|C4th from the catacomb of Marcellinus and Peter,|
,showing Christ between Peter and Paul, and below them
the martyrs Gorgonius, Peter, Marcellinus, and Tiburtius
Today the calendar marks the feast of two martyrs from the persecution of Diocletian, who died around 304 AD. The martyrology entry goes as follows:
At Rome, the birthday of the holy martyr Marcellinus, priest, and Peter, exorcist, who instructed in the faith many persons detained in prison. Under Diocletian, they were loaded with chains, and, after enduring many torments, were beheaded by the judge Serenus, in a place which was then called the Black Forest, but which was in their honor afterwards known as the White Forest. Their bodies were buried in a crypt near St. Tiburtius, and Pope St. Damasus composed for their tomb an epitaph in verse.
As noted in the entry above, their cult was originally fostered by Pope Damasus I, who learnt thier story from their executioner, who became a Christian after their deaths.
Pope Damasus states that they were killed at an out-of-the-way spot by the magistrate Severus or Serenus so that other Christians would not have a chance to bury and venerate their bodies. The two saints happily cleared the spot chosen for their death: a thicket overgrown with thorns, brambles, and briers three miles from Rome. They were beheaded and buried in that spot. Two women, Lucilla and Firmina, assisted by divine revelation, found the bodies, however, and had them properly buried. They buried their bodies near the body of St. Tiburtius on the Via Labicana in what became known as the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter.
Constantine the Great built a church in honor of them as the earlier church built by Pope Damasus had been destroyed, and had his mother St. Helena buried there. Their relics were subsequently transferred to Germany in the ninth century under the monk Eginhard, who had previously been Charlemagne's secretary.