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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 on virginity (8.3), when describing the court of heaven lists numerous saints with the cities of their resting-place. Written in Latin in Gaul, probably in the early 570s.

Evidence ID

E06245

Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems

Major author/Major anonymous work

Venantius Fortunatus

Venantius Fortunatus, Poems 8.3 (In nomine domini nostri Iesu Christi et domnae Mariae matris eius de virginitate, 'In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the lady Mary his mother, on virginity'), 129-172

This is an extract from a long poem describing the marriage in heaven of Christ with an idealised female virgin (for an earlier extract from the same poem, see E06237).

Sideri proceres, ad regia vota frequentes,
   certatim veniunt adglomerando chorum.                    130
Quo praeter Cherubin, Seraphin reliquosque beatos
   aligeros comites, quos tegit umbra dei,
bis duodena senum concursat gloria vatum,
   attonito sensu plaudere voce, manu.
His venit Helias, illis in curribus Enoch,                             135
   et nati dono virgo Maria prior,
Iurisconsulti Pauli comitante volatu
   princeps Romana currit ab arce Petrus:
conveniunt ad festa simul sua dona ferentes
   hi quorum cineres urbs caput orbis habet.                  140
Culmen apostolicum radianti luce coruscum
   nobilis Andream mittit Achaia suum.
Praecipuum meritis Ephesus veneranda Iohannem
   dirigit et Iacobos terra beata sacros,
laeta suis votis Hierapolis alma Philippum,                       145
   producens Thomam munus Edessa pium.
Inde triumphantem fert India Bartholomaeum,
   Matthaeum eximium Naddaver alta virum.
Hinc Simonem ac Iudam lumen Persida gemellum
   laeta relaxato mittit ad astra sinu,                               150
et sine rore ferax Aegyptus torrida Marcum,
   Lucae euangelica participante tuba.
Africa Cyprianum, dat Siscia clara Quirinum:
   Vincenti Hispana surgit ab arce decus.
Egregium Albanum fecunda Britannia profert,                155
   Massilia Victor martyr ab urbe venit.
Porrigit ipsa decens Arelas pia dona Genesi
   astris, Caesario concomitante suo.
Ipse Parisiaca properat Dionysius urbe,
   Augustiduno Symphoriane venis.                               160
Privatum Gabalus, Iulianum Arvernus abundans,
   Ferreolum pariter pulchra Vienna gerit.
hinc simul Hilarium, Martinum Gallia mittit,
   te quoque, Laurenti, Roma, beate mihi.
Felicem meritis Vicetia laeta refundit                               165
   et Fortunatum fert Aquileia suum;
Vitalem ac reliquos quos cara Ravenna sepultat,
   Gervasium, Ambrosium, Mediolane, meum:
Iustinam Patavi, Eufemiam huc Calchedon offert,
   Eulalia Emerita tollit ab urbe caput.                             170
Caeciliam Sicula profert, Seleucia Theclam;
   et legio felix Agaunensis adest.

'The aristocracy of heaven, thronging to the royal marriage, eagerly assemble to join their numbers to the choir. There in addition to the Cherubim, the Seraphim, and the other blessed winged attendants, whom the shade of God protects, the twice-twelve ancient prophets in their glory hasten together, their spirits roused, to rejoice with voice and hand.
Elijah comes on one chariot, Enoch on another, and by the gift of her son the virgin Mary takes precedence. With Paul, the expert in the law, accompanying him on his journey, the princely Peter hurries from the citadel of Rome. Those whose ashes the city that heads the world possesses assemble for the festivities, bearing their gifts. Noble Achaea dispatches its own Andrew, an eminent apostle, glittering with brilliant light. Venerable Ephesus sends John distinguished by his merits, and the holy land two saintly men named James, generous Hierapolis with joyful wishes deputes Philip, and Edessa Thomas as its devoted gift. Next India contributes triumphant Bartholomew, and lofty Nadaber that great man Matthew, while Persia sends Simon and Jude, its twin lights, to the stars, happily unclasping its embrace, and scorching Egypt, fertile without raindrops, sends Mark, in company with Luke, whose trumpet is the gospel. Africa offers Cyprian, famed Siscia Quirinus, the glory of Vincent ascends from the fastnesses of Spain. Fertile Britain advances noble Alban, the martyr Victor comes from the city of Marseille. Fair Arles provides as its holy offering Genesius, whom its Caesarius accompanies to the stars. Dionysius hastens from the city of Paris; from Autun you, Symphorian, come. Javols contributes Privatus, the rich Auvergne Julian, and beautiful Vienne Ferreolus to their company. At the same time from here Gaul sends Hilary and Martin, and Rome, blessed in my eyes, dispatches you too, Laurence. Joyful Vicenza submits Felix, fortunate in his merits, and Aquileia brings forth its own Fortunatus, Ravenna, dear to me, Vitalis and all the others there buried, and you, Milan, my Gervasius and my Ambrose. Padua’s offering is Justina and Chalcedon’s Euphemia; Eulalia raises her head from the city of Mérida. Sicily presents Cecilia, Seleucia Thecla, and the happy legion of Agaune joins up too.'

Text: Leo 1881, 184-185. Translation: Roberts 2017, 507 and 509.

Non Liturgical Activity

Prayer/supplication/invocation
Saint as patron - of a community

Source

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.


Discussion

This poem was perhaps composed for Agnes’s assumption of the role of abbess in the monastery of Holy Cross in Poitiers (western Gaul) in the early 570s (Reydellet 1994-2004, vol. 2, 129, n. 10).

The saints listed are for the most part very familiar and present no problems. However, Venantius Fortunatus' placing of Caecilia's martyrdom and burial in Sicily, rather than Rome, does not appear to be an error of textual transmission, and is hard to explain, since he is in general well informed in this poem on saints and their resting places
perhaps her cult was not well known in Gaul at the end of the sixth century. Her Martyrdom (E02519), although clearly composed in Rome, is admittedly vague about the place and date of her martyrdom.


Bibliography

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).

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

14/09/2020

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S01893Ferreolus, soldier and martyr of Vienne, ob. 303/304 FerreolusCertain
S02321Iustina, virgin and martyr of PaduaIustinaCertain
S02826Vitalis, martyr of RavennaVitalisCertain


Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Katarzyna Wojtalik, Cult of Saints, E06245 - http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E06245