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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 (1.15) to Leontius, bishop of Bordeaux, tells of a church of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033) founded by him in Bordeaux (south-west Gaul), in 542/571. Written in Latin in Gaul, 565/576.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems

Major author/Major anonymous work

Venantius Fortunatus

Venantius Fortunatus, Poems 1.15 (De Leontio episcopo, 'On bishop Leontius'), 53-58


Instaurata etiam sacri est baptismatis aula,
   quo maculas veteres fons lavat unus aquis.
Ecce beata sacrae fundasti templa Mariae,                 55
   nox ubi victa fugit semper habendo diem,
lumine plena micans imitata est aula Mariam:
   illa utero lucem clausit et ista diem.

'The hall of a sacred baptistery also has been restored, where a single spring cleanses ancient stains with its waters. Here you have founded a holy church to the blessed Mary, where night is bested and flees, and it is always day. The glittering church full of light is an imitation of Mary: she enclosed light in her womb, it encloses day.'

Text: Leo 1881, 17. Translation: Roberts 2017, 43.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Non Liturgical Activity

Construction of cult buildings

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; PCBE 4, 'Fortunatus', 801-822.

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 (this poem, 1.15, and 1.16), 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 PCBE 4, 'Leontius 16', pp. 1145-1149; George 1992, 108-113.

These verses, from a long poem to Leontius of 111 verses, mention his building in Bordeaux of a baptistry, and of a church of Mary.


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.

Février, P.-A., "Bordeaux," in: N. Gauthier (ed.),
Topographie chrétienne des cités de la Gaule des origines au milieu du VIIIe siècle, vol. 10: Province ecclésiastique de Bordeaux (Aquitania Secunda), (Paris, 1998), 19-33.

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

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

Record Created By

Katarzyna Wojtalik

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristMariaCertain

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