Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr

detail of the central panel of the triptych of Saint Hippolyte by Dieric Bouts and Hugo van der Goes, c.1470, featuring his martyrdom; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

A.D. 252. One of the most illustrious martyrs who suffered in the reign of Gallus was Saint Hippolytus, one of the twenty-five priests of Rome, who had the misfortune for some time to have been deceived by the hypocrisy of Novation and Novatus, and to have been engaged in their schism; but this fault he expiated by his public repentance, and a glorious martyrdom. He was apprehended, and interrogated on the rack in Rome; but the prefect of the city having filled it with Christian blood, went to Ostia to extend the persecution in those parts of the country, and ordered our saint and several other Christians who were then in prison at Rome, to be conducted thither after him. Saint Hippolytus being brought out of prison, many of those who had been under his care, came to beg his last advice and blessing, as he was going to martyrdom; and he vehemently exhorted them to preserve the unity of the church. “Fly,” said he, “from the unhappy Novatus, and return to the Catholic church. Adhere to the only faith which subsists from the beginning, which was preached by Paul, and is maintained by the chair of Peter. I now see things in a different light, and repent of what I once taught.” After he had thus undeceived his flock, and earnestly recommended to all the unity of holy faith, he was conducted to Ostia. The prefect, who was gone before the prisoners the same day, as soon as they arrived, ascended his tribunal, surrounded with his executioners, and various instruments of torture. The confessors were ranged in several companies before him, and by their emaciated faces, the length of their hair, and the filth with which they were covered, showed how much they had suffered by their long imprisonment. The judge, finding that he was not able to prevail with any of them by torments, at length condemned them all to be put to death. Some he caused to be beheaded, others to be crucified, others burnt, and some to be put out to sea in rotten vessels, which immediately foundered. When the venerable old man, Hippolytus, was in his turn brought to him loaded with chains, a crowd of young people cried out to the judge, that he was a chief among the Christians, and ought to be put to death by some new and remarkable kind of punishment. “What is his name?” said the prefect. They answered: “Hippolytus.” The prefect said: “Then let him be treated like Hippolytus, and dragged by wild horses.” By this sentence he alluded to Hippolytus, the son of Theseus, who, flying from the indignation of his father, met a monster, the sight of which affrighted his horses, so that he fell from his chariot, and, being entangled in the harness, was dragged along, and torn to pieces. No sooner was the order given but the people set themselves to work in assisting the executioners. Out of the country, where untamed horses were kept, they took a pair of the most furious and unruly they could meet with, and tied a long rope between them instead of a poll, to which they fastened the martyr’s feet. Then they provoked the horses to run away by loud cries, whipping and pricking them. The last words which the martyr was heard to say as they started, were: “Lord, they tear my body, receive thou my soul.” The horses dragged him away furiously into the woods, through brooks, and over ditches, briers, and rocks: they beat down the hedges, and broke through every thing that came in their way. The ground, the thorns, trees, and stones, were sprinkled with his blood, which the faithful that followed him at a distance weeping, respectfully sucked up from every place with spunges, and they gathered together all the mangled parts of his flesh and limbs, which lay scattered all about. They brought these precious relics to Rome, and buried them in the subterraneous caverns called catacombs, which Prudentius here describes at large. He says that the sacred remains of Saint Hippolytus were deposited in this place near an altar, at which the faithful were fed with the heavenly banquet, and the divine sacraments, and obtained the speedy effect of their requests to God. He testifies, that as often as he had prayed there when he was at Rome, for the remedy of his infirmities, whether of body or mind, he had always found the desired relief; but professes that he was indebted to Christ for all favours received, because he gave to his martyr Hippolytus the power to obtain for him the divine succour. He adds, that the chapel which contained these sacred relics shone within with solid silver with which the walls were incrustated, and on the outside with the brightest marble like looking-glass, which covered the walls, the whole being ornamented with abundance of gold. He says, that from the rising to the setting of the sun, not only the inhabitants of Rome, but many from remote countries, resorted in great numbers to this holy place, to pay adoration to God; and that especially on the martyr’s festival, on the Ides or 13th of August, both senators and people came thither to implore the divine mercy, and kiss the shrine which contained the relics. He moreover describes a sumptuous great church which was built in honour of the martyr near his tomb, and which was thronged with multitudes of devout Christians. He mentions the effigies of the saint’s martyrdom skilfully drawn over his tomb.

It is the reflection of Saint Austin, that if, with the martyrs, we seriously considered the rewards that await us, we should account all trouble and pains in this life as nothing; and should be astonished that the divine bounty gives so great a salary for so little labour. To obtain eternal rest, should require, if it had been possible, eternal labour; to purchase a happiness without bounds, a man should be willing to suffer for a whole eternity. That indeed is impossible; but our trials might have been very long. What are a thousand years, or ten hundred thousand ages in comparison to eternity? There can be no proportion between what is finite and that which is infinite. Yet God in his great mercy does not bid us suffer so long. He says, not a million, or a thousand years, or even five hundred; but only labour the few years that you live; and in these the dew of my consolations shall not be wanting; and I will recompense your patience for all with a glory that has no end. Though we were to be loaded with miseries, pain, and grief our whole life, the thoughts of heaven alone ought to make us bear its sharpest trials with cheerfulness and joy.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 13 August 2016. Web. 18 October 2017. <>