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Le culte de sainte Agnès à place Navone entre Antiquité et Moyen Âge

The origin and early development of Rome’s intramural cults: a context for the cult of Sant’Agnese in Agone

Alan Thacker

Résumé

The paper provides a general context for the development of Sant’ Agnese in Agone. It reviews the different ways the cult of martyrs was introduced intra muros in late antiquity: links were established – under the control of the papacy – between cemeterial churches and Roman tituli, some places were associated with episodes of the life of Roman martyrs, non corporal relics were venerated, relics from the catacombs were introduced in intra muros shrines. The church in the Piazza Navona fits well with such developments, but, while mindful of the interest of the bishops of Rome in the cult of Agnes from Damasus to Gregory the Great, the author finally ponders the absence of any early textual reference to the church of Sant‘ Agnese in Agone and suggests the possibility of a private foundation.

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Entrées d’index

Keywords :

Rome, martyrs, cult, relics.
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Texte intégral

  • 1 Valentini - Zucchetti 1942, p. 180, 195.
  • 2 Jaffé 1888, n° 2215; LP III, p. 120; Davis 1992, p. 215, n. 150.
  • 3 LP II, p. 24 (§ 78); LP II, p. 55 (lines 10-11), 64 (lines 47-49). For the cult of St Agnes in that (...)

1My aim in this paper is to provide a possible context for the development of the cult site at the Piazza Navona by looking at the development of relics and cults in Rome’s intramural churches from the fourth to the eighth century. The terminus ad quem is, of course, the reference to the church of Sant’Agnese in the Circus Flamineus (assumed to have been the Stadium of Domitian), in the Einsiedeln itinerary. The itinerary dates from the late eighth or early ninth century, but there is no indication that that church was new then.1 The cult of St Agnes had, in fact, already been introduced into the city well before that date. In the early eighth century, Pope Gregory II (715-31) leased papal land to a monastery of Sant’Agnese ad dua furna, which later evidence shows to have been near Santa Prassede.2 There was still an oratory of Sant’Agnese in the monastery attached to Santa Prassede in the time of Leo III (795-816) and Paschal I (817-24).3

  • 4 Silvagni 1943, tav. xxxvii; LP I, p. 464-465; Marucchi 1909, p. 388-389; Gray 1948, p. 52-53.
  • 5 LP II, p. 52, 54, 63-64.
  • 6 LP I, p. 511; II, p. 12-13 (in ecclesia beatae Agnes Martyris, ubi eius corpus requiescit).

2There is no evidence that relics of Sant’Agnese were moved into Rome in the period of multiple translations of extramural relics into the walled city inaugurated by Pope Paul I (757-67). The epigraphic relic lists at Paul’s new monastery of San Silvestro in Capite and at the Vatican do not mention her.4 Nor is she among the numerous saints whose relics were deposited by Pope Pascal I in Santa Prassede, even though one of the locations of the deposit was the oratory of Sant’Agnese within the monastery.5 In any case we know that Pope Hadrian (772-95) restored the cult site on the Via Nomentana and that the saint’s body was expressly said to rest in that church in the time of Leo III (795-816).6

  • 7 LP I, p. 11.
  • 8 Fusco 2004, p. 13; ICUR, NS, VIII, n° 20752.
  • 9 Guyon 1987, p. 262. Cf. Dufourcq 19882, p. 214-217

3There is then no obvious moment in the eighth century when the popes’ movement of relics into the city could have engendered a cult site of St Agnes within the walls of Rome. But before discussing further the context for the emergence of just such a site at the Piazza Navona, I want to consider, albeit very briefly, the origins of the cult of St Agnes more generally. They are very obscure. We do not know when she was martyred and the earliest witnesses even disagree about the method by which she was killed. One thing, however, seems clear; by the late fourth century her cult was one of the most celebrated in Rome. Agnes was among those named in the Depositio martyrum, Rome’s earliest calendar, in which she duly appears on 21 January, which was to remain her principal feast-day.7 Her cult, then, was clearly in being by 354 and probably by the 330s. An important milestone in its development was the decision of Constantine’s daughter the Augusta Constantina, to be buried in the cemetery on the Via Nomentana in which Agnes lay. Constantina died in 354 and had evidently already built her magnificent tomb-rotunda, together with an associated funerary basilica, presumably between 337 and 351 when she lived in Rome before her departure to the East to be the consort of the young Caesar Gallus.8 Constantina was clearly intent on promoting Agnes; her dedicatory inscription on the funerary templum honours the virgo victrix, the felix virgo memorandi nominis. Nevertheless, it seems highly likely that as with Rome’s other leading local saint, Laurence, imperial patronage was crucial to success. As Jean Guyon pointed out in his monograph on the cemetery Ad duos lauros, with reference to the cult of Sts Peter and Marcellinus, it was not so much the saints who created the basilica as the basilica which created the saints: ‘ce n’est pas pour ces martyrs qu’aurait eté créée la basilique et c’est au contraire la basilique qui aurait créé les saints’.9

  • 10 Ferrua 1942, no 37.
  • 11 Thacker 2007b, p. 28.
  • 12 Ambrose, De Virginibus, I.2, PL 16, cols 200-202; Fontaine et al. 2008, n° 8; Peristephanon, 14, es (...)
  • 13 CIL XII, 4311; Prudentius, Peristephanon Books 3, 4, 14; Josi 1961, col. 388-389.

4Agnes was among those whose cult was promoted by Pope Damasus (366-84) with his famous and puzzling inscription erected in the basilica on the Via Nomentana.10 She was one of the most popular of the saints depicted on the late-fourth-century gold-glass discs found in the catacombs.11 Her fame indeed was such that she was celebrated by Ambrose in Milan and by the Spanish poet Prudentius, who speaks of her as watching over the people of Rome (servat salutem virgo Quiritium).12 In the mid fifth century, in Béziers, the priest Othia built a church in her honour, together with the Spanish saints Vincent and Eulalia, both like Agnes herself celebrated by Prudentius in the Peristephanon, and within a century she was venerated in Ravenna, Capua and Parenzo.13

  • 14 LP, I, 220-22.

5In Rome, papal investment in the cult, already evinced by Damasus, continued in the early fifth century under Innocent I (401-17). According to the Liber Pontificalis Innocent established a titulus and dedicated a church, endowed by Vestina, a rich woman of Rome, to the Milanese martyrs, Gervasius and Protasius. In a related arrangement, Innocent caused the church of St Agnes to be delivered to the care of the priests Leopardus and Paulinus to be roofed and decorated, an assignment (depositio), which ensured that authority over Sant’Agnese was granted to the titulus Vestinae, presumably because Leopardus and Paulinus were priests of the new titulus.14

  • 15 LP I, p. 164.
  • 16 For recent discussion, see Thacker 2007a, p. 60-61.
  • 17 Gregory the Great, Ep., IV, 18, Nordberg 1982, p. 236-237.

6It seems then that under papal direction a link was established between an intramural church and the extramural cult site of St Agnes. The compiler of the Liber Pontificalis, who described these arrangements in the early sixth century, evidently wished to present such links between the tituli and the cemeterial churches as the norm. In his biography of the early fourth-century Pope Marcellus, he noted that the tituli were organized as ‘dioceses’ (areas of jurisdiction) for the baptism of converts and the burial of martyrs.15 And we know, in fact, of at least one other instance of a similar set-up in his time, namely the relationship between the cemeterial church of San Pancrazio and the titulus of San Crisogono in Trastevere. In that case, the priests of San Crisogono, sometimes together with the praepositus of San Pancrazio, sold burial places in the cemetery over which they exercised some kind of authority. Almost certainly too they were expected to ensure that mass was said at the extramural basilica.16 As with Sant’Agnese and the titulus Vestinae these arrangements were under close papal control – that at least is what is suggested by the fact that they were radically changed by Gregory the Great in the 590s.17 So it may be that these arrangements were not the norm, and that a cult such as that of St Agnes was both rather exceptional and unusually important to the papacy from an early period.

  • 18 Cabié 1973; Thacker 2007a, p. 34.

7Let us look now a little more closely at the development of intra-mural relic cults and cult-sites in Rome in the period from the fourth up to the seventh century. The main foci of pastoral care and liturgical celebration in this period were, of course, the tituli, the parish churches of Rome, whose close links with the pope were expressed through the institution of the fermentum, that is (as defined by Innocent I in 416), the particle of bread consecrated at papal mass and dispatched on the same day to the priests of the urban churches for inclusion in their chalices at their own celebration of the liturgy.18

  • 19 Jerome, De viris illustribus, 15 (PL 23, col. 666).

8Most tituli were not originally associated with martyr cult. They appear generally to have derived their names from their founders, who were probably only assigned saintly status at a later date, when it was almost universal in the Latin West to refer to churches by the names of their saintly titulars. There were, however, a few tituli associated with saints from an early period. They include San Clemente, which as early as the late fourth century was said by Jerome to have been built to guard the memory of the first-century pope Clement I in Rome.19 Others were Sant’Anastasia and San Crisogono.

  • 20 Thacker 2007a, p. 37-41.
  • 21 Kennedy 1938, p. 113-17, 128-30, 183-185.

9All these saints were buried far away from Rome and as far as we know no relics of any of them were available in the city. Nevertheless, all were honoured liturgically and all were honoured at tituli with strong links with the papacy; the titulus of St Clement, himself a pope, lay near the Lateran and provided an important early sixth-century successor to St Peter; Sant’Anastasia was an important stational church and indeed on the pilgrim itinerary in the seventh century as the church where the crosses used in the stational processions were kept; San Crisogono was sufficiently under papal control to be disciplined by Gregory the Great for its failure to provide proper services for the cemeterial basilica of San Pancrazio.20 Between the late fifth and earlier sixth century all three saints were added, presumably under papal sponsorship, to the lists of those invoked in the Communicantes and Nobis quoque prayers in the canon of the mass.21

  • 22 Acta synhodorum, n° 44, 47 ; Mart. Hieron. I, p. 104 ; Mart. Hieron. II, p. 434-435 ; Thacker 2007a (...)
  • 23 AASS, Aug. II, p. 632.

10Here, then, we have evidence that by the sixth century, if not before, the popes were encouraging the liturgical cult of certain favoured – but not local – saints in a number of intramural churches. By the sixth century, however, there had developed a second group of tituli offering a different form of intramural cult. These churches were focused upon local, Roman, martyrs who, although apparently buried extramurally in Rome itself, were also linked to physical structures within the city. One such is St Susanna. Although allegedly buried next to the martyr in the cemetery of the Jordani on the Via Salaria Nova, by the sixth century her dies natalis was celebrated at the titulus of Gaius (later Santa Susanna) on the Alta Semita not far from the Baths of Diocletian.22 By then, if the passio is to be believed, the titulus was regarded as the house in which the saint was killed, dedicated by Pope Gaius to the celebration of the Eucharist pro commemoratione beatae Susannae populo.23

  • 24 Acta synhodorum, n° 3, 54.
  • 25 Delehaye 1936, p. 73-96, 194-220; Thacker 2007a, p. 42.

11A second example is provided by St Cecilia. It is likely that by 499 as patron of the celebrated titulus in Trastevere she was regarded as a saint.24 The consolidation of her position is probably also connected with the composition of her famous – and entirely fictitious – passio, a text perhaps composed in the late fifth century: Cecilia’s masses in the Leonine sacramentary are related to that work. The passio pays much attention to Cecilia’s house, in which the saint is said to have been martyred and which she is said to have given to Pope Urban I (222-30) to be converted into a church, presumably to be identified with the titulus. The author of the passio is clear, however, that the saint was buried extramurally in the catacomb of Callistus on the Via Appia.25 Here again we see the emergence of an intramural cult site commemorating a martyr buried extramurally. Like Santa Susanna, Santa Cecilia contained no relics, but was being presented as a martyrial site where the holy had lived and shed their blood for the faith. In a sense, these tituli had become relics themselves.

  • 26 Sacramentarium Veronense, p. 147-50; Hope 1971, p. 25, 36, 50; Kennedy 1938, p. 178-182.
  • 27 LP I, p. 297.

12It is clear, too, that the promotion of the intramural cult of Saint Cecilia had papal support. Her extramural burial site was in a catacomb with the strongest papal associations. She was the subject of five mass sets in the Leonine sacramentary and she was included among the female martyrs in the Nobis quoque of the Roman canon.26 In 545 her festival mass on 22 November was being celebrated by Pope Vigilius, in ecclesia Sanctae Ceciliae, when he was arrested by Justinian’s agents.27

  • 28 Thacker 2007a, p. 45-46.
  • 29 Thacker 2007a, p. 46-47.
  • 30 Thacker 2007a, p. 48; Kennedy 1938, p. 137-140.
  • 31 Thacker 2007a, p. 47-48; Krautheimer 1970, p. 45.

13Another way of expanding intramural cult was the introduction of relics. That perhaps began under Constantine himself with the bringing to Rome of Christological relics from the Holy Land and was continued in the fifth century with the installation of Biblical and dominical relics in the Lateran and (probably) of relics of St Stephen at Simplicius’s great new rotunda on the Celio.28 Presumably the dedication of the titulus Vestinae to Sts Gervasius and Protasius implied that it contained martyrial relics brought from Milan.29 In the early sixth century, the popes appear to have followed Vestina’s example and imported relics from the East to furnish new churches established in hitherto unchurched areas housing the great imperial monuments in the heart of the city. The process began with Pope Felix IV’s conversion of Vespasian’s temple-forum of peace into the church of Santi Cosma e Damiano, a cult which soon achieved sufficient prominence for the saints to be included among those invoked in Communicantes prayer of the Roman canon.30 It was followed by the church of Santi Quirico e Giulitta established by Pope Vigilius sometime between 537 and 545 behind the Forum of Nerva. This church clearly contained imported relics. Its original altar, discovered during rebuilding in the late sixteenth century, enclosed a large rectangular reliquary cavity which later tradition believed to contain arms of the two saints.31

  • 32 Thacker 2007a, p. 49-50; Thacker 2012, p. 388-404.

14By the early sixth century, then, the popes looked to the East for a supply of corporal relics to furnish its new intramural churches. They were evidently either unable or unwilling to import such relics from the extramural churches of Rome itself. Instead they developed a different class of non-corporeal relics relating to their own greatest saints for veneration in intramural churches. The prime examples of these non-corporal objects were the apostolic chains – fetters supposed to have bound Sts Peter and Paul during their various periods of imprisonment. Although relics of the Petrine chains were apparently venerated in Spoleto in the early fifth century, they are first reliably recorded in Rome in the early sixth century, from which time they occur quite frequently in the record. Almost certainly, however, they (or at least those attributed to St Peter) had been enshrined in the titulus apostolorum (later the church of St Peter in Chains), from the time of its remodelling by the Empress Eudoxia, wife of Valentinian III, in the mid fifth century. The titulus apostolorum was a papal foundation and its remodelling and the installation there of the Petrine chains was almost certainly part of the joint papal and imperial promotion of the cult of St Peter during the reign of Valentinian III.32

  • 33 Valentini – Zucchetti 1942, p. 124.
  • 34 Thacker 2007a, p. 51-52.
  • 35 Valentini - Zucchetti 1942, p. 265; Decretum ad clerum in basilica beati Petri apostoli (Ewald - Ha (...)

15An analogous object also enshrined in an intramural titulus was the gridiron (craticula) of St Lawrence. The origins of this object are unknown but it was certainly on display at the titulus of San Lorenzo in Lucina by the early seventh century, when it was so recorded in the list of intramural churches in De locis sanctis, one of the pilgrim handbooks.33 San Lorenzo was an important church. Probably that San Lorenzo founded by Sixtus III (432-40), it was located at the ceremonial heart of the Campus Martius, one of imperial Rome’s great public quarters.34 Laurence, of course, was Rome’s especial patron and was buried, like St Agnes, in a great imperial cemeterial basilica. Another example is the titulus of Santi Marcellino e Pietro, which was first reliably recorded in 595 and which was clearly linked with another great extramural funerary basilica and imperial resting-place, Ad duos lauros, on the Via Labicana. This intramural church was probably the setting for one of Gregory’s homilies on the Gospels, compiled in the early 590s.35

  • 36 Kennedy 1938. For Agnes see esp. p. 173-177.
  • 37 Leyser 2000, p. 300-301.
  • 38 Thacker 2007a, p. 66-69.

16There is evidence, then, that from the later fifth century (and more especially in the sixth) the popes, initially in alliance with the emperor or the local ruling elite, were establishing - or at least patronizing - intramural cult sites either in already existing tituli or in newly founded churches. They treated these intramural cults with especial favour. First, as we have seen, many of the saints so honoured were included among those invoked in the Communicantes and Nobis quoque prayers of the Roman canon. Those lists, which emerge in the late fifth century, were being augmented throughout the sixth century and were only finalized in the time of Gregory the Great.36 Secondly, the intramural cults provided a disproportionate quantity of the relics distributed by the popes in the sixth century. The issue of papal distribution of relics is problematic. Except for one or two very special cases, the popes seem to have embarked on such activity only in the late fifth and early sixth centuries. The few glimpses we get of them at this early stage suggest that their gifts principally comprised contact relics or perhaps oil and dust from the tomb of St Peter and filings from the apostolic chains or from the grid-iron of St Laurence. When, later, we get a more complete picture from the letters of Gregory the Great, we find that, as Conrad Leyser has observed, the relics which the pope sent out to petitioners were derived from a surprisingly restricted group of martyrs.37 Significantly, besides Peter and Paul, they included a high proportion of saints venerated at intramural churches, figures such as Stephen, Agatha, John and Paul, and Cyriacus. And apart from those, they include figures buried extramurally, such as Laurence who were also the subject of an intramural cult, or Pancras, whose cult had been reformed and reconstituted by Gregory himself. Many of these saints were commemorated in the invocatory prayers of the Roman canon as they evolved during the sixth century.38

  • 39 Grégoire le Grand, Homélies sur l’Evangile I, esp. p. 42-50, 89-90; idem 2008, esp. p.13-17, 25, 43 (...)
  • 40 Valentini - Zucchetti 1942, p. 118-131, at 124.

17Another indication of papal involvement in certain churches, both intramural and extramural, in the sixth century is where the popes preached. Gregory’s collection of homilies on the Gospels delivered between 590 and 592 (though only partly by himself in person) seems to suggest that papal sermons were preached primarily in St Peter’s, the Lateran, Santa Maria Maggiore and a restricted group of intramural churches, most of them near the Lateran – churches such as San Clemente, Santi Marcellino e Pietro, Santi Giovanni e Paolo, and Santo Stephano Rotondo.39 The compiler of the collection ascribed location using the formula habita …in basilica Sancti Petri, etc., without further qualification, so in cases where there were intramural churches and extramural basilicas with the same dedication it is not always possible to be sure which was intended. Were both the sermons preached in the basilica of San Lorenzo, for example, preached in Pelagius II’s new church outside the walls, or could at least one of them been preached at (say) San Lorenzo in Lucina, which, like other intramural churches, was also expressly referred to as a basilica in the early seventh century?40 Either way, there is enough evidence to suggest that churches established as intramural cult sites were favoured.

  • 41 BHL 156. Editions: AASS Jan. II, p. 351-4; PL 17 col. 813-821.
  • 42 Lanéry 2008, p. 359-361.
  • 43 Lanéry 2008, p. 357. By then, as De locis sanctis makes clear, she was buried in her own church whi (...)
  • 44 BHL 156, PL 17, col. 819-820.

18Let us look now at the passio of St Agnes,41 which Cécile Lanéry has convincingly ascribed to the early sixth century.42 That work shows a good knowledge of the sacred topography of Rome, especially in the final section, which tells of the collection of Agnes’s body by her parents and her burial on their estate on the Via Nomentana not far from the city (in prediolo suo non longe ab urbe). The passio’s account of the miracles which occurred at the tomb again reveal knowledge of the church and community at the Via Nomentana as constituted in the time of its author. The section opens with the killing, by a pagan mob, of the virgin Emerentiana, as she prayed next to Agnes tomb, and of her burial near Agnes, a narrative evidently inspired by the fact that, as the pilgrim guides show, Emerentiana was buried near Sant’Agnese fuori le mura.43 It then moves on to tell of Agnes appearing to her parents in a vision, a demonstration of her sanctity which was widely reported and which ‘after some years’ (post aliquantos annos), inspired Constantina/Constantia, daughter of Constantine, although a pagan, to invoke the saint when sick. As a result of her cure, Constantina asked Constantine and her imperial brothers to build the basilica of Sant’Agnese; there she established a community of virgins which, the writer alleged, remained associated with the saint down to his or her own day.44

  • 45 AASS Jan. II, p. 351-354.
  • 46 BHL 156, PL 17, col. 816-819.

19The passio’s main focus, however, was not the cemetery by the Via Nomentana but the theatrum within one of whose brothels the saint was confined and where she was ultimately killed.45 The brothel itself was the scene of miracles protecting the saint from violation. It became, says the author, a place of prayer, locus orationis, in which all who entered adored and worshipped, giving honour to God. There at the virgin’s prayer, the prefect’s son who had been struck dead for attempting to violate her, was resurrected and the virgin herself was tested by fire and ultimately meets her death by having her throat cut.46

  • 47 Lanéry 2008, p. 363-365.
  • 48 Prudence, Peristephanon, XIV, lines 39, 49.

20The theme of Agnes’s confinement in a brothel goes back to Prudentius, though it is treated rather differently in that work -- the narrative of the passio is more closely related to that in an earlier Greek text.47 Prudentius, however, sets the scenes of the martyrdom in an open space, which he terms a ‘square’, platea.48 What the author of the passio meant by theatrum is unclear; but had he meant to indicate the Piazza Navona he would surely have used the word ‘stadium’ or more probably, like the author of the Itinerarium Eisiedlense, ‘circus’. While he clearly located the extramural basilica, he is vague about the whereabouts of the theatrum. I would suggest, then, that when the passio was being written there was probably no cult site at the Piazza Navona. More likely, the emergence of such a site was stimulated by the composition of this text.

  • 49 Scriptores Historiae Augustae, p. 156-158. For a recent consideration of the text and its date see (...)
  • 50 Coates-Stevens 2006, p. 153-154.
  • 51 Michel-d’Annoville - Ferri, 2014.
  • 52 For twelfth-century references to the cripta or griptae Agonis see Valentini - Zucchetti 1946, p. 2 (...)

21The existence of brothels in Rome’s great places of public entertainment, the circuses, theatres, stadia, and baths, is alluded to in the Historia Augusta, probably composed in the time of Theodosius (379-395), in the context of the licentious behaviour attributed to the emperor Elagabalus (218-222).49 After the Gothic Wars, such buildings ceased to places of public spectacle and were no longer maintained by the Byzantine administration, although many still survived as imposing structures.50 The Stadium of Domitian was just such a notable survival, which by then had clearly been put to private uses, including workshops and burials.51 The process by which the place of Agnes’s martyrdom was located within the arcades beneath the cavea is unknown, but by the twelfth century at least we have references to the cripta or cryptae Agonis. Given the infamous reputation of such spaces, it is not difficult to imagine how the particularly well-preserved examples in the Stadium of Domitian came to be identified as the location of the brothel in which Agnes suffered and died.52

  • 53 Guyon 1987, p. 432-433; Thacker 2007a, p. 62.
  • 54 As John Osborne has pointed out, in the later sixth century the popes were in general more interest (...)

22The foundation of a church within the stadium at what was interpreted as the site of Agnes’s passion would fit well with these developments. It would also accord with the process I have just been describing, namely the development, with papal sponsorship or co-operation, of intramural cult sites linked with Rome’s extramurally buried saints. As we have seen, the passiones of Susanna and Cecilia, both circulating in the sixth century, lay great emphasis on the fact that, although the saints were buried in the catacombs, the intramural sites where they were martyred became churches, and we may safely assume that it was intended that the appropriate tituli were to be identified as having such hallowed associations. The greater papal investment in intramural relics also allowed the fostering of links between intramural churches and the more developed extramural cult sites at the great funerary basilicas. The intramural cult of St Laurence may have been enhanced by the installation of the craticula at San Lorenzo in Lucina at this time (as I have said, the craticula, first appears in the record in the early seventh century). The little-known titulus dedicated to Santi Marcellino e Pietro, already referred to, emerges very near the Lateran in the late sixth century and was also evidently intended as the intramural focus of a hitherto extramural cult.53 The establishment of an intramural church for St Agnes after the composition of the passio would accord well with these developments.54 It would also have coincided with papal attempts to appropriate the main ceremonial areas of the city, an ongoing process which achieved expression in the early sixth century with the foundation of new churches in and around the Roman fora. A church linked with St Agnes nicely complemented San Lorenzo in Lucina in the Campus Martius.

  • 55 Gregory the Great, Ep. IX, 233, Nordberg 1982, p. 815 et XI, 15, ibid., p. 866. Cf. Ep. IX, 87, ibi (...)
  • 56 Thacker 2007a, p. 68.

23Agnes’s close association with the papacy during this period is apparent in the fact, already noted, that like so many of the saints whose cults were fostered in the intramural churches, she was included in the invocations of the Nobis quoque in the canon of the mass. Another aspect of that closeness is the fact that she was among that limited band of saints whose relics were distributed by Gregory the Great. She appears, along with the apostle Peter and fellow martyrs Laurence, Hermes, Pancras and Sebastian, as dedicatee of monastery founded by the Sicilian abbess Adeodata. Gregory wrote to Bishop Decius of Lilybaeum (now Marsala) in 599 ordering him to consecrate the new foundation in honour of these saints and to the abbess herself a little over a year later, apologizing for the delay in sending the relics she had requested.55 It is worth noting that two of these dedicatees, Laurence and Pancras, were ones in which Gregory had a special interest, while a third, Sebastian, was patron of the church at the site ad catacumbas where the apostles themselves once had been venerated, and the fourth, Hermes, was enshrined in a basilica in the cemetery of Bassilla which had been remodelled by Gregory’s predecessor, Pelagius II (579-90).56

  • 57 Mart. Hieron. I. p. 11, 14; Mart. Hieron. II, p. 52-3, 64-6. Delehaye regarded the 28 Jan. feast as (...)
  • 58 Étaix - Morel - Judic 2005, p. 43, 91-94, 259-295.

24Agnes’s high standing by the late sixth century, and the continuing close papal associations of her cult, is also demonstrated by her highly unusual double commemoration, a kind of octave. Her main day, the dies depositionis marking her burial by the Via Nomentana, which fell on 21 January, was followed a week later by a second feast, qualified in the Hieronymian martyrology as de nativitate or in genuinum, i.e. as commemorating the saint’s earthly birthday.57 In the time of Gregory the Great the pope was evidently involved in both celebrations. Gregory’s collected sermons include texts for both days, written to be preached ad populum, evidently in the basilica by the Via Nomentana.58

  • 59 Coates-Stevens (2006), p. 155-163.

25Nevertheless, the absence of any early reference to the church of Sant’Agnese in the Piazza Navona remains problematic. Robert Coates-Stevens has argued that the great majority of early medieval churches which are not mentioned in the Liber Pontificalis, or whose founders are unknown, are unlikely to have been established by the popes. He has also argued for the patronage of a considerable group of churches by a Byzantine administrative and military elite which continued to play an important part in the life of Rome from the Justinianic Reconquest until the early eighth century.59 Such foundations, however, as Coates-Stevens himself argues, seem to have been dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, or to eastern saints, and most especially to eastern military saints and martyrs, rather than to Roman and papally-sponsored saints such as Agnes.

  • 60 Osborne et al. 2007; Thacker 2014, p.75. The church was the subject of a conference ‘Santa Maria An (...)
  • 61 R. Coates-Stevens, « The Oratory of the Forty Martyrs”, delivered at the Santa Maria Antiqua confer (...)

26The cult site at the Piazza Navona may have a different but related context. It may have emerged perhaps through the patronage of a prosperous craftsman associated with post-Conquest activity in the Piazza Navona. A possible analogy might be the establishment of the oratory next to the church of Santa Maria Antiqua in the Roman Forum. This church, which emerges in the later sixth century, was established in an imperial building, probably by the Byzantine administrative elite, although by the mid seventh century it had also developed close papal associations.60 By the late sixth century, an oratory, generally known as the Oratory of the Forty Martyrs, had been established beside it, again in a building of imperial origin. In a paper delivered recently at a conference held in the British School at Rome Robert Coates-Stevens argued convincingly that that oratory was founded by a Roman goldsmith from the area of the Forum. He also argued – equally convincingly - that it was dedicated not to the military martyrs of Sebaste but to the apostle Andrew.61 Andrew, of course, was the patron of Constantinople, but his cult was also highly developed in Rome. As the brother of Peter it had a strong presence in the Vatican and there is evidence that it exerted a strong pull to pilgrims there, such as the Englishman Wilfrid. Could it be that the origins of Sant’Agnese lie in a similar enterprise?

27I am arguing, then, that a possible context for the emergence of the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone is a world in which intramural cult sites were developing, often with papal sponsorship, and in which churches were being presented as scenes of martyrdom. It is a world where fictionalized narrative created holy locations rather than one in which treasured locations gave rise to explanatory narratives. It is true that in cases such as those of Sts Susanna or Cecilia it was existing tituli which were given this status, but is at least possible that this process, which evidently had papal patronage, could have provided the stimulus for establishing an oratory in the Piazza Navona, or at least the means of furnishing such an oratory with a holy past.

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Notes

1 Valentini - Zucchetti 1942, p. 180, 195.

2 Jaffé 1888, n° 2215; LP III, p. 120; Davis 1992, p. 215, n. 150.

3 LP II, p. 24 (§ 78); LP II, p. 55 (lines 10-11), 64 (lines 47-49). For the cult of St Agnes in that monastery see Duchesne 1907, p. 485.

4 Silvagni 1943, tav. xxxvii; LP I, p. 464-465; Marucchi 1909, p. 388-389; Gray 1948, p. 52-53.

5 LP II, p. 52, 54, 63-64.

6 LP I, p. 511; II, p. 12-13 (in ecclesia beatae Agnes Martyris, ubi eius corpus requiescit).

7 LP I, p. 11.

8 Fusco 2004, p. 13; ICUR, NS, VIII, n° 20752.

9 Guyon 1987, p. 262. Cf. Dufourcq 19882, p. 214-217

10 Ferrua 1942, no 37.

11 Thacker 2007b, p. 28.

12 Ambrose, De Virginibus, I.2, PL 16, cols 200-202; Fontaine et al. 2008, n° 8; Peristephanon, 14, esp. line 4. She was one of the most popular of the saints depicted on the late-fourth-century gold-glass discs found in the catacombs: Thacker 2007b, 28.

13 CIL XII, 4311; Prudentius, Peristephanon Books 3, 4, 14; Josi 1961, col. 388-389.

14 LP, I, 220-22.

15 LP I, p. 164.

16 For recent discussion, see Thacker 2007a, p. 60-61.

17 Gregory the Great, Ep., IV, 18, Nordberg 1982, p. 236-237.

18 Cabié 1973; Thacker 2007a, p. 34.

19 Jerome, De viris illustribus, 15 (PL 23, col. 666).

20 Thacker 2007a, p. 37-41.

21 Kennedy 1938, p. 113-17, 128-30, 183-185.

22 Acta synhodorum, n° 44, 47 ; Mart. Hieron. I, p. 104 ; Mart. Hieron. II, p. 434-435 ; Thacker 2007a, p. 41-42.

23 AASS, Aug. II, p. 632.

24 Acta synhodorum, n° 3, 54.

25 Delehaye 1936, p. 73-96, 194-220; Thacker 2007a, p. 42.

26 Sacramentarium Veronense, p. 147-50; Hope 1971, p. 25, 36, 50; Kennedy 1938, p. 178-182.

27 LP I, p. 297.

28 Thacker 2007a, p. 45-46.

29 Thacker 2007a, p. 46-47.

30 Thacker 2007a, p. 48; Kennedy 1938, p. 137-140.

31 Thacker 2007a, p. 47-48; Krautheimer 1970, p. 45.

32 Thacker 2007a, p. 49-50; Thacker 2012, p. 388-404.

33 Valentini – Zucchetti 1942, p. 124.

34 Thacker 2007a, p. 51-52.

35 Valentini - Zucchetti 1942, p. 265; Decretum ad clerum in basilica beati Petri apostoli (Ewald - Hartmann 1891), p. 367; Grégoire le Grand, Homélies sur l'Evangile I, p. 177-191; Guyon 1987, esp. p. 422-424; Thacker 2007a, p. 62.

36 Kennedy 1938. For Agnes see esp. p. 173-177.

37 Leyser 2000, p. 300-301.

38 Thacker 2007a, p. 66-69.

39 Grégoire le Grand, Homélies sur l’Evangile I, esp. p. 42-50, 89-90; idem 2008, esp. p.13-17, 25, 43, 71, 83, 103, 131, 161, 185, 197, 221, 251, 269, 293, 321, 365, 391, 423, 451, 493, 523. Usually sermons preached in the extramural basilicas were on the feast-day of the appropriate saint, mostly those that fell on a Sunday, or so close to it that the feast could be transferred.

40 Valentini - Zucchetti 1942, p. 118-131, at 124.

41 BHL 156. Editions: AASS Jan. II, p. 351-4; PL 17 col. 813-821.

42 Lanéry 2008, p. 359-361.

43 Lanéry 2008, p. 357. By then, as De locis sanctis makes clear, she was buried in her own church which lay very close to Honorius’s much admired new basilica ad corpus: Valentini – Zucchetti 1942, p. 115. Cf the Notitia, ibid., p. 78-79.

44 BHL 156, PL 17, col. 819-820.

45 AASS Jan. II, p. 351-354.

46 BHL 156, PL 17, col. 816-819.

47 Lanéry 2008, p. 363-365.

48 Prudence, Peristephanon, XIV, lines 39, 49.

49 Scriptores Historiae Augustae, p. 156-158. For a recent consideration of the text and its date see Cameron 2011, p. 743-782.

50 Coates-Stevens 2006, p. 153-154.

51 Michel-d’Annoville - Ferri, 2014.

52 For twelfth-century references to the cripta or griptae Agonis see Valentini - Zucchetti 1946, p. 286; Valentini - Zucchetti 1942, p. 180 (a bull of Urban III, 1186). See now Bernard - Rossetto 2014.

53 Guyon 1987, p. 432-433; Thacker 2007a, p. 62.

54 As John Osborne has pointed out, in the later sixth century the popes were in general more interested in restoring the damaged extramural cult-sites than in establishing new churches: Osborne 1985, p. 285. Even so, there was some papal activity in the intramural area. Thus, to the north of Forum and Market of Trajan, Pope Pelagius I (556-561) established the church of Santi Filippo e Giacomo, completed by his successor Pope John III (561-74): LP I, p. 303, 305-306.

55 Gregory the Great, Ep. IX, 233, Nordberg 1982, p. 815 et XI, 15, ibid., p. 866. Cf. Ep. IX, 87, ibid., p. 641, and IX, 133, p. 683.

56 Thacker 2007a, p. 68.

57 Mart. Hieron. I. p. 11, 14; Mart. Hieron. II, p. 52-3, 64-6. Delehaye regarded the 28 Jan. feast as an addition. J.-P. Kirsch, however, thought it went back to the earliest stratum of the Martyrologium Hieronymianum: Kirsch 1924, p. 135-136, 222. Cf. Lanéry 2008, p. 357.

58 Étaix - Morel - Judic 2005, p. 43, 91-94, 259-295.

59 Coates-Stevens (2006), p. 155-163.

60 Osborne et al. 2007; Thacker 2014, p.75. The church was the subject of a conference ‘Santa Maria Antiqua: « The Sistine Chapel of the Eighth Century”. A Consideration of the Site from the Fourth to the Ninth Century’, held at the British School at Rome, December 4-6, 2013.

61 R. Coates-Stevens, « The Oratory of the Forty Martyrs”, delivered at the Santa Maria Antiqua conference in Dec. 2013.

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Référence électronique

Alan Thacker, « The origin and early development of Rome’s intramural cults: a context for the cult of Sant’Agnese in Agone », Mélanges de l’École française de Rome - Moyen Âge [En ligne], 126-1 | 2014, mis en ligne le 09 avril 2014, consulté le 23 juin 2017. URL : http://mefrm.revues.org/1858 ; DOI : 10.4000/mefrm.1858

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Auteur

Alan Thacker

Institute of Historical Research, London - Alan.Thacker@sas.ac.uk

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