Site logo

The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

The rule for nuns produced by Aurelianus, bishop of Arles (ob. 551), refers to the monastery and basilica of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033) in Arles. Written in Latin at Arles (southern Gaul), 546/551.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Canonical and legal texts

Aurelianus of Arles, Rule for Virgins (Regula ad virgines)

Prol. Sanctis et in Christo venerandis sororibus in monasterio beatae Mariae quod, Deo iubente, intra muros Arelatensis urbis fecimus, constitutis, Aurelianus episcopus. [...]

'Prologue. Bishop Aurelianus to the sisters, holy and venerable in Christ, placed in the monastery of the blessed Mary, which, at God's command, we have established within the walls of the city of Arles [...]'

14. Nec viri nec mulieres saeculares in monasterium ingrediantur, praeter in basilicam Beatae Mariae et in salutatorium.

14. 'Neither men nor secular women may enter the monastery, except the basilica of the blessed Mary and the

38. Cursum diurnum vel nocturnum, id est, matutinos, vigilias, nocturnos, vesperam, et duodecimam in basilica Dominae Mariae congregatio dicat. Quod si hiems aspera fuerit matutinos tantum, vesperam et duodecimam in praedicta basilica dicite: secundam vero, tertiam, sextam et nonam in interiori oratorio: propter illos qui aut orare cupiunt, aut abbatissae occurrunt, aut parentes suas requirunt. Quando aliqua defuncta fuerit, usque mediam noctem eam paucae sorores in oratorio pervigilent, et missae de Apostolo fiant; post mediam noctem quae vigilaverunt quiescant; et iterum aliae vigilent, et ponite hoc in notitiam sancto episcopo, ut eam iubeat ad locum ubi ponenda est deportari.

38. 'Let the congregation say the diurnal and nocturnal office, that is: matins, vigils, nocturns, vespers and the twelfth hour in the basilica of the Lady Mary. But if there is a harsh winter, say only matins, vespers and the twelfth hour in the aforementioned basilica, but the second, third, sixth and ninth hours in the interior oratory: because of those who either want to pray or are meeting the abbess, or seek their parents. When someone has died, let a few sisters watch over her in the oratory until the middle of the night, and let masses of the Apostle be held; after midnight let those holding vigil rest and again let others watch, and bring this to the notice of the holy bishop, so that he may order her to be removed to the place where she is to be buried.'

Text: PL 68, 399-406. Translation: David Lambert.

Cult Places

Cult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)
Cult building - monastic

Non Liturgical Activity

Saint as patron - of a community

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits


Aurelianus, bishop of Arles from 546 to 551 (PCBE 4, 'Aurelianus 5'), founded male and female monasteries in the city (for the men's monastery, see E07748) and composed rules for both. His Regula ad virgines is preserved in the Codex regularum, the collection of monastic rules compiled in the early 9th century by the monastic reformer Benedict of Aniane (ob. 821).

Aurelianus was the successor but one of Caesarius (ob. 542) as bishop of Arles, after the short tenure of Auxanius (542-546). He became bishop through the patronage of King Childebert at the age of only 23 (Heijmans 2004, 296, describes him as being 'parachuted' into the see). He appears extremely confident and ambitious in his activities as bishop, acting in a way that suggests he was seeking to emulate his celebrated predecessor (and unlike Caesarius, he could have confidence in the support of the ruling monarch). However, his career was cut short when he died only five years into his tenure as bishop.


The women's monastery at Arles founded by Aurelianus in the late 540s and dedicated to Mary survived for at least a century, since a letter (E07948) was addressed to it by John, bishop of Arles in the 660s. Its subsequent fate is unknown.

In addition to the dedication of the monastery to Mary, two clauses in the
Rule refer to a basilica of Mary. These seem to imply that the basilica was physically part of the monastery: the first (§ 14) does so more or less explicitly, saying that non-members of the community cannot enter the monastery 'except' (praeter) the basilica and the salutatorium (a supervised meeting-room). The second (§ 38) instructs the nuns to observe the liturgical Hours in the basilica, also implying that it was part of the monastic complex.

The references in Aurelianus'
Rule to a basilica of Mary raise the question of whether it was the same building as the basilica of Mary founded by Caesarius (see E07949). It would seem at first sight that references to a basilica of Mary in Arles without any further detail or qualification would naturally apply to Caesarius' church, but this raises a number of potential problems. First, as Aurelianus' monastery was within the city walls, this means that Caesarius' basilica of Mary must have been as well, something which some scholars have been reluctant to admit, given its role as a burial place. In addition, by attaching his monastery to the existing basilica and giving his nuns a direct and public role in its liturgy, Aurelianus would have been making a very obvious challenge to the authority over it of the monastery of St John and its abbess (at this time still Caesarius' niece, Caesaria the Younger). The challenge is compounded if one interprets the references in Caesarius' Rule for Virgins to an unnamed basilica attached to the monastery of St John (see again E07949) as being to the basilica of Mary, since in this case the implication is that Aurelianus' new monastery was located almost or even literally next door to the one founded by Caesarius.

For these reasons, scholars have generally been reluctant to identify the basilica in Aurelianus'
Rule with the one founded by Caesarius. Février 1986, 83, concluded that it was impossible to identify the precise location of Aurelianus' monastery ('Où localiser ce nouveau monastère? Je ne sais.'); Février had no problem with the concept of multiple basilicas in Arles dedicated to Mary, since he was willing to entertain (ibid. 82), even if not decisively endorse, the idea that the basilica dedicated to Mary by Caesarius in 524 (E07998), was a different foundation from the funerary basilica associated with the women's monastery, which would imply that by the middle of the century, after Aurelianus' foundation, there were not just two but three basilicas in Arles dedicated to Mary (this idea is dismissed by Heijmans 2004, 257, n. 105). Marc Heijmans, in his monograph on late antique Arles (Heijmans 2004, 295-6) also concludes that the location of the basilica cannot be known, beyond the attested fact that it was within the walls, and that the church cannot be identified with any other church in in Arles with the same dedication (i.e. Caesarius' foundation).

In contrast, the most recent treatment of the issue, by Albrecht Diem (Diem 2014, 210-213), assumes that all references to a basilica in the
Rules of Caesarius and Aurelianus are to the same building, even while recognising the problematic implications of this idea: he acknowledges that the implied appropriation of Caesarius' basilica by Aurelianus would have been 'a massive provocation', and that it suggests that 'we have to assume that there were serious conflicts between the young bishop of Arles and Caesarius' monastery' (Diem 2014, 211-212) conflicts of which there is no other sign in the (admittedly very sparse) evidence. Diem also takes the statement in the prologue to Aurelianus' Rule that his monastery was within the walls of Arles as 'a conclusive argument' that Caesarius' triple basilica was within the walls (ibid. 211). But of course it is only conclusive if one accepts that the two basilicas were the same, which is the very point in dispute.

A potentially decisive piece of evidence on this issue was pointed out by Heijmans in his 2004 monograph (295-6). In § 38, the clause which prescribes the services to be held in the basilica, it is stated that when a nun dies her funeral is to be held in the basilica, but her body is then to be
removed for burial (ad locum ubi ponenda est deportari), thus implying that the basilica was not used for burials, which was precisely the main function of the basilica founded by Caesarius. While it is not impossible to imagine ways round this (e.g. that the nuns of St John's maintained a monopoly of burials in the basilica, forcing those of St Mary's to be buried elsewhere), the most natural interpretation is simply that we are dealing with two different churches.

Regardless of other issues, a notable difference between the communities founded by Caesarius and Aurelianus was that Caesarius' nuns were strictly enclosed and forbidden to leave the confines of their monastery even to enter the basilica, while those of Aurelianus' foundation were specifically instructed by his
Rule (§ 38) to observe the liturgical Hours in the basilica. They would therefore have been much more visible to the wider population of the city than the members of Caesarius' community.


Patrologia Latina 68, 399-406.

Further reading:
Diem, A., "
... ut si professus fuerit se omnia impleturum, tunc excipiatur. Observations on the Rules for Monks and Nuns of Caesarius and Aurelianus of Arles," in: V. Zimmerl-Panagl, L.J. Dorfbauer, and C. Weidmann (eds.), Edition und Erforschung lateinischer patristischer Texte – 150 Jahre CSEL. Festschrift für Kurt Smolak zum 70. Geburtstag (Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2014), 191-224.

Février, P.-A., "Arles," in: N. Gauthier and J.-Ch. Picard (eds.), Topographie chrétienne des cités de la Gaule des origines au milieu du VIIIe siècle, vol. 3: Provinces ecclésiastique de Vienne et d'Arles (Viennensis et Alpes Graiae et Poeninae) (Paris: Boccard, 1986), 73-84.

Heijmans, M.,
Arles durant l'Antiquité tardive. De la duplex Arelas à l'Urbs Genesii (Rome: École Françiase de Rome, 2004).

Record Created By

David Lambert

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristMariaCertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
David Lambert, Cult of Saints, E07947 -