Saints Apollonius And Philemon


(feastday: 7 Baramhat), fourth-century martyrs. Their story has come down to us in two versions: the original Coptic and a later Arabic tradition.

Coptic Tradition

The oldest account of the martyrdom of Apollonius and Philemon is found in chapter 19 of the HISTORIA MONACHORUM IN AEGYPTO, written around 400 (see the edition by Festugière). According to this text, Apollonius was a monk and a deacon whose love for his enemies so impressed Philemon, a flute player who had been reviling him in prison, that the latter confessed himself a Christian before the judge. When the two men were to be burned, a cloud of dew miraculously extinguished the fire.

They were then taken to the prefect in Alexandria. En route, Apollonius instructed the soldiers in the Christian faith. At the command of the prefect, all were drowned in the sea, their corpses being later found on the shore. The author of the Historia reports that the travelers had visited the martyrs’ sanctuary on their pilgrimage to the Egyptian monks. Of Apollonius he says, “We too saw him, along with those who died with him as martyrs, while we were praying in the martyrium. And we fell down before God and venerated their bodies in the Thebaïs.”

It can be taken as historical fact that before 400 there was a sanctuary consecrated to these martyrs. In it, following the Egyptian practice, the mummified corpses probably were placed on stands, where they could be venerated. The Greek Passion (Bibliotheca hagiographica graeca 1514; Acta sanctorum martyrum, Vol. 1 [Paris and Rome, 1865], 887-90) shows that the location of this sanctuary was ANTINOOPOLIS. Otherwise this second text differs considerably from the account in the Historia monachorum. It could be a fictitious elaboration of a later stage in the local tradition (perhaps fifth century), whereas the first account comes from the monastic milieu of the closing years of the fourth century. The second legend attaches to the martyrdom of Apollonius and Philemon an account of the change of heart and martyr’s death of ARIANUS, the governor who was persecuting the Christians.

The Sahidic reworking of Bibliotheca hagiographica graeca 1514, probably undertaken in the sixth century, has been edited by F. Rossi (Atti della R. accademia dei Lincei, ser. 5, 1 [1893]:3-136, 307, with Italian translation). The text begins with a Martyrdom of Aclas, which is missing in the Greek version. There are relatively large changes in the part dealing with Arianus. In the tenth century Symeon Metaphrastes reworked the Greek legend and loosely attached it at 14 December to the martyrdom of saints Thyrsus, Leucius, and Callinicus (PG 116, 537-560). In the West the theme of the actor converted was taken up afresh by the baroque drama. The prototype for the Philemon Martyr of Jakob Bidermann (1578-1639) was the Latin translation of Metaphrastes’ text by Laurentius Surius (De probatis sanctorum historiis . . . 6 [Cologne 1575], 911-15).


  • Baumeister, T. Martyr invictus, pp. 105-108. Münster, 1972.
  •  . “Der Märtyrer Philemon.” In Pietas. Festschrift für Bernhard Kötting, ed. E. Dassmann and K. S. Frank. Münster, 1980.
  • Delehaye, H. “Les martyrs d’Egypte.” Analecta Bollandiana 40 (1922):5-154, 299-364.


Arabic Tradition

Neither the Arabic tradition in general nor the Coptic Arabic tradition in particular offers a Passion of Saints Apollonius and Philemon. Nevertheless, the Copto-Arabic SYNAXARION, in the part compiled by MIKHA’IL, bishop of Atrib and Malij between about 1240 and 1250, commemorates these two martyrs on 7 Baramhat. The following day, 8 Baramhat, has a commemoration of their persecutor, ARIANUS, the prefect of ANTINOOPOLIS frequently mentioned in the Acts of the Martyrs, and historically well attested in the year 307. Because of them he was converted and was subsequently martyred himself.

The accounts of the Passions of Philemon and Apollonius and of Arianus are brief. They differ from the Greek and the Coptic accounts. In them Apollonius is the flute player, while Philemon is the musician and singer. They are both pierced by arrows and killed, but one of the arrows rebounds and pierces the eye of the prefect Arianus. A Christian suggests he put some of the martyrs’ blood on his eye, and it is healed. Arianus is thereby converted to Christianity.

When Diocletian learns of the conversion, he summons Arianus to Alexandria to be tortured. He orders him thrown into a cistern, but an angel lifts Arianus out and places him at the foot of Diocletian’s bed. Terrified, Diocletian instructs that Arianus be put into a sack and thrown into the sea, where he drowns. A dolphin brings the body to the shore of Alexandria, and his servants take it to Antinoopolis, as Arianus had requested prior to his death. They lay it to rest beside the bodies of Philemon and Apollonius.

Since the Synaxarion mentions Philemon before Apollonius, he appears to be the principal figure. Nothing concerning his conversion through the example of Apollonius is recorded.


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