Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Speratus and His Companions, Martyrs

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[commonly called the Scillitan Martyrs] When the emperor Severus returned victorious from having vanquished the kings who had taken part with Nigar against him, he published his cruel edicts against the Christians in the year of Christ 202, the tenth of his reign. But the general laws of the empire against foreign religions, and the former edicts of several emperors against the Christians, were a sufficient warrant to many governors to draw the sword against them before that time; and we find that the persecution was very hot in Africa two years before, under the proconsul Saturninus, in the eighth year of Severus and two hundredth of Christ. The first who suffered at Carthage were twelve persons, commonly called the Scillitan Martyrs, probably because they were of Scillita, a town of the proconsular Africa. They were brought prisoners to Carthage, and on the 16th of July were presented to the proconsul whilst he was seated on his tribunal. The six principal among them were Speratus, Narzalis, and Cittinus; and three women, Donata, Secunda, and Vestina. The proconsul offered them the emperor’s pardon if they would worship the gods of the Romans. Speratus answered in the name of all: “We have never committed any crime, we have injured no one; so far from it, we have always thanked God for the evil treatment we have received; wherefore we declare to you that we worship no other God but the true one, who is the lord and master of all things; we pray for those who persecute us unjustly, according to the law we have received.” The proconsul urged them to swear by the emperor’s genius. Speratus said, “I know not the genius of the emperor of this world; but I serve the God of heaven, whom no mortal man hath ever seen or can see. I never committed any crime punishable by the laws of the state. I pay the public duties for whatever I buy, acknowledging the emperor for my temporal lord; but I adore none but my God, who is the King of kings, and sovereign Lord over all the nations of the world. I have been guilty of no crime, and therefore cannot have incurred punishment.”

Hereupon the proconsul said: “Let them be carried to prison, and put in wooden stocks till to-morrow.”

On the day following, the proconsul being seated on his tribunal, ordered them all to be brought before him, and said to the women, “Honour our prince, and offer sacrifice to the gods.”

Donata replied: “We give to Cæsar the honour that is due to Cæsar; but we adore and offer sacrifice to God alone.”

Vestina said: “I also am a Christian.”

Secunda said: “I also believe in my God, and will continue faithful to him. As for your gods we will neither serve nor adore them.”

The proconsul then ordered them into custody, and having called up the men, he said to Speratus: “Art thou still resolved to remain a Christian?”

Speratus replied: “Yes I am, be it known to all, I am a Christian.” All that had been apprehended with him cried out: “We also are Christians.”

The proconsul said: “Will you not then so much as deliberate upon the matter, or have any favour shown you?”

Speratus replied: “Do what you please; we die with joy for the sake of Jesus Christ.”

The proconsul asked: “What books are those which you read and have in reverence?”

Speratus answered: “The four gospels of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; the epistles of the apostle Saint Paul, and the rest of the Scriptures revealed by God.”

The proconsul said: “I give you three days to repent in.”

Upon which Speratus made answer: “We will never depart from the faith of our Saviour Jesus Christ, therefore take what course you think fit.”

The proconsul seeing their constancy and resolution, pronounced sentence against them in these terms: “Speratus, Narzalis, Cittinus, Veturius, Felix, Acyllinus, Lætantius, Januaria, Generosa, Vestina, Donata, and Secunda, having acknowledged themselves Christians, and having refused to pay due honour and respect to the emperor, I condemn them to be beheaded.”

This sentence being read, Speratus, and all those who were with him, said: “We give God thanks for vouchsafing to receive us this day as martyrs in heaven, for confessing his name.” Having said this, they were led to the place of execution, where they all fell on their knees, and once more gave thanks to Jesus Christ. Whilst they continued in prayer, their heads were struck off. The faithful who transcribed their acts out of the public registers, add: “The martyrs of Christ finished their conflict in the month of July, and they intercede for us to our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be given honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Ghost through all ages.”

Tertullian, soon after their martyrdom, addressed his excellent apologetic discourse for the Christian religion to the governors of the provinces, but without success. He testifies that Saturninus, who first drew the sword against the Christians in Africa, soon after lost his eyes. As to the emperor Severus, after carrying on the persecution ten years, whilst he was making war in Britain, being on his march with his army, his eldest son Bassianus, surnamed Antoninus Caracalla, who marched after him, stopped his horse, and drew his sword to stab him, but was prevented by others. Severus only reproached him for it, but died soon after at York, of grief for his son’s treachery, rather than of the gout, on the 4th of February, in the year 211, having lived sixty-five years, and reigned seventeen years and eight months. His two sons, Antoninus Caracalla and Geta, succeeded him; but the elder caused the latter to be stabbed in his mother’s bosom, who was sprinkled with his blood.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Speratus and His Companions, Martyrs”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 13 July 2013. Web. 21 November 2017. <>