Martyrs of Abitinae

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Martyrs of Abitinae
Died304 AD
North Africa
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Feast February 12

The Martyrs of Abitinae (or Abitinian Martyrs) were a group of 49 Christians found guilty, in 304, during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, of having illegally celebrated Sunday worship at Abitinae, a town in the Roman province of Africa. The town is frequently referred to as Abitina, but the form indicated in the Annuario Pontificio (and elsewhere) [1] is Abitinae. [2] The plural form Abitinae is that which Saint Augustine of Hippo used when writing his De baptismo in 400 or 401. [3]

Christianity is an Abrahamic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, as described in the New Testament. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and savior of all people, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament.

Diocletian Roman Emperor from 284 to 305 A.C.N.

Diocletian, born Diocles, was a Roman emperor from 284 to 305. Born to a family of low status in Dalmatia, Diocletian rose through the ranks of the military to become Roman cavalry commander to the Emperor Carus. After the deaths of Carus and his son Numerian on campaign in Persia, Diocletian was proclaimed emperor. The title was also claimed by Carus' surviving son, Carinus, but Diocletian defeated him in the Battle of the Margus.


Abitinae was a town in the Roman province of Africa Proconsularis and is famed for the Martyrs of Abitinae.


On February 24 of the year before, Diocletian had published his first edict against the Christians, ordering the destruction of Christian scriptures and places of worship across the Empire, and prohibiting Christians from assembling for worship. [4]

Though Fundanus, the local bishop in Abitinae, obeyed the edict and handed the scriptures of the church over to the authorities, some of the Christians continued to meet illegally under the priest Saturninus. They were arrested and brought before the local magistrates, who sent them to Carthage, the capital of the province, for trial. [5]

Carthage archaeological site in Tunisia

Carthage was the center or capital city of the ancient Carthaginian civilization, on the eastern side of the Lake of Tunis in what is now the Tunis Governorate in Tunisia.

The trial took place on February 12 before the proconsul Anullinus. One of the group was Dativus, a senator. He was interrogated, declared that he was a Christian and had taken part in the meeting of the Christians, but even under torture at first refused to say who presided over it. During this interrogation, the advocate Fortunatianus, a brother of Victoria, one of the accused, denounced Dativus of having enticed her and other naive young girls to attend the service; but she declared she had gone entirely of her own accord. Interrupting the torture, the proconsul again asked Dativus whether he had taken part in the meeting. Dativus again declared that he had. Then, when asked who was the instigator, he replied: "The priest Saturninus and all of us." He was then taken to prison and died soon after of his wounds. [6] [7]

Gaius Annius Anullinus was a Roman senator who was appointed consul in AD 295.

The priest Saturninus was then interrogated and held firm even under torture. His example was followed by all the others, both men and women. They included his four children.

One of the responses of the accused has been frequently quoted. Emeritus, who declared that the Christians had met in his house, was asked why he had violated the emperor's command. He replied: "Sine dominico non possumus" - we cannot live without this thing of the Lord. He was referring to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist that the emperor had declared illegal, but in which they had chosen to participate even at the cost of being tortured and sentenced to death.

"Non possumus" is a Latin, Catholic, religious phrase that translates as "we cannot". It originates in the narrative of the Martyrs of Abitinae, who were murdered in AD 304 when Roman Emperor Diocletian prohibited Christians under penalty of death to possess the Sacred Scriptures, convene on Sunday to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, and erect premises for their assemblies.

Saint Restituta is sometimes considered one of the Martyrs of Abitinae. [8]

List of the Martyrs of Abitinae

The feast of the Martyrs of Abitinae is on February 12. Under that date the Roman Martyrology records the names of all forty-nine: [9]

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  1. Jean-Yves Congar, Encyclopedia of Christian Theology (Taylor & Francis 2004 ISBN   978-0-20331901-7). vol. 1, p. 499
  2. Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013 ISBN   978-88-209-9070-1), p. 822
  3. Sancti Aureli Augustini Scripta contra Donatistas, pars I, p. 359
  4. Bleckmann, Bruno. "Diocletianus." In Brill's New Pauly, Volume 4, edited by Hubert Cancik and Helmut Schneider, 429–38. Leiden: Brill, 2002. ISBN   90-04-12259-1
  5. Santi Martiri di Abitina
  6. Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D., with an Account of the Principal Sects and Heresies
  7. Dativo e i martiri di Abitina Archived September 1, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  8. Santa Restituta d'Africa (o di Teniza)
  9. Martyrologium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001 ISBN   88-209-7210-7)