Saints Sergius and Bacchus
Detail of a 7th-century icon of Saints Sergius and Bacchus
Died ~303 AD, Bacchus in Syria; Sergius at Resafa, Syria
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church; Eastern Orthodox Church
Major shrine Basilica of St. Sergius, Rasafa
Feast 7 October
Attributes Depicted as two young soldiers,
Patronage Syria, army, soldiers

Saints Sergius and Bacchus (also Serge and Bacchus or Sergios kai Bakchos or Sarkis wa Bakhos), were third century Roman soldiers who are commemorated as martyrs by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. According to their hagiography Sergius and Bacchus were officers in Caesar Galerius Maximianus's army, and were held high in his favor until they were exposed as secret Christians. They were then severely punished, with Bacchus dying during torture, and Sergius eventually beheaded. Churches in their honor have been built in several cities, including Constantinople and Rome. Their feast day is October 7.[1][2] The close friendship between Sergius and Bacchus is strongly emphasized in their hagiographies and traditions, making them one of the most famous examples of paired saints. This closeness has led some modern commentators to put forth the controversial suggestion that their relationship was a romantic one.[3]


The saints' story is told in the Greek text known as The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus.[4] According to the text, they were Roman citizens and high-ranking officers of the Roman Army, but their covert Christianity was discovered when they attempted to avoid accompanying a Roman official into a pagan temple with the rest of his bodyguard. After they persisted in refusing to sacrifice to Zeus in the company of the emperor Galerius, they were publicly humiliated by being chained and dressed in female attire and paraded around town. Galerius then sent them to Barbalissos in Mesopotamia to be tried by Antiochus, the military commander there and an old friend of Sergius. Antiochus could not convince them to give up their faith, however, and Bacchus was beaten to death. The next day he appeared to Sergius and encouraged him to remain strong. Over the next days, Sergius was also brutally tortured and finally executed at Resafa, where his death was marked by miraculous happenings.


The Passion, replete with supernatural occurrences and historical anachronisms, has been dismissed as a reliable historical source.[4] There is no firm evidence for Sergius and Bacchus' scholae palatinae having been used by Galerius or any other emperor before Constantine I, and given that persecution of Christians had begun in the army considerably before the overall persecutions of the early 4th century, it is very unlikely that even secret Christians could have risen through the ranks of the imperial bodyguard. Finally, there is no evidence to support the existence of monks, such as the ones said in the Passion to have recovered Bacchus' body, living near the Euphrates during the 4th century.[4]

Instead, the Italian scholar Pio Franchi de Cavalieri has argued that The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus was based on an earlier lost passion of Juventinus and Maximinus, two saints martyred under Emperor Julian the Apostate in 363.[4] He noted especially that the punishment of being paraded around in women's clothes reflected the treatment of Christian soldiers by Julian. David Woods further notes that Zosimus' Historia Nova includes a description of Julian punishing cavalry deserters in just such a manner, further strengthening the argument that the author of The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus took material from the stories of martyrs of Julian's time rather than that of Galerius.[4] Additionally, the work has been dated to mid-5th century, and there is no other evidence for the cult of Sergius and Bacchus before about 425, over a century after they are said to have died. As such there is considerable doubt about their historicity.[4]

Popularity and veneration

Veneration of the two saints dates to the 5th century. A shrine to Sergius was built in Resafa around 425, but there is no certain evidence for his or Bacchus' cult much older than that.[4] This shrine was constructed of mudbrick, evidently at the behest of bishop Alexander of Hierapolis. The Passion has been dated to the mid-5th century on the grounds that it describes the construction of such a shrine as if it were a relatively recent occurrence. This structure was replaced with a sturdier stone one in 518; this new site was patronized by important political figures including Roman Emperor Justinian I, King Khosrau II of Sassanid Persia, and Al-Mundhir, ruler of the Ghassanids.[4]

The popularity of the cult of Sergius and Bacchus grew rapidly during the early 5th century, in accordance with the growth of the cult of martyrs, especially military martyrs, during that period.[4] In the Byzantine Empire, they were venerated as protectors of the army. A large monastery church, the Little Hagia Sophia, was dedicated to them in Constantinople by Justinian I, probably in 527. Sergius was a very popular saint in Syria and Christian Arabia.

The city of Resafa, which became a bishop's see, took the name Sergiopolis and preserved his relics in a fortified basilica. Resafa was improved by Emperor Justinian, and became one of the greatest pilgrimage centers in the East. Many other churches were built dedicated in the name of Sergius, sometimes with Bacchus. A church dedicated to Santi Sergio e Bacco was built in Rome in the 9th century. Christian art represents the two saints as soldiers in military garb with branches of palm in their hands. Their feast is observed on 7 October, and a mass is assigned to them in the "Sacramentarium" of Pope Gelasius. The nomads of the desert looked upon Sergius as their special patron saint.


Sergius and Bacchus are noted as a classic example of paired saints; scholar John Boswell considers them to be the most influential example of such a pair, even better an example of such an archetype than Saints Peter and Paul.[5][6] In his book Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, Boswell further argues that Sergius and Bacchus's relationship can be understood as having a romantic dimension, noting that the oldest text of their martyrology describes them as erastai, which can be translated as "lovers".[3] He suggested controversially that the two were even united in a rite known as adelphopoiesis or (brother-making), which he argued was a type of early Christian same-sex union or blessing, reinforcing his view of tolerant early Christian attitudes toward homosexuality.[3] However, Boswell's methodology and conclusions have been critically challenged by historians including David Woods, Robin Darling Young, and Brent Shaw.[4][7][8]


  1. "Sergius and Bacchus". From The Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 29, 2009.
  2. Boswell, p. 155
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Boswell, p. 154
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 Woods, David (2000). "The Origin of the Cult of SS. Sergius and Bacchus". From The Military Martyrs. Retrieved June 25, 2009.
  5. Boswell, p. 146. "By far the most influential set of paired saints was Serge and Bacchus."
  6. Boswell, p. 195. "…The archetypes invoked, like Peter and Paul or Serge and Bacchus, were not in fact brothers, either biologically or through legal arrangement. It may be doubted whether Peter and Paul were in any sense a couple, but Serge and Bacchus, the most commonly cited archetypes, certainly were, and under the influence of the same cultural predilection that created a pair from the single St. Theodore, it is easy to imagine that Peter and Paul were coupled in the popular imagination."
  7. Young, Robin Darling (November 1994). "Gay Marriage: Reimagining Church History". First Things 47: 43–48. Retrieved June 25, 2009. 
  8. Shaw, Brent (July 1994). "A Groom of One's Own?". The New Republic: 43–48. Retrieved June 25, 2009. 


  • Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. 3rd edition. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. ISBN 0-140-51312-4.
  • E. Key Fowden, The Barbarian Plain: Saint Sergius between Rome and Iran, The Transformation of the Classical Heritage 28 (Berkeley, 1999).
  • D. Woods, 'The Emperor Julian and the Passion of Sergius and Bacchus', Journal of Early Christian Studies 5 (1997), 335-67.
  • Boswell, John. Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe New York: Villard Books, 1994. ISBN 0-679-432280.

External links

ca:Sergi i Bacus cs:Svatí Sergius a Bacchuska:სერგი და ბაქოსი li:Sergius en Bacchus

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