix and Maurus (BHL 5791m), which relates that St Maurus and his son, St Felix, were among the 300 Christians who fled from Cesarea and Laodicea (in modern Turkey) at an unspecified date; and 

  2. legend of St Laurence (BHL 4748 d), who was one of an “infinita turba” (boundless multitude) of Syrian immigrants that included SS Felix and Mauro.  

Fr. Bracceschi  concluded that the dating of the latter legend to the year of the Consuls Marcus Aurelius Carus and Marcus Aurelius Carinus (i.e. to 283) must have been a mistake.  He supported his argument by citing the fact that SS Lazarus and John, two companions of St Laurence in the legend, lived at Ferentillo for 40 years and that Duke Faroald built a monastery (the Abbazia di San Pietro in Valle) for them.  He believed that this must have been Faroald I, who became Duke of Spoleto in 576.

Four  of the other companions of St Laurence in BHL 4748d had names shared with saints who featured in the Legend of the Twelve Syrians:

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

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

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

  4. St Brictius, who became Bishop of Spoleto.

SS Isaac and Eutychius also appeared in the Dialogues of Pope Gregory I as monks living at the time of the Goths (a period from the accession of Odoacer in 476 to the defeat of Totila in 553) and the legend of St John Penariensis (BHL 4420) implies that he also lived in this period.  Thus the idea of a new wave of Syrians arriving in Umbria in the 6th century was able to take root.

The Bollandists probably got their copy of the extract from Pietro Antonio Nardi from Ludovico Jacobilli, a scholar from Foligno who wrote some 28 volumes of hagiography.  He and other contemporary scholars in Umbria took the date of 516 (which, in the extract from Pietro Antonio Nardi, had merely been a year in which Hormidas was pope) to be the year of the emigration of the 300 Syrians.  In fact,Pope Hormidas reigned in 514-23 , and Justinian did not become emperor until 527-6: the reigning emperor in 516 was Anastasius I, whose death two years later brought to an end to the schism with Rome caused by the Monophysite controversy.  The implication of the dating of the emigration to 516 was that the 300 were orthodox Christians fleeing persecution  by the Monophysites, and that the name of Anastasius I had been inexplicably substituted by that of Justinian. 

[The following section is in construction]

St Vincent of Foligno

According to Ludovico Jacobili (referenced below, at pp. 142-9), St Vincent was among 300 Syrians who fled to Rome in 516, where they were welcomed by Pope Hormisdas.   The refugees were presumably fleeing persecution because of their adherence to the Council of Chalcedon in the face of demands by the Emperor Anastasius that they profess what Rome regarded as the Monophysite heresy.  Hormisdas apparently sent some of them out to evangelise Italy.

St Florentius of Foligno

In his life of St Vincent (above), Ludovico Jacobili (referenced below, at pp. 147-8) had St Vincent (whom he identified as one of the 300 Syrians who came to Italy in the 6th century) install St Florentius as a monk in a small hermitage that he established outside Foligno and dedicated to to St Sylvester.  In his life of St Florentius (at pp. 150-9), he  noted that the people of Foligno had celebrated his feast on 1st June and believed that his relics were preserved in the Duomo.  He explained that the Dominican scholar, Giovanni Battista Bracceschi had identified him as the companion of St Eutychius at the Abbazia di Sant’ Eutizio, Norcia and deduced that he must have moved to San Silvestro, outside Foligno, after the death of St Eutychius.  He died there on 1st June and was buried in the Duomo.   Philippus Ferrarius included the following entry under June 1st in his “Catalogus generalis sanctorum” (1625):

  1. “Florentius confessor: from the archives of the church of Foligno, where his relics lie” (my translation).

St Anastasius of Terni

In his “Storia di Terni” (1646), Francesco Angeloni asserts that St Anastasius, an early bishop of Terni was a Syrian who was came to Italy in 516 and lived as a hermit at Ferentillo.   This story is probably derived from the Legend of the 300 Syrians, and was also accepted by Ludovico Jacobilli.  Angeloni then adds that St Anastasius became Bishop of Terni and suffered persecution under Totila; that he died in 553 and was buried near the Duomo; but that his relics were subsequently lost.  This is probably the source for the inscription (1653) on the facade of the Duomo, which attributes its foundation to St Anastasius in 550.

SS Fidentius and Terence

According to the legend of SS Fidentius and Terence (BHL 2729 b-c), these saints came from Cesarea in Cappadocia (in modern Turkey) to Rome to seek martyrdom in the reign of the Emperors Diocletian and Maximian.  They were duly martyred near Civitas Martana.

Eugenio Susi (referenced below) characterises this relatively late legend as displaying “extensive contamination” from the Legend of the Twelve Syrians, and as forming a “prelude to the subsequent further amplification” into the Legend of the 300 Syrians (my translations).

Read more: 
I have not been able to consult: 
G. B. Bracceschi, “Discorsi ...  Ne' quali si Dimostra che due Santi Hercolani Martiri sieno stati Vescovi di Perugia: & si Descrivono le Vite loro & di alcuni Santi di Spoleti: & Appresso le Antichità et Laudi di detta Città”, Camerino (1586) 

The description of its contents (with apologies if I have made errors) comes from: 
M. de Ghantuz Cubbe, “Una Leggenda su alcuni Santi Monaci Siriani Emigrati in Umbria nel VI Secolo Segnalata dallo Storico Maronita Duwayahi”, Studi sull’ Oriente Cristiano, 
Part I: 2:1 (1998) pp 5-40 
Part II: 2:2 (1998) pp 5-30

The observations on the Legend of St Fidentius and Terence come from pp 601-3 of: 
E. Susi, “Monachesimo e Agiografia in Umbria”, in 
“Umbria Cristiana: dalla Diffusione del Culto al Culto dei Santi (secc. IV -X): Atti del XV Congresso Internazionale di Studi sull' Alto Medioevo, Spoleto Spoleto 23-8 October 2000”, Spoleto (2001), Volume II, pp 569-605 

For SS Vincent and Florentius, see: 
L. Jacobili, “Vite de' Santi e Beati di Foligno”, (1628) 
Return to the page on Saints Venerated in Umbria.

Legend of the 300 Syrians

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