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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world

Venantius Fortunatus, in a poem (1.9) on a church of *Vincentius (probably the martyr of Agen, S00432), built at 'Vernemetis' by Leontius, bishop of Bordeaux, in 542/571, also mentions miracles occurring at the site; presumably within the diocese of Bordeaux. Written in Latin in Gaul, 565/576.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems

Major author/Major anonymous work

Venantius Fortunatus

Venantius Fortunatus, Poems 1.9 (Item de basilica Sancti Vincenti Vernemetis, 'Again on the church of Saint Vincent at Vernemet'), 5-24

Vincentius deserves to be exalted everywhere:

Ecce beata nitent Vincenti culmina summi,                       5
   munere marturii qui colit astra poli,
promptus amore pio quae papa Leontius olim
   condidit eximio consolidata loco.
Nomine Vernemetis voluit vocitare vetustas,
   quod quasi fanum ingens Gallica lingua refert.                10
Auspicii praemissa fides erat arce futura,
   ut modo celsa domus staret honore dei.
Hic etiam sanctus, domini suffultus amore,
   virtutis summae signa tremenda dedit.
Nam cum templa dei praesul de more dicavit,                   15
   martyris adventu daemonis ira fugit;
redditur incolomis quidam de peste maligna,
   cui vidisse pii templa medella fuit.
Emicat aula potens divino plena sereno,
   ut merito placeat hic habitare deo.                                20
Nunc specie suadente loci ac virtutis honore
   evocat hic populos hinc decus, inde salus.
Qui plebem accendit venerandae conditor arcis,
   talibus officiis praemia iusta metet.

'Look, here the blessed roofs of mighty Vincent shine out, who as reward for martyrdom inhabits the starry heavens. Bishop Leontius, impelled by holy love, established this structure on a firm foundation at an excellent site. (9) The people of the past chose to dub it by name Vernemet, which in the Gallic tongue conveys the sense 'great shrine'. With this omen a pledge was made of a building that was to come, that soon a lofty house would stand there in honor of God. Here too the saint, sustained by the love of the Lord, gave daunting proofs of his high power. (15) For when according to custom the bishop dedicated God’s church, at the coming of the martyr a demon’s rage took to flight: a sick man, suffering a cruel disease, was made sound; the mere sight of the saint's sanctuary served as cure. The mighty church is aglow, filled with a calm, divine light, so that rightly here God is pleased to make his abode. (21) Now the beauty of the site and the glory of its miracles attract the people; two forces summon them, its splendor and its healing powers. May the founder of this sacred building, inspiration of his people, reap just rewards for such services at these.'

Text: Leo 1881, 12-13.
Translation: Roberts 2017, 29 and 31.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Non Liturgical Activity

Construction of cult buildings
Oral transmission of saint-related stories


Miracle after death
Healing diseases and disabilities


Unspecified relic
Transfer, translation and deposition of relics

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops


Venantius Fortunatus was born in northern Italy, near Treviso, and educated at Ravenna. In the early 560s he crossed the Alps into Merovingian Gaul, where he spent the rest of his life, making his living primarily through writing Latin poetry for the aristocracy of northern Gaul, both secular and ecclesiastical. His first datable commission in Gaul is a poem to celebrate the wedding in 566 of the Austrasian royal couple, Sigibert and Brunhild. His principal patrons were Radegund and Agnes, the royal founder and the first abbess of the monastery of the Holy Cross at Poitiers, as well as Gregory, the historian and bishop of Tours, Leontius, bishop of Bordeaux, and Felix, bishop of Nantes, but he also wrote poems for several kings and for many other members of the aristocracy. In addition to occasional poems for his patrons, Fortunatus wrote a four-book epic poem about Martin of Tours, and several works of prose and verse hagiography. The latter part of his life was spent in Poitiers, and in the 590s he became bishop of the city; he is presumed to have died early in the 7th century. For Fortunatus' life, see Brennan 1985; George 1992, 18-34; Reydellet 1994-2004, vol. 1, vii-xxviii; Pietri and Heijmans 2013, 801-22, 'Fortunatus'.

The eleven books of Poems (
Carmina) by Fortunatus were almost certainly collected and published at three different times: Books 1 to 7, which are dedicated to Gregory of Tours, in 576; Books 8 and 9 after 584, probably in 590/591; and Books 10-11 only after their author's death. A further group of poems, outside the structure of the books, and known from only one manuscript, has been published in modern editions as an Appendix to the eleven books. For further discussion, see Reydellet 1994-2004, vol. 1, lxviii-lxxi; George 1992, 208-211.

Almost all of Fortunatus' poems are in elegiac couplets: one hexameter line followed by one pentameter line.

For the cult of saints, Fortunatus' poems are primarily interesting for the evidence they provide of the saints venerated in western Gaul (where most of his patrons were based), since many were written to celebrate the completion of new churches and oratories, and some to celebrate collections of relics. For an overview of his treatment of the cult of saints, see Roberts 2009, 165-243.


Leontius, bishop of Bordeaux, was a patron of Fortunatus and he and his buildiing-works are the subject of several of his poems, including two poems dedicated specifically to him (1.15 and 16), and one to his wife Placidina (1.17). He is first documented as bishop of Bordeaux in 541/549 and last documented in 561/567, but we do not know when he died. For Leontius see Pietri and Heijmans', 1145-49, 'Leontius 16'; George 1992, 108-113.

The title of this poem (Item de basilica Sancti Vincenti Vernemetis), suggests it refers to the same church as the preceding poem, 1.8 (E05586). Roberts, however, argues that the two poems refer to different churches, and indeed, while this poem (1.9) appears to describe a wholly new construction, Poem I.8 seems to record the provision of a new roof for an existing structure (Roberts 2017, 843, where the etymology of the name Vernemetis is also discussed).

If our poem refers to the same church as
Poem 1.8, then the Vincent of the dedication was certainly Vincentius, martyr of Agen (in the territory of Bordeaux) - see the discussion in E05586. But if the two churches were different, then Vincentius of Zaragoza and Valencia, an important saint whose cult certainly reached into Gaul, is another possible dedicatee.


Editions and translations:
Leo, F., Venanti Honori Clementiani Fortunati presbyteri Italici opera poetica (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi 4.1; Berlin: Apud Weidmannos, 1881).

Roberts, M.,
Poems: Venantius Fortunatus (Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 46; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017).

George, J.,
Venantius Fortunatus, Personal and Political Poems (Translated Texts for Historians 23; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1995).

Reydellet, M.,
Venance Fortunat, Poèmes, 3 vols. (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1994-2004).

Further reading:
Brennan, B., "The Career of Venantius Fortunatus," Traditio 41 (1985), 49-78.

George, J.,
Venantius Fortunatus: A Latin Poet in Merovingian Gaul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

Pietri, L. and Heijmans, M.,
Prosopographie chrétienne du Bas-Empire, 4 Prosopographie de la Gaule chrétienne (314-614), 2 vols. (Paris 2013).

Roberts, M.,
The Humblest Sparrow: The Poetry of Venantius Fortunatus (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009).

Record Created By

Katarzyna Wojtalik

Date of Entry


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00290Vincentius/Vincent, deacon and martyr of Zaragoza and ValenciaUncertain
S00432Vincentius, martyr of AgenVincentiusUncertain

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