Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saints Marcellus and Valerian, Martyrs


A.D. 179. Antoninus Pius and his adopted son and successor, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, surnamed the Philosopher, were renowned for their wisdom, moderation, and attention to the good of the Roman empire. The latter is no less admirable for the government of himself, if his meditations are the portraiture of his practice. His virtues and wise administration are represented to advantage by Crevier; but their lustre is not without shades. In the very book of his meditations, where he commends necessary resignation to death, he condemns that of the Christians, which he ascribes to mere obstinacy. Their constancy he had experienced, having raised the fifth general persecution of the church, and published fresh edicts, by which he commanded Christians to be punished with death, as is attested by Saint Melito, quoted by Eusebius. After his victory over the Quadi and Marcomanni, in 174, he ordered peace to be restored to the Christians: but did not check the fury of the populace, or of particular governors, who, in several places, often availed themselves of former laws made against them.

The horrible massacre of the martyrs at Lyons and Vienna happened in the year 177. In the former of these cities Marcellus and Valerian withdrew themselves from that tempest by a seasonable flight, and preached the gospel in the neighbouring provinces, and were crowned with martyrdom in 179. Marcellus was apprehended in the country near Challons, and, after enduring many torments in that city, was buried alive up to the middle, in which posture he died on the third day, which was the 4th day of September. Saint Valerian fell into the hands of the persecutors near Tournus, a town built on the Saone, between Macon and Challons. After suffering the rack and being torn with iron hooks, he was beheaded at Tournus on the 15th of September. The relics of Saint Marcellus are honourably kept in the great church which bears his name at Challons, and belongs to a royal monastery, which King Gontran founded in his honour. A church was built at Tournus over the tomb of Saint Valerian, before the time of Saint Gregory of Tours. Saints Marcellus and Valerian are honoured as the apostles of that country. The great abbey of Saint Valerian at Tournus is the head of a monastic congregation to which it gives its name. It was a small monastery when, in 875, Charles the Bald gave it to the monks of the isle of Nermoutier, or Ner, or Hero, on the coast of Poitou, who had been expelled by the Normans. They carried with them the relics of Saint Filibert, or Filbert, their founder. This abbey was rebuilt in 1018; from which time it took the name of Saint Filbert. In the sixteenth age the Huguenots plundered this church, and burnt part of the relics of Saint Valerian; but the principal portion escaped their sacrilegious search. The abbey of Tournus was converted into a college of secular canons in 1627; only the dignity of abbot was retained with an extensive jurisdiction and large revenue. It was enjoyed in commendam by Cardinal Fleury.

The two holy martyrs, whom we honour on this day, made the whole tenour of their lives a preparation to martyrdom, because they devoted it entirely to God by the constant exercise of all virtues. To be able to stand our ground in the time of trial, and to exercise the necessary acts of virtue in the article of death, we must be thoroughly grounded in strong habits of all virtues; and we shall not otherwise exert them readily on sudden and difficult occasions. He whose soul is well regulated, and in whose heart virtue has taken deep root, finds its practice easy and, as it were, natural in times of sickness, persecution, or other occasions. Nay, he makes every thing that occurs matter of its exercise, subjects to himself even obstacles, and converts them into occasions of exerting the most noble and heroic virtues, such as resignation, patience, charity, and good will towards those who oppose or persecute him.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saints Marcellus and Valerian, Martyrs”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 27 August 2014. Web. 21 April 2021. <>