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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

Caesarius, bishop of Arles, in his Rule for Virgins, refers to the basilica of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033) in Arles. Written in Latin at Arles (southern Gaul), 524/534.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Canonical and legal texts

Major author/Major anonymous work

Caesarius of Arles

Caesarius of Arles, Regula ad virgines

45. [...] Si uero aliqua ornamenta uel a uobis uel ab aliquo de fidelibus monasterio conlata fuerint, aut usibus monasterii profutura uendantur, aut sanctae Mariae basilicae, si necesse fuerit, deputentur.

45. '[...] If any ornaments are given to the monastery either by you or by another of the faithful, they should either be sold to advance the activities of the monastery, or if necessary assigned to the basilica of St Mary.'

70. Ante omnia studendum est ut, cum aliqua de sororibus defuncta fuerit, sancto episcopo in notitiam deponatur, ut ipse eam usque ad basilicam, ubi ponenda est, psallendo pro sancta deuotione deducat, et clerici de sancta Maria.

70. 'Above all it should be ensured that when any of the sisters has died, it should be brought to the attention of the holy bishop, so that he may escort her as far as the basilica where she is to be buried, with psalm-singing for the sake of sacred devotion, and the clergy of St Mary.'

Text: de Vogüé and Courreau 1988, 230, 268. Translation: David Lambert.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Non Liturgical Activity

Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits
Ecclesiastics - bishops
Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy

Cult Related Objects

Precious material objects


Caesarius was bishop of Arles from 503 to 542 (for his Life see E06283). Among his other activities as bishop, Caesarius founded monastic communities for both men and women. The women's community was founded in 512, and dedicated to John the Baptist (known from Caesarius' will: E06932). Its first abbess, from 512 until her death in c. 525 was Caesarius' sister Caesaria the Elder. She was succeeded by Caesaria the Younger, a niece of Caesarius, who oversaw the monastery until her own death, probably in the late 550s (certainly no later than 561/2).

Rule for Virgins was composed in stages between the foundation of the women's monastery at Arles in 512 and the 530s (Klingshirn 1994, 118-119). Since the basilica of Mary was not founded until 524 (E07998), the two clauses quoted here must date from that year or later.

For more detailed discussion of the
Rule for Virgins, see Klingshirn 1994, 117-124, 250-255, and the introduction to de Vogüé and Courreau 1988.


The foundation of the basilica of Mary is described in the Life of Caesarius 1.57-8 (E06283), which shows that one of Caesarius' key purposes in building it was to provide a burial place for the women of the community he had founded. He himself was buried there on his death in 542. The basilica had a central nave dedicated to Mary and side aisles dedicated to John the Baptist and Martin of Tours, but was often referred to (as here) simply as the basilica of Mary. Although doubts have sometimes been expressed (e.g. Février 1986, 82), there seems no good reason to doubt that all references to a basilica of Mary in sources relating to Caesarius or to the monastery of St John are to this basilica (for a full discussion of the evidence, see Heijmans 2004, 257-67). For the foundation of the basilica, which can be dated to 524 by the church council held when it was consecrated, see E06283 and E07998. For later references to it, see E06932, E07999, and E08003.

The basilica of Mary is mentioned by name twice in Caesarius'
Rule for Virgins. One of these references (§ 70) relates specifically to its role as a funerary church, giving instructions on how the body of a deceased nun is to be brought to the church by the bishop and clergy accompanied by psalm-singing. The other reference (§ 45) is to the disposal of 'ornaments' (ornamenta) given to the community it is clear from the rest of the clause that the reference is to ornaments suitable for decorating a church. If these cannot be sold, they are to be given to the basilica of Mary.

While these two references are clearly to the basilica founded by Caesarius in 524, there is an unresolved question about whether several other passages in the
Rule, which simply refer to 'the basilica' without further identification, are also to this church. Among other things, it is clear from the Rule that the unnamed basilica was physically attached to the monastery of St John (§ 2 of the Rule states that the entrance of the monastery was there): if this was the basilica of Mary (whose exact location is not stated in any of the written sources, and which has not been identified archaeologically) then it formed part of the same physical complex as the monastery. However, this raises a number of potential problems, one being the question of whether it was yet acceptable to construct a burial place within the walls of the city at the time of the basilica's construction. Given the complexity of the evidence and the scholarly discussion, we will not attempt to resolve the issue here: for further discussion see Benoit 1951, Klingshirn 1994, 118, n. 34, and Diem 2014, 210-213 (arguing that St Mary was part of the monastery complex), and de Vogüé and Courreau 1988, 98-114, and Heijmans 2004, 263-67 (arguing that it was physically separate from the monastery and probably outside the walls of Arles). The Rule's clause on funerals (§ 70) has been a point of discussion in the debate, since it seems to imply that the movement of a nun's body from the monastery to the basilica involved a formal procession, and has therefore been cited as evidence that the basilica was on a separate site (e.g. Heijmans 2004, 267).


De Vogüé, A., and Courreau, J., Césaire d'Arles, Œuvres monastiques. Tome I, Œuvres pour les moniales (Sources Chrétiennes 345; Paris, 1988), with introduction, French translation and commentary.

Morin, G.,
Sancti Caesarii Arelatensis Opera Varia (Maredsous, 1942), 101-124.

Further reading:
Benoît, F., "Le premier baptistère d'Arles et l'Abbaye Saint-Césaire. Nouvelles recherches sur la topographie paléochrétienne d'Arles du IVe au VIe siècle," Cahiers Archéologiques 5 (1951), 31-59.

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: 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).

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

Record Created By

David Lambert

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristMariaCertain

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