The Convertible Saint: Expeditus through Time
Expeditus, a Roman soldier who was for centuries simply a name on a list of early
Christian martyrs, took on new life in the late eighteenth century in a Catholic cult that
expanded greatly in the late nineteenth century and has continued to spread since then.
His name linked him with time and the answering of prayers for urgent causes in partic-
ularly modern ways, despite growing scholarly scepticism about him. His unforgettable
image — a Roman soldier crushing a crow or raven underfoot — has been adopted by
Italian fascists and practitioners of Haitian vodou, among many others. Expeditus’s pop-
ularity on the internet is only the latest version of this unusual devotion.
Recent scholarship has made us aware of the surprising historical malleabil-
ity of the Catholic cult of saints. Over time some saints have been elevated
in status and others discredited, some renamed and others given new biogra-
phies invented for them, some twinned and others lost in obscurity. Yet few
forms of devotion have shown such inventiveness and ﬂexibility as that of
the cult of St Expeditus. His story reminds us of the extent to which the idea
of sanctity is an organic object independent of institutional regulation, theo-
logical precision, or factual veriﬁcation.
Saint Expeditus makes his ﬁrst historical appearance on the list of martyrs
attributed to Jerome called the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, probably compiled
in sixth-century Gaul.
He is among a group of six Roman soldiers named there
and said to have been executed under Diocletian at Melitene in ancient Armenia
Mathew Kueﬂer is Professor of History at San Diego State University, USA.
I am grateful to the staff at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the University of California, Lost
Angeles, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Archivio storico diocesano di Palermo, and the
Archivo storico diocesano di Catania, and to the scholars Helga Maria Wolf, Annette Timm, Martha
Pollak, and Catherine Wessinger for their help in various aspects of my research. I am also grateful to
the editors of and anonymous readers for the Journal of Religious History for their advice.
1. On the history of the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, see L. Delisle, “Le martyrologe de
saint Jérôme,” Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes 55 (1894): 425–26; or H. Achelis, Die Mar-
tyrologien, ihre Geschichte und ihr Wert (Berlin: Weidmann, 1900). A more general study of the
genre is provided by J. Dubois, Les martyrologes du moyen âge latin (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978).
© 2016 Religious History Association
Journal of Religious History
Vol. 42, No. 1, March 2018