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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity


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


Agnellus of Ravenna, in his Liber Pontificalis Ecclesiae Ravennatis, written in Latin, quotes Latin inscriptions and refers to foundations in honour of the *Vitalis (martyr of Ravenna, S02826), *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033), *Gervasius and Prostasius (martyrs of Milan, S00313), and *Nazarius (martyr of Milan, S00281) in Ravenna (northern Italy). Agnellus claims these inscriptions and foundations were made during the episcopate of Ecclesius (bishop of Ravenna, 522-532); account written in Ravenna in 830/846.

Evidence ID

E05811

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)

Major author/Major anonymous work

Agnellus of Ravenna

Agnellus of Ravenna, Liber Pontificalis Ecclesiae Ravennatis 57

Ipsius temporibus ecclesia beati Vitalis martiris a Iuliano argentario una cum ipso praesule fundata est. Et hic pontifex in suae proprietatis iura aedificauit ecclesiam sanctae et semper uirginis intemeratae Mariae, quam cernitis, mira magnitudine, cameram tribunalis et frontem ex auro ornatam, et in ipsa tribunali camera effigies sanctae Dei genitricis, cui simile numquam potuit humanis oculis conspicere. Quis uir ille ausus est diutissime intuere imaginem illam, continentem ita uersus metricos sub suis pedibus, uidelicet:

Virginis aula micat, Christum quae cepit ab astris, 
Nuntius e caelis angelus ante fuit. 
Misterium! Verbi genitrix et uirgo perennis 
Auctoris que sui facta parens Domini. 
Vera, magi, claudi, caeci, mors, uita fatentur. [5]
Culmina sacra Deo dedicat Ecclesius. 

‘In his reign the church of the blessed martyr Vitalis was founded by Julian the banker together with this bishop. And this bishop on his own legal property built the church of the holy and always inviolate Virgin Mary, which you see, of wonderful size, the vault of the apse and the façade decorated with gold, and in this vault of the apse the image of the holy mother of God, the like of which can never be seen by human eyes. With these eyes, that man himself dared to contemplate the image for the longest time, which contained the metrical verses under its feet, namely:

The hall of the Virgin shines, she who received Christ from the stars, with an angel from the heavens announcing it to her beforehand. O mystery! The mother of the Word and perennial virgin, made parent of the Lord her Creator. Truth, the magi, the lame, the blind, death, life confess her [5]. Ecclesius dedicates these holy rooftops to God.’

Agnellus of Ravenna,
Liber Pontificalis Ecclesiae Ravennatis 59

Sed, sicut superius dixi, in tempore istius ecclesia beati Vitalis martiris a Iuliano argentario constructa est. Nulla in Italia ecclesia similis est in aedificiis et in mechanicis operibus. Expensas uero in praedicti martiris Vitalis ecclesia, sicut in elogio sanctae recordationis memoriae Iuliani fundatoris inuenimus, .xxvi. milia aureorum expensi sunt solidorum.

‘But, as I said above, in his reign the church of the blessed martyr Vitalis was built by Julian the banker. No church in Italy is similar in structures and in mechanical works. As for the expenses for the church of the said martyr Vitalis, as we find in the inscription of the founder Julian of blessed memory, twenty-six thousand gold
solidi were spent.’

[...]

Igitur iste beatissimus obiit, sepultus est in ecclesia beati Vitalis martiris infra monasterium sancti Nazarii ante altarium, in medio loco iuxta corpus hinc beati Vrsicini antistitis et inde beati Victoris, in medio autem iste.

‘Therefore when this most blessed man [Ecclesius] died, he was buried in the church of the blessed martyr Vitalis, in the
monasterium of Nazarius before the altar, in the central place, next to the bodies on the one side of blessed Bishop Ursicinus and on the other side of blessed Victor, in the middle of them.’

Agnellus of Ravenna,
Liber Pontificalis Ecclesiae Ravennatis 61

Sepultus est, ut diximus, in ecclesia sancti Vitalis. Et in atrio ipsius frontis aulae uersos metricos iussit tessellis argenteis scribere continentes ita: 

Ardua consurgunt uenerando culmine templa 
Nomine Vitalis sanctificata Deo. 
Geruasius que tenet simul hanc Protasius arcem, 
Quos genus atque fides templa que consociant. 
His genitor natis fugiens contagia mundi [5]
Exemplum fidei martirii que fuit.
Tradidit hanc primus Iuliano Ecclesius arcem, 
Qui sibi commissum mire peregit opus.
Hoc quoque perpetua mandauit lege tenendum, 
His nulli liceat condere membra locis. [10]
Sed quod pontificum constant monumenta priorum, 
Fas ibi sit tantum ponere seu simile. 

‘He was buried, as we said, in the church of San Vitale. And in the atrium at the from of this hall he ordered metrical verses to be written with silver tesserae containing the following:

The lofty temples rise to the venerable rooftop, sanctified to God in the name of Vitalis. And Gervase and Protase also hold this stronghold, whom family and faith and church join together. The father fleeing the contagions of the world was to these sons [5] an example of faith and martyrdom.

Ecclesius first gave this stronghold to Julian, who wonderfully completed the work commissioned to him. He also ordered it to be maintained by perpetual law that in these places no one’s body is permitted to be placed [10]. But because tombs of earlier bishops are established here, it is allowed to place this one, or one like it.’

Text: Deliyannis 2006. Translation: Deliyannis 2004.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)
Cult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)
Cult building - monastic
Altar
Descriptions of cult places

Non Liturgical Activity

Renovation and embellishment of cult buildings
Construction of cult buildings
Burial ad sanctos
Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops
Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Related Objects

Inscription

Source

Agnellus of Ravenna (ob. c. 846) was a deacon of the cathedral in Ravenna and – by hereditary right – abbot of two monasteries in Ravenna. He wrote his Liber Pontificalis Ecclessiae Ravennatis between 830 and 846, following the model of the Roman Liber Pontificalis. This work provides biographies of all the bishops of Ravenna from the legendary founder bishop Apollinaris to those active in Agnellus’ own day, and was originally composed to be delivered orally, most likely to clerics of Ravenna. This text is preserved in two manuscripts: one from the 15th c. (Bibliotec Estense Cod. Lat. 371 X.P.4.9.) and a fragmentary manuscript from the 16th c. (MS Vat. Lat. 5834). Agnellus bases his account of the lives of late antique bishops on documents preserved in Ravenna, stories which had been transmitted orally, and his own experience of the architectural landscape of 9th c. Ravenna.

Agnellus' work contains invaluable architectural and art historical information about Ravenna: Agnellus refers to several religious buildings in Ravenna and the neighbouring settlements of Caeserea and Classe. He describes their decoration and preserves several inscriptions, many of which are now lost to us. It must be remembered this is a 9th c. work. Agnellus’ descriptions of buildings and their fixtures is based on his 9th c. experience, and not late antique reality. Indeed, his accounts of the events of earlier years are often riddled with inaccuracies. Yet it is likely that his descriptions of the churches of Ravenna are more trustworthy. As Deborah Mauskopf Deliyannis argues, a comparison of surviving late antique mosaics with Agnellus’ account suggests that his descriptions were largely accurate. This is limited to what he does tell us – for example Arian foundations are often ignored whilst orthodox foundations are emphasised. Yet, overall, this text provides invaluable information about the cult of saints in late antique Ravenna.


Discussion

The church dedicated to Mary - known as the St Maria Maggiore - was ruined by the 17th c. From descriptions made in this period, it seems as if it was a cruciform church with a nave and aisles separated by arcades of eight columns. It had a triumphal arch held up by two columns, which presumably flanked the entrance to the apse. Deborah Mauskopf Deliyannis suggests that the original church was a free standing dodecagon, and that the basilica with the transept was added later. Reconstructions of this possible church are attached to this record.

Archaeological investigations conducted in the early 20th c. revealed that, 70cm below the original church floor of St Vitalis, there stood a rectangular chapel measuring 5.4 metres by 8.48 metres. In this chapel, remains of an altar surrounded by mosaic floors were found. This is thought to be the original structure dedicated to Vitalis, which was expanded significantly in the 520s. Several other polygonal structures can be found in Ravenna, but the octagonal structure of St Vitalis seems to be unique in late antique Ravenna.

J. M. Stansterre and E. Morini have both argued convincingly that, throughout Agnellus’ account, monasterium can used to mean any foundation – for example a chapel or church – dedicated to a saint. It does not necessarily refer to a monastery. As such, the original Latin is preserved in this record.

Reconstructions of these foundations and maps showing the likely locations of the foundations in Classe and Ravenna are attached to this record.


Bibliography

Text:
Deliyannis, Deborah Mauskopf, Agnelli Ravennatis Liber pontificalis ecclesiae Ravennatis (Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 199; Turnhout, 2006).

Translation:
Deliyannis, Deborah Mauskopf, The Book of Pontiffs of the Church of Ravenna (Washington D.C., 2004).

Further Reading:
Deichmann, Friedrich Wilhelm, Ravenna, Hauptstadt des spätantiken Abendlandes, vol. 1-3, (Wiesbaden, 1958-89).

Deliyannis, Deborah Mauskopf,
Ravenna in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, 2010).

Mackie, Gillian,
Early Christian Chapels in the West: Decoration, Function and Patronage (Toronto, 2003).

Moffat, Ann, "Sixth Century Ravenna from the Perspective of Abbot Agnellus," in: P. Allen and E.M. Jeffreys (eds,),
The Sixth Century – End or Beginning? (Brisbane, 1996), 236-246.

Morini, E., "Le strutture monastische a Ravenna," in:
Storia di Ravenna, 2.2, Dall’età bizantia all’ età ottania, ed. A. Carile (Ravenna, 1992), 305-312.

Schoolman, Edward,
Rediscovering Sainthood in Italy: Hagiography and the Late Antique Past in Medieval Ravenna (Basingstoke, 2016).

Stansterre, J. M., "Monaci e monastery greci a Ravenna," in:
Storia di Ravenna, 2.1, Dall’età bizantia all’ età ottania, ed. A. Carile (Ravenna, 1992), 323-329.

Verhoeven, Mariëtte,
The Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna: Transformations and Memory (Turnhout, 2011).


Record Created By

Frances Trzeciak

Date Last Modified

17/06/2019

Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristMariaCertain
S00281Nazarius and Celsus, companion martyrs of MilanNazariusCertain
S00313Gervasius and Protasius, martyrs of MilanGervasius, ProtasiusCertain
S02826Vitalis, martyr of RavennaVitalisCertain


Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Frances Trzeciak, Cult of Saints, E05811 - http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E05811