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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

Two authentic Merovingian royal diplomas record the foundation by Sigebert III, king of the Franks, of the monasteries at Stavelot and Malmedy (north-east Gaul) dedicated to, and holding relics of, *Peter (the Apostle, S00036), *Paul (the Apostle, S00008), *John (either the Baptist, S00020, or the Apostle, S00042), *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050), and other *unnamed saints (S00518); and their later confirmation by Theuderic III, king of the Franks, who also speaks of a dedication to *Mary (mother of Christ, S00033). Written in Latin in Gaul, 643/7-679/91.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Documentary texts - Donation document

Documentary texts - Charter or diploma

MGH DD Mer. (excerpts)

Sigebert III founds and endows the monasteries of Stavelot and Malmedy (643/8)
Sigibertus rex Francorum [v. inl.]. Vestra comperiat largitas, qualiter pro devotione animae nostrae servorum Dei compendiis opitulante Domino in foreste nostra nuncupante Arduuina in locis vastę solitudinis consulere cupientes, in quibus caterva bestiarum germinat, quatenus eorum meritis aeternę remunerationis copiam adipisci mereremur, qui ibdem patroni nostri Petri et Pauli, Iohannis, Martini vel aliorum sanctorum pignora venerare noscuntur, concessimus eis, ut ibi monasteria iuxta regulam coenobiorum vel traditionem patrum cognominata Malmunderio seu Stabelaco construerentur [...]

'Sigebert, king of the Franks, to his noble men. Let it be known to your largesse that, mindful of our soul, and desiring to make provisions, with the Lord's aid, for the provisions of the servants of God
so that we might earn an abundance of eternal rewards by their merits in our forest which is called the Ardennes, in a place of great solitude, where herds of wild beasts flourish, that same place where the relics (pignora) of our patron(s) Peter and Paul, John, Martin and other saints are known to be venerated, we have granted them this:, that they may construct monasteries there, in accordance with a coenobitic Rule, and according to the traditions of the fathers, called Malmedy and Stavelot ...'

124. Theuderic III confirms the properties of the monasteries of Staveloy and Malmedy, and the privileges granted by Sigebert III and Childeric III (679/91)
Theudericus rex Francorum v. inl. Si petitiones sacerdotum aut ecclesiarum prolatas, in quo nostris auribus recte poposcerint, perducimus ad effectum, regiam consuetudinem exercemus et in aeternum Dominum retributorem ex hoc habere confidimus. Ideo notum sit fidelibus nostris, quia venerabilis vir Godoinus abba de monasterio Stablau et Malmunderio, quę sunt in honore sanctae Marię et sanctorum apostolorum Petri et Pauli vel ceterorum sanctorum a bone memorię avunculo nostro Sigiberto quondam rege ob amorem Christi de foreste [et] fiscibus nostris super fluvium Amblauam constructa, clementiam nostram exposcit [...]

'Theuderic, king of the Franks, to his noble men. If we bring into effect the petitions brought forward by priests and churches, which are rightly asked in our ears, we thus exercise royal custom, and are sure that through this we will have the Lord as our eternal retributor. Therefore let it be known to our faithful, that the venerable man Godoinus, abbot of the monastery of Stavelot-Malmedy, which was built in honour of Saint Mary and the holy apostles Peter and Paul and other saints by our uncle Sigebert of happy memory, the late king, for the love of Christ from our forest and fisc over the river Warche, has asked of our clemency ...'

Text: Kölzer 2001, 315-7. Translation: B. Savill.

Cult Places

Cult building - monastic

Non Liturgical Activity

Saint as patron - of an individual
Construction of cult buildings
Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings


Unspecified relic

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - abbots
Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits
Monarchs and their family


According to the judgement of their most recent editor, 54 authentic or substantially authentic royal diplomas/charters survive from Merovingian Gaul which are dated or datable to the period up to ad 700. Of these, 34 appear to relate directly to the cult of saints, and are included in our database. All but one, possibly two (E06133, E06141), of the charters included here date from the 7th century, mostly its final quarter. Although a number of these diplomas have come down to us only in later cartulary copies, a remarkably large proportion (21 of our 34) survive as single-sheet, original manuscripts, the great majority of which come from the monastery of Saint-Denis. Due to the nature of western archival survivals, all these documents concern either land, legal immunities, or rights to tolls, and are preserved exclusively through interested religious institutions. For a hint, however, of the kind of Merovingian documents we may have lost, the scribal templates found in the Formulary of Marculf are suggestive (see e.g. E06231, E06233).

These Stavelot-Malmedy diplomas survive in copies dating from the 10th century onwards.


Beyond Saint-Denis, this is the only Merovingian royal diploma to mention the presence of relics (pignora) at a cult site, here apparently predating the foundation of the royal monastery. The apparent relegation of Martin, and promotion of Mary, as dedicatees in the period between the 643/8 and 679/91 documents is interesting. Stavelot-Malmedy appears to have been a so-called 'double-monastery', housing both men and women religious; if so, this diploma and several others seem to suggest a pattern by which prominent 7th century Franco-Gallic women's monasteries tended to be dedicated to Mary.


Kölzer, T.,
Die Urkunden der Merowinger, 2 vols. (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Diplomata; Hannover, 2001).

Further reading:
Brühl, C., Studien zu den merowingischen Königsurkunden, ed. T. Kölzer (Cologne, 2001).

Kölzer, T.,
Merowingerstudien, 2 vols (Hannover, 1998-1999).

Record Created By

Benjamin Savill

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00008Paul, the ApostlePaulusCertain
S00020John the BaptistIohannesUncertain
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristMariaCertain
S00036Peter, the ApostlePetrusCertain
S00042John, the Apostle and EvangelistIohannesUncertain
S00050Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397MartinusCertain
S00518Saints, unnamedsanctiCertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Benjamin Savill, Cult of Saints, E06226 -