Saints Hermagoras and Fortunatus
The Iconography
A 12th-century fresco cycle in the crypt of Aquileia's basilica follows an 8th-century vita that had placed the martyrdom of these two saints in the apostolic period.1 As the story goes, St. Peter sends St. Mark to preach the gospel in Aquileia.
St. Peter sends St. Mark to Aquileia. See the description page for commentary on this image.
Arriving in Aquileia, Mark encounters a young leper named Ataulfus, whose father Ulfius is a leading noble of the city. He cures and baptizes the young man, and Ulfius thereupon presents himself and the rest of his family for baptism.
St. Mark cures Ataulfus of leprosy and then baptizes him. See the description page for a commentary.
After he has gained a goodly number of conversions and served the community for several years, Mark decides to return to Peter in Rome. The Apuleians ask him to take Hermagoras with him to be ordained bishop by Peter.
The Aquileians present Hermagoras to St. Mark. Presumably the richly dressed man holding Hermagoras by the wrist is Ulfius. See the description page for commentary on this image.
St. Peter ordains Hermagoras. See the description page for commentary on this image.
Returning to Aquileia, Hermagoras is so successful in his missionary work that the growing number of Christians is reported to Nero, who sends the prefect Sevastus to quash the movement. Unsuccessful at persuading Hermagoras to recant, Sevastus has him sent to the local prison, where a miracle involving a great light and sweet odor leads the jailer Pontianus to convert and be baptized by a priest and deacon summoned by Hermagoras.
Left: The priest and deacon approach the prison. The man with the book is probably the deacon Fortunatus. Right: Pontianus is baptized. See the description page for commentary on this image.
Enraged at this and other conversions, the pagan priests demand that Sevastus have Hermagoras and his archdeacon Fortunatus executed. Sevastus agrees, and the two are beheaded.
Saints Hermagoras and Fortunatus are beheaded outside the walls of Aquileia. From the ambo pulpit of Udine Cathedral. See the description page for commentary on this image.
Images of the two saints do not include any unique attributes. The surest way to recognize Hermagoras in portraits is if he is paired with a deacon, as at right. Earlier images picture him in a chasuble and a pallium, the symbol of authority worn by archbishops. Later works such as the statue shown at right add the mitre and crozier that conventionally identify bishops.

Like all deacon saints, Fortunatus is shown in a dalmatic. In the crypt frescos and some other images he also carries a gospel book, a reference to the fact that in solemn Masses it is the deacon who reads the day's gospel selection to the congregation.

Prepared in 2017 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2018-12-04.

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Shown above: Saint Hermagoras flanked by the deacon St. Fortunatus and St. Syrus of Pavia dressed as a subdeacon. (See the description page for more about St. Syrus.)

Paired statues of Saints Hermagoras and Fortunatus, Ljubljana Cathedral, Slovenia. (See the description page for commentary.)

DATES

  • Feast day: July 3

NAMES

  • Hermagoras is sometimes known as "SantErmacora."

HAGIOGRAPHY

NOTES

1 Acta Sanctorum, July vol. 3, 251-55. The 8th-century ascription is not certain. Jean Pien, editor of the Acta Sanctorum edition, writes that neither the date nor the author can be ascertained. Butler (III, 84) calls the work "late and untrustworthy." The 12th-century frescos in the crypt at Aquileia Cathedral follow the vita's narrative closely, so either the vita or its source cannot be later than they. Pien's other sources are all from about the ninth century.

















































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