An English translation of a portion of the Acts of Processus and Martinianus

VI. What the kind of life was which was thus led by Pomponia Graecina, and which, on the admission of Tacitus, turned to her glory even in the midst of the unconverted Imperial city, we shall here ask our readers’ consent to make known to them, by quoting a passage from the Acts of the Martyrdom of SS. Processus and Martinianus. From these Acts we shall soon learn in what guise the heroine of the Annals of Tacitus appears in her character as the heroine of the Gospel of Christ.

To understand, however, the passage in question, which we now proceed to lay before our readers, it should be known that Pomponia has at this time been for nearly twenty years a Christian convert. and that both St. Peter and St. Paul have been seized and have been thrown into the Mamertine prison, owing to the disturbance which the sudden downfall that had happened to Simon Magus had occasioned in Rome, in consequence of its having been popularly attributed to the magical arts of the Christians. Here the Apostles were visited by great numbers of the Christians of the city, and so many wonderful miracles of healing were worked by them that, to quote the Acts of the Martyrdom, the two officers of the prison, above-named Processus and Martinianus, came to them and said, “Venerable men, it can no longer be any matter of doubt but that Nero must have entirely forgotten you since it is now the ninth month that you are in the prison. We beg you, therefore, to consider yourselves free to go where you will, only we pray you first to baptise us in the Name of Him by whom you do such wonderful works. The most blessed Apostles Peter and Paul answered, If you will believe in the Name of the Holy Trinity, you yourselves would be able to do the works which you see us do. When all who were in the prison heard these words, they cried out with one mind, Give us this water for we are perishing with thirst. The same hour the blessed Apostles said to all within the prison of the Mamertine, Believe in God the Father Almighty, in the Lord Jesus Christ His only-begotten Son, and in the Holy Ghost, and all these things shall be ministered to you.

“Then all cast themselves at the feet of the Apostles asking to receive baptism from them. Whereupon the most blessed Apostles betook themselves to prayer, and when their prayer was finished, the blessed Peter traced the sign of the Cross upon the Tarpeian rock. The same hour, water began to flow from the rock, and the blessed Processus and Martinianus were baptised by the blessed Peter. When all who were in the prison saw what had come to pass, they came and threw themselves at the feet of the blessed Peter, and received baptism, to the number of forty-seven persons of different sex and age. He offered also for them the Holy Sacrifice and made them partakers of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then the blessed Processus and Martinianus said to the holy Apostles of Christ, Proceed now where you will, for Nero has certainly forgotten and ceased to trouble himself about you. The holy Apostles then quitting the prison proceeded on the Appian road and came to the Appian gate. As they were on their way, a bandage fell off from the face of the blessed Peter where it had been bruised by the iron fetters, and this happened near to the enclosure in the Via Nora. After Peter had arrived at the Appian gate he saw the Lord Jesus Christ, and recognising Him, said to Him, Lord, whither goest Thou. The Lord answered, I am going to Rome to be crucified the second time, and do thou likewise return to Rome. Peter, therefore, went back to Rome, and in the morning the soldiers seized him.

“Word was now brought to the most noble Paulinus, the master of the soldiers on duty, that Processus and Martinianus had become Christians. He sent, therefore, a company of soldiers to arrest them and to put them in prison. On the following day he commanded then to be brought up for trial, and when they appeared before him, he said to them, Have you become such fools as to think of detesting the gods and the goddesses whom the unconquered Emperors worship and all antiquity has adored, in order rashly to expose yourselves to be stripped of the uniform of your service? Martinianus answered with a loud voice, We have now taken service in the army of heaven.

The most noble Paulinus said, Put away this folly and adore the immortal gods whom you have venerated and worshipped from your cradles and in whose religion you have been brought up. The blessed martyrs cried out with one voice, We have been made Christians. The most noble Paulinus said, Listen me, my men, and do as I tell you; let us be friends and do you keep to your service. Sacrifice to the all-powerful gods and live and rise high in the favour of our Emperor. They both answered. Let it suffice that we have declared to you we are true Christians and servants of God and our Lord Jesus Christ: whom the most blessed Apostles Peter and Paul hare preached to us. The most noble Paulinus said, I have already urged and I again repeat the same, hearken to my advice and live. They however remained silent. Paulinus again and again appealed to them, entreating them to consider; but seeing his words produce no effect, he commanded their mouths to be battered with stones. Whilst this was being done they both exclaimed, Glory to God in the highest! Paulinus said to the soldiers, Bring forth the tripod, let them sacrifice to the Emperor. The blessed martyrs answered, We have once for all offered ourselves to the God of all power. When the tripod had been brought, Paulinus said, Do as I tell you. A golden statue of Jupiter was also brought. When they saw this, the holy martyrs burst into laughter; and in the presence of Paulinus spat at the tripod and at the image of Jupiter. Then Paulinus commanded them to be placed on the rack, their joints to be stretched, and their bodies beaten with heavy rods. They, however, with countenances beaming with joy, cried out, We render Thee thanks, O Lord Jesus Christ. Paulinus transported with an excess of fury commanded burning torches to be applied to their sides. The martyrs cried out, Blessed be the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ whom His most blessed Apostles Peter and Paul have preached to us.

“There was present at the time a most noble matron, Lucina by name. She standing by them encouraged them by her words. Soldiers of Christ, said she, be firm: fear not the pains that are but for a time. Paulinus said to them. What is this madness of yours? But they, being encouraged, derided the tortures. Paulinus then commanded them to be again placed on the rack and scourged with scorpions, the public crier being ordered to cry out, Learn not to despise the commands of the Emperors. The same hour Paulinus was deprived of the sight of his left eye, and smarting under the excess of his pain, he cried out, Oh, the power of these magic arts! commanding them at the same time to be taken down from the rack and after their long torture to be thrust back into the Mamertine prison, where the venerable matron Lucina remained in constant waiting upon them.

In three days time Paulinus, possessed by a demon, expired. His son Pompinius went to the palace, crying out, Help, help, ye rulers and governors of the public affairs, stamp out these dealers in magic arts. Caesarius the Prefect of the city, hearing his words reported them to Nero Augustus, who commanded the soldiers to be executed without delay. Whereupon Pompinius the son of Paulinus, began to put great pressure upon Caesarius the Prefect of the city. The Prefect then passed sentence upon them, in pursuance of which they were taken out of prison and led beyond the walls of the city, on the Aurelian Way, where their heads were struck off. When the most blessed matron Lucina saw them, she followed them with her servants to the Aqueduct near to which they were beheaded and their headless bodies left to be devoured by the dogs. These she now took up, and embalming them with costly spices, she buried them on her own estate in the cemetery which was near to the spot where they suffered on the Aurelian Way, the sixth of the Nones of July, where up to the present day the graces obtained through them continue, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ still reigning.”[1]

  1. [1]Henry Formby, Ancient Rome and its connection with the Christian religion, 1880, p.388-91.  Online here in preview form. I have not been able to find a PDF.  The Acts are probably 6th century, and are published in the Acta Sanctorum of the Bollandists for July 2, p.380.

4 thoughts on “An English translation of a portion of the Acts of Processus and Martinianus

  1. That’s good stuff!

    I remember seeing a Victorian two-volume novel, or possibly one of those anthologies written in a novel-like style, that used a lot of these martyr narratives as story fodder. I think this was one of them, because I seem to remember Paulinus’ eye.

  2. That’s a very interesting thought! I wonder what else is out there.

    I don’t know much about old English translations of Saint’s lives. Do you have any ideas about this?

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