Presbyters Uniwersytet Warszawski
ER 294
Certain presbyter from Terme Taurine near Civitavecchia (Italy) regularly visits the baths. There he meets a spirit who asks him to offer a mass for his sake, all in the second half of the 6th century. Account of Gregory the Great, "Dialogues", Rome, AD 593/594.
Book IV 57.1-7
1. Petrus. Quidnam ergo esse poterit, quod mortuorum ualeat animabus prodesse?
2. Gregorius. Si culpae post mortem insolubiles non sunt, multum solet animas etiam post mortem sacra oblatio hostiae salutaris adiuuare, ita ut hoc nonnunquam ipsae defunctorum animae uideantur expetere.
3. Nam praedictus Felix episcopus a quodam uenerabilis uitae presbitero qui usque ante biennium uixit et in diocesi Centumcellensis urbis habitauit atque ecclesiae beati Iohannis, quae in loco qui Tauriana dicitur sita est, praeerat, cognouisse se adserit quod isdem presbiter in eodem loco, in quo aquae calidae uapores nimios faciunt, quotiens necessitas corporis exigebat, lauari consueuerat.
4. Vbi dum die quadam fuisset ingressus, inuenit quemdam incognitum uirum ad suum obsequium praeparatum, qui sibi de pedibus calciamenta abstraheret, uestimenta susciperet, exeunti e caloribus sabana praeberet, atque omne ministerium cum magno famulatu perageret.
5. Cumque hoc saepius fieret, isdem presbiter die quodam ad balnea iturus intra semetipsum cogitans, dixit: 'Viro illi, qui mihi solet tam deuotissime ad lauandum obsequi, ingratus apparere non debeo, sed aliquid me necesse est ei pro munere portare'. Tunc duas secum oblationum coronas detulit. Qui mox ut peruenit ad locum, hominem inuenit atque ex more eius obsequio in omnibus usus est. Lauit itaque, et cum iam uestitus uoluisset egredi, hoc quod se cum detulerat obsequenti sibi uiro pro benedictione obtulit, petens ut benigne susciperet, quod ei caritatis gratia offerret.
6. Cui ille moerens adflictusque respondit: 'Mihi ista quare das, pater? Iste panis sanctus est; ego hunc manducare non possum. Me etenim quem uides, aliquando loci huius dominus fui, sed pro culpis meis hic post mortem deputatus sum. Si autem mihi praestare uis, omnipotenti Deo pro me offer hunc panem, ut pro peccatis meis interuenias. Et tunc exauditum te esse cognosces, cum hic ad lauandum ueneris et me minime inueneris'. In quibus uerbis disparuit, et is qui esse homo uidebatur, euanescendo innotuit quia spiritus fuit.
7. Isdem uero presbiter ebdomade continua se pro eo in lacrimis adflixit, salutarem hostiam cotidie obtulit, et reuersus post ad balneum, eum iam minime inuenit. Qua ex re quantum prosit animabus immolatio sacrae oblationis ostenditur, quando hanc et ipsi mortuorum spiritus a uiuentibus petunt, et signa indicant quibus per eam absoluti uideantur.
(ed. de Vogüé 1980: 184-188)
Book IV 57.1-7
1. Peter. What is it, therefore, that could help the souls of the dead?
2. Gregory. If faults can be absolved after death, it often happens that the offering of the sacred Sacrifice of Salvation [i.e. Eucharist] significantly helps after death as well, and so sometimes the souls of the dead themselves seem to desire it.
3. For instance, the aforementioned Bishop Felix claimed to have learned of it from a certain presbyter of venerable life. This presbyter died two years ago and lived in Civitavecchia, and was in charge of the church of Saint John which is situated in the place called Terme Taurine [Tauriana]. This presbyter used to bathe as often as the necessity of his body demanded in the water produced by hot springs in this place.
4. When one day he had entered the baths, he found there some unknown man who was ready to serve him. This man removed the shoes from his feet, took his clothes, presented him with a towel when he was exiting the bath, and performed every service with great attention.
5. When he had already done him [this kind of service] many times, one day the presbyter on his way to the baths thinking to himself said: "I should not appear ungrateful to the man who has a habit of serving me in bathing with so great a devotion, but I ought to bring him something for his office". Hence, he took with himself two loaves of blessed bread [corona oblationum]. When he soon arrived to the place, he met the man and as usual let him serve in everything. He bathed and, when already clothed he wanted to leave, he gave the man what he had previously carried, asking him to kindly accept [the crowns], as he presented them to him out of love.
6. But the man responded with great lament: "Why would you give them to me, father? This bread is holy; I cannot eat it. For I was once the lord of this place, but because of my faults I was sent here after death. However, if you would like to help me, offer to Almighty God this bread to intercede for my sins. And you will know that you have been heard, when you come to bathe and you will not find me". After these words he disappeared, by which it was proven that he who appeared to be a man was, in fact, a spirit.
7. The presbyter mortified himself for him in tears continuously for seven days. Every day he offered the Sacrifice of Salvation, and after returning to the baths he could not find him anywhere. This story shows how greatly the sacrifice of the holy offering can profit souls, as even the spirits of the dead beg the living [to offer the Eucharist], and it seems that signs indicate who was absolved by it.
(trans. J. Szafranowski)


This is one of the earliest testimonies of a Mass celebrated in order to help the dead in achieving salvation. Since it is said that this anonymous presbyter said the Mass daily, it is quite probable that this was a private mass, i.e. it was performed in the absence of the faithful.
The remnants of the baths of Tauriana, called now Terme Taurine, are still visible today. These baths were also mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History (book 3.52) as "Aquenses cognomine Taurini", and Rutilius Namatianus in De reditu suo (book 1.249-260) as "Thermae Tauri".

Place of event:

  • Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia
  • Civitavecchia
  • Terme Taurine

About the source:

Author: Gregory the Great
Title: Dialogues, Dialogorum Gregorii Papae libri quatuor de miraculis Patrum Italicorum, Dialogi
Origin: Rome (Rome)
Denomination: Catholic/Nicene/Chalcedonian
Gregory the Great wrote his Dialogues between 593 and 594 in Rome when he was the Bishop of this city. They were written in order to present lives and miracles of Italian saints, many of them contemporary to Gregory, and the greatest of them, saint Benedict of Nurcia. The Dialogues are divided into four books in which Gregory tells the stories of various saints to Peter, who was a deacon and a friend of Gregory, and is also known from the Gregory`s private correspondence.
Grégoire le Grand, Dialogues, ed. A. de Vogüé, Sources Chretiennes 251, 260, 265, Paris 1978-1980.


Functions within the Church - Parish presbyter
Functions within the Church - Rural presbyter
Described by a title - Presbyter/πρεσβύτερος
Ritual activity - Eucharist
Ritual activity - Private mass
Food/Clothes/Housing - Health & hygiene
Ritual activity - Praying for the dead
Described by a title - Pater
Ritual activity - Daily mass
Devotion - Ascetic practice
Devotion - Supernatural experience
Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL: J. Szafranowski, Presbyters in the Late Antique West, ER294,