Pelagius of Cordoba

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Master of Becerril - Martyrdom of Pelagius (around 1520)

Pelagius of Cordova (* 911 / 912 reportedly in Crecente , province of Pontevedra , † around 925 / 926 in Córdoba , also Pelagius of Cordova , Spain San Pelayo or San Paio ) the legend was after a Christian martyr , in particular in Spain since 10th century is venerated as a saint . Its existence is not historically certain. Three posthumous hagiographies from the 10th century tell of Pelagius' martyrdom .


The life and death of Pelagius are not documented by contemporary sources. There are three text sources for the legend , but they were written several decades after the assumed date of death and were all written by Christian clergy.

The legend takes place at the time of the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula by the Muslims ( Emirate of Córdoba ). At that time, the Al-Andalus region had been occupied by Muslims for around two centuries. The legend thematizes the conflict between Christians and Muslims and takes place in Córdoba , the capital of the emirate. Pelagius' uncle (grandfather according to other sources), Bishop Hermoygius, was captured in 920 or 921 after a battle against the Saracens . In exchange for his own freedom, he leaves his ten-year-old nephew Pelagius to the Islamic ruler, Emir Abd ar-Rahman III. Pelagius remains hostage for three years. As is customary in the legends of saints, Pelagius' faithfulness and virtue are tested: According to legend, the caliph forces the boy to accept the Islamic faith ; However, Pelagius steadfastly remains a devout Christian. In some legends, the caliph is also assigned homosexual desire and pederasty . The caliph punishes rejection with torture to the point of death, with Pelagius' limbs being cut off or torn off with iron tongs; in the end he is beheaded.

Text sources

The first and probably earliest text version of the legend comes from an Iberian priest named Raguel, of whom no other texts are known, and was written between 925 and 967. Raguel describes in detail the chastity and beauty of Pelagius as well as his deep piety , which was still in captivity is consolidated. After three and a half years of imprisonment, he is brought before the Muslim “king”, who has heard of his beauty. The king offers him high office if Pelagius converts to Islam; however, this refuses. Even the release of Christian prisoners is too low a price for Pelagius. The king (tangere ioculariter) then touches him - a presumed sexual offer - whereupon Pelagius slaps and spat at him. The king offers him pleasure boys, which Pelagius also refuses, and puts on him precious robes, which Pelagius throws off until he stands naked in front of the king. As a punishment for rejecting these temptations, the king has him chopped into pieces and thrown into a river. His remains are recovered by Christians and buried in two different cemeteries - the head on St. Cyprian and the body on St. Genesius. Pelagius' date of death gives Raguel as June 26, 964, which, however, according to today's calendar falls either in the year 925 or 926. Raguel compares Pelagius with Jesus Christ in his suffering and makes him the ideal bride of Christ .

A second source from the 10th century is the Passio Sancti Pelagii Martyris by Hrotsvit (Roswitha von Gandersheim). Hrotsvit claims to have portrayed the suffering of Pelagius after an oral account by an eyewitness from Cordova. It is not known which source Hrotsvit actually used and how it came to Lower Saxony. The text version was created around 950/960 in Gandersheim Abbey in Lower Saxony and describes the life and martyrdom of Pelagius in Latin hexameters . It is embedded in other saints' lives; From Hrotsvit's point of view, however, Pelagius is the youngest vita. With Hrotsvit, Pelagius is a handsome boy, the Islamic ruler (tyrannus) called Abdrahemen a sodomite .

The third source is a Mozarabic liturgy , a mass that was probably composed in León around 967. The mass presumably celebrates the arrival of the relic of Pelagius in León.

Historical context

Emir or Caliph Abd ar-Rahman III. In today's research, he is regarded as a tolerant ruler who, during his fifty-year rule, brought unity to the areas he ruled, renewed the administration and pacified conflicts between various Muslim groups. Among other things, the city of Córdoba owes him extensive urban development measures. Christian clerics living in Spain, however, may have been a thorn in the side of the splendor at court, as well as the religion of the Muslims. The priest Raguel, who presumably wrote the earliest text version of the Pelagius legend, portrays the luxury and temptations of the court as dangerous temptations against the faith of the Christian minority.

The legends served the Christian minority to discredit Islam . The effect of the narrative was reinforced by the young age of the martyr and the sinfulness of the caliph. The legend is believed by some scholars to be one of the earliest condemnations of homosexuality by Christian authors.

In the context of the Reconquista , the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula by the Christian powers, the worship of Pelagius was promoted. The veneration spread rapidly from the Andalusian Córdoba to his homeland Galicia . The mortal remains ( relic ) were transferred to León around 967/970 . Pelagius became a popular patron of parishes in Andalusia and Galicia.


Pelagius' iconographic attribute , based on his death, is a sword that injures his neck, as well as the martyr's palm for martyrdom, and occasionally also attributes for piety such as the rosary .


The day of remembrance for Pelagius is June 26th.


  • Jessica Coope: Martyrs of Cordoba: Community and Family Conflict in an Age of Mass Conversion . Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press 1995. ISBN 0-8032-1471-5
  • Kenneth Wolf: Christian Martyrs in Muslim Spain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1988. ISBN 0-521-34416-6 .
  • Mark D. Jordan: The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology. Chicago 1997
  • Mark D. Jordan: Saint Pelagius, Ephebe and Martyr , in: Queer Iberia, ed. by Josiah Blackmore, Gregory S. Hutcheson, Durham: Duke University Press 1999. ISBN 0-8223-2349-4
  • Bowman, Jeffrey A. (transl.): Raguel, The Martyrdom of St. Pelagius , in: Thomas Head (Ed.): Medieval Hagiography. An Anthology . New York: Routledge 2001. ISBN 0-415-93753-1

Web links

Commons : Pelagius of Cordoba  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Complete Lexicon of Saints, Volume 2. Augsburg 1861, p. 683
  2. Bowman 2001, p. 227
  3. Jordan 1999, p. 23
  4. Bowman 2001, p. 234
  5. Bowman 2001, p. 234
  6. Bowman 2001, p. 234
  7. Max Manitius: History of the Latin Literature of the Middle Ages. (= Handbook of Classical Studies, Section IX, Part 2, Volume 1). 4th reprint of the 1st edition published in 1911, Munich 1974, p. 620, ISBN 3-406-01400-3 . ( online at, viewed August 22, 2009)
  8. Bowman 2001, p. 228
  9. The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology. - book reviews ( memento of July 14, 2012 in the web archive )