Site logo

The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity


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


The Life of *Caesarius (bishop of Arles, ob. 542, S00491), records in two books the bishop's life, miracles (several through objects that had been in contact with the saint), and death. Several churches and feasts in Arles are mentioned. Written in Latin by five clerics of the ecclesiastical province of Arles (southern Gaul), 542/5.

Evidence ID

E06283

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives

Literary - Hagiographical - Collections of miracles

Life of Caesarius, Bishop of Arles (Vita sancti Caesarii Arelatensis, BHL 1508-1509, CPL 1018)

Summary:

Book One

(1-2) Prologue: the authors the bishops Cyprianus, Firminus and Viventius, the priest Messianus and the deacon Stephanus address the virgin Caesaria and the nuns entrusted to her. They state that they have learned of the details of the life of Caesarius either at first hand or from the accounts of his followers.

(3-4) On Caesarius' parents, childhood, and early conversion to the religious life; (5-6) his way of life at the monastery of Lérins; (7-11) his early life at Arles, where his kinsman, Bishop Aeonius, released him from the authority of Abbot Porcarius of Lérins and ordained him as a deacon, then priest; (12) and his appointment to the abbacy of a monastery 'on a suburban island of the city' (in suburbana insula civitatis) (13-14) Aeonius' election of Caesarius as his successor, and the latter's unsuccessful resistance. (15) His achievements as bishop: his institution of further canonical hours of prayer at the basilica dedicated to *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030); (16) his learning; (17) his preaching; (18) his insistence on pastoral responsibilities; (19) his teaching of psalms and hymns to the laity; (20) and his provisions for the sick and poor.

(21-3) Caesarius' banishment from Arles on charges of treason, and exile in Bordeaux, where he miraculously put out a fire, and was recalled. (24) How he pardoned his accuser; (25) and his more general prohibitions against excessive corporal punishment. (26-7) His return to Arles, and further preaching in the city. (28) His initial foundation of a monastery for virgins, which was nearly destroyed when King Theoderic besieged the city. (29) How the Jews accused him of betraying the city. (30) How an Arian was struck down 'by divine power' (a divinitate) for lying in his bed. (31) The remainder of the siege: how a Jew was punished for attempting to betray the city; (32-3) how Caesarius was compelled to use the church's wealth to ransom captives; (34) and how, with the bishop's help, the city passed from the Visigoths to Ostrogoths without 'captivity or pillage.' (35) How he rebuilt his monastery for virgins 'on the side of the church,' and installed there his sister Caesaria.

(36) How Caesarius was again accused of treason, and taken to Ravenna, where King Theoderic recognised him as an 'apostolic man' (apostolicus vir). (37-8) How he gave away the silver the king had conveyed to him as a gift; how news of this reached Rome; and how in the meantime he ransomed more captives. (39-40) How at Ravenna he cured a dying boy; (41) and exorcised a demon from Helpidius, a deacon and physician who was close to the king. (42) His visit to Rome, where Pope Symmachus granted him the pallium, and the right for his deacons to wear dalmatics.

(43) Caesarius' return to Arles, whereupon he exorcised a woman in the church; (44) and continued to ransom captives. (45-6) On his good qualities of character. (47) His miracles: how he and (a reluctant) Bishop Eucherius healed a paralysed woman; (48) how he drove wild boars from a field; (49) how oil consecrated by him cured a slave of the patrician Parthenius of an 'evil affliction'; (50) how a physician who had slept with a prostitute on a bed which Caesarius had previously slept upon was seized by a devil; (51) and how oil blessed by Caesarius was not lost when the bottle in which it was contained was broken. (52) On his skilful interpretation of Scripture; (53) his personal virtues; (54) his teaching from memory, and his insistence that the Fathers should be read in church as well as the Gospel; (55) his sermons; (56) and his refusal to ordain deacons under the age of thirty.

(57) How Caesarius built a basilica with a nave in honour of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033) and side aisles in honour of *John (the Baptist, S00020) and *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, S00050):
'He designed and built a triple basilica in a single enclosure. He built the nave in honor of the holy Virgin Mary and adorned it more prominently. Of the side aisles, one was devoted to St. John, the other to St. Martin' (
disposuit fabricavitque triplicem in una conclusione basilicam, cuius membrum medium in honore sanctae Mariae virginis cultu eminentiore construxit, ex uno latere domni Iohannis, ex alio sancti Martini subiecit). How he installed freshly cut sarcophagi there for the burial of the virgins of his monastery. (58) How be buried his sister Caesaria there, between the altar and his episcopal throne, next to the grave he prepared for himself; and how she was succeeded as abbess by Caesaria the Younger. (59) Further remarks on Caesarius' teaching and preaching. (60) On the controversies surrounding his doctrine of grace; (61) his teachings on the theme of divine love; (62) his readings during meals, and his hospitality more generally. (63) The (episcopal) authors conclude by inviting Viventius and Messianus to add their own account, 'for you have learned much about him as a result of serving him from your youth.'

Book Two
(1)
Preliminary remarks: 'Here is what the priest Messianus and the deacon Stephanus said... with God's assistance we shall begin to briefly narrate his holy deeds just as we remember them.'

(2-4) Concerning Caesarius' miracles and habit of life: how he healed the daughter of his deacon Peter; (5) how he would often try to avoid performing miracles, so as not to seem 'overbold'; and how he even preached in his sleep; (6) how in his sleep he denied that there was a 'middle place' between heaven and hell; (7) on his personal virtues, and abhorrence of vices; (8-9) how his prayers fed the freed captives in Arles; (10-12) how he healed the patrician Liberius; (13-15) how 'a piece of the bishop's clothing that had come into direct contact with his body' (unum pannum de tesselis illius, quem ad nudo sui corporis habuisset) was secretly taken to heal Agretia, Liberius' wife, and how it achieved this, but only after Caesarius had ordered that it be placed overnight under the altar of the basilica of Stephen; (16) how he healed a woman with twitching hands, whom another bishop was unable to heal; (17) how oil consecrated by him was not spilt when the vessel in which it was contained was broken; (18-19) how he exorcised a slave girl from the demon Diana; (20) how he exorcised an eight-year old boy in clerical dress; (21) how he exorcised a girl in the parrochia of La Ciotat; (22) how his staff (baculus) was used to exorcise a bathhouse; (23-4) how he hoped that a young girl who had tricked him would maintain her virginity for the rest of her life; and how she died the next day, 'so that the prayer of God's servant would not go unanswered. These deeds are very well known in Arles at the basilica of the *Apostles (S00084).'

(25-6) Further miracles: how, in Marseille, Caesarius healed a woman with a dislocated foot, and miraculously saved a women's monastery from a fire; (27) how his staff (baculus), which by chance had been left behind, was made into a cross by a man of the Alpine regions and used to ward off disasters of the weather; (28) how Caesarius extinguished another fire; (29) how he exorcised the daughter of another man, who later became a priest; (30) and how he exorcised a man secretly in the forum. (31-4) On Caesarius' exhortations to his clergy; (35) and on the beauty and brightness of his appearance. (36) How he had visions of various unspecified *saints (S00518), and even Jesus and his disciples; and how two years before his death he was shown what his reward would be. (37) The authors apologise for the many stories about his lifetime they have been compelled to leave out.

(38) On 'the miracles his relics performed after his death, but before this account was written.' (39) How the 'public archivist' (chartarius publicus) Desiderius was cured of a quartan fever by drinking some of the water used for washing Caesarius' body; (40) how the son of Salvius was cured of a tertian fever in a similar way; (41) how the son of Martianus was cured of a fever, about which physicians could do nothing, by drinking water which had washed Caesarius' clothes; (42) and how a Frank was cured of a tertian fever in a similar way. (43-4) The author laments that he cannot tell more: but he is compelled to add finally the miracle of the lamp that did not smash when it fell next to Caesarius' body, during the vigil after his death.

(45) How Arles passed to 'the most Catholic kingdom' of Childebert (king of the Franks), and how Cæsarius 'did not betray the city as the Arians charged, but rather prayed constantly for all.' (46-7) How, aged seventy-three, Caesarius realised his death was imminent, and ordered that he be carried to his monastery of virgins in a sedan chair, where he made provisions for its future. (48) His death, on the third day after the feast of *Genesius (notary and martyr of Arles, S00263), and the day before the feast of the death and burial of *Augustine (bishop of Hippo, ob. 430, S00077). (49) How his clothes were snatched from his corpse by mourners and used to cure the sick:
'The clothes on his sacred corpse were snatched away with such pious violence by various mourners and members of the faithful that we priests and ministers who were in attendance could hardly remind them to wait patiently to receive the relics. From these relics, as I have said above, cures of the sick are with God's power repeatedly celebrated in unbroken succession' (
Sancti etiam corporis vestimenta ita a diversis lamentantibus vel fidelibus populis pia violentia diripiebantur, ut adsistentibus nobis presbyteris ministrisque vix potuerint vel ad suscipiendarum reliquiarum patientiam revocari. De quibus iugiter, deo praestante, sicut superius dixi, infirmorum curationes creberrime celebrantur). (50) His burial in the basilica of Mary, which he had built, where the nuns of his monastery are also buried.

Text: Morin 1942, 296-345. Translation: Klingshirn 1994a, 9-65. Summary: B. Savill

Festivals

Saint’s feast
Dating by saint’s festival

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)
Cult building - secondary installation (fountain, pilgrims’ hostel)
Altar

Places Named after Saint

Church
Other

Non Liturgical Activity

Composing and translating saint-related texts
Oral transmission of saint-related stories
Prayer/supplication/invocation
Construction of cult buildings

Miracles

Miracle during lifetime
Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather)
Punishing miracle
Healing diseases and disabilities
Exorcism
Miracle with animals and plants
Apparition, vision, dream, revelation
Miracle after death

Relics

Contact relic - oil
Contact relic - saint’s possession and clothes
Contact relic - water and other liquids
Eating/drinking/inhaling relics

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women
Ecclesiastics - bishops
Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy
Ecclesiastics - abbots
Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits
Relatives of the saint
Jews
Other lay individuals/ people
Monarchs and their family
Heretics
Physicians
Ecclesiastics - Popes
Aristocrats
Slaves/ servants

Source

The incipit of the Life of Caesarius, bishop of Arles (502-42), introduces its authors as five clerics from the late prelate’s ecclesiastical province: the bishops Cyprianus (of Toulon, c. 517-c. 545), Firminus (of Uzès, c. 534-c. 552), and Viventius (see unknown, ob. before 549), alongside the priest Messianus and deacon Stephanus, both of the clergy of Arles. Although the Life follows a broadly chronological structure, this is more strictly adhered to in the politically focused Book One, apparently authored by the bishops; by comparison, Book Two, the work of the Arles clerics, is expressly orientated around the saint’s ‘way of life and miracles.’ If our dates for Cyprianus' episcopate are correct, then we may securely date the composition of the Life to somewhere within about three years of Caesarius’ death. The work survives today in seven manuscripts; the earliest three are eleventh-century.


Discussion

The Life is addressed to Caesaria 'the Younger', abbess of Caesarius’ monastery for women at Arles, and (alongside the saint’s own will, E06932) may have ultimately been as much directed towards the safeguarding of Caesarius’ potentially fragile monastic and proprietorial legacy as the promotion of his cult – although of course these two purposes would have closely intertwined. It may also have been aimed at salvaging the (perhaps by the 540s rather dubious) reputation of the bishop: at three distinct points the Life defends Caesarius of accusations that he had betrayed Arles to its enemies (1.21, 36; 2.45), and the narrative of his glittering political career falls conspicuously silent following the passing of Arles from Ostrogothic to Merovingian hands (536), although admittedly the bishop must have been advanced in years by this time.

Composed as it was so soon after the saint’s death, the
Life provides only limited detail for the posthumous development of Caesarius’ cult. Yet as our database shows, we have very little surviving evidence for its development or diffusion across the later sixth and seventh centuries.


Bibliography

Edition

S. Caesarii opera omnia, ed. Morin, 2 vols (Maredsous, 1942), II. 296-345.

Translation

Klingshirn, W.E.,
Caesarius of Arles: Life, Testament, Letters (Liverpool, 1994), 9-65.

Further reading

Klingshirn, W.E.,
Caesarius of Arles: the Making of a Christian Community in Late Antique Gaul (Cambridge, 1994).


Record Created By

Benjamin Savill

Date Last Modified

22/09/2020

Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00020John the BaptistIohannesCertain
S00030Stephen, the First MartyrStephanusCertain
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristMariaCertain
S00050Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397MartinusCertain
S00077Augustine, bishop of Hippo, ob. 430AgustinusCertain
S00084Apostles, unnamed or name lostApostoliCertain
S00263Genesius, notary and martyr of ArlesGenesusCertain
S00491Caesarius, bishop of Arles, ob. 542CaesariusCertain
S00518Saints, unnamedsanctiCertain


Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Benjamin Savill, Cult of Saints, E06283 - http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E06283