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E00717: Victricius, bishop of Rouen (northern Gaul), writes in Latin a treatise In Praise of the Saints (De laude sanctorum) in c. 396, based on a homily for the arrival of relics of several saints sent to him by bishop Ambrose from Milan. The treatise contains theological considerations on relics, and alludes to the ceremony for the arrival in Rouen of the new relics. Overview entry.

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posted on 2015-09-15, 00:00 authored by CSLA Admin
Victricius of Rouen, Praising the Saints (De laude sanctorum, CPL 481)

The theological aim of the treatise is to argue that even the smallest part of a martyr's body is equally as honourable and as efficient as the entire body, or rather the entire person of the saint. The argument is as follows: The entire human race, being the offspring of Adam, is one body. Moreover, through baptism and faith all Christians become one body of Christ; this applies especially to martyrs, whose faith is perfect. Martyrs achieve immortality and are united with God, but since God is indivisible and is present everywhere as a whole, this is also what happens to those who are united with him, because they are 'the same as the highest power and the absolute and ineffable substance of godhead' (prima uirtus et absoluta inerrabilisque substantia deitatis: § 8, lines 20-21). We can only see the remains of saints, but in every smallest piece of them there is the full power of the martyr - and of God - a power which can perform miracles, defend from the assaults of the devil, and forgive sins. Since it is known that relics of one martyr, although deposited in different places, have the same healing power, it means that the saint's spirit is fully present in each of these places. Victricius encourages the acceptance of the real presence of the saints in their relics, through the heart, not through intellectual considerations.

The text includes several interesting passages concerning cult practices:

(§ 1) The relics of saints ('a very great part of the heavenly host', maxima pars caelestis militiae) are welcomed into the city. The relics of the saints are referred to as trophies (trophaea). Victricius excuses himself for coming late to welcome the relics - he was in Britain on a reconciliation mission which was, according to his words, ordered and protected by the saints - and for greeting them only forty miles from the city.

(§ 2) Victricius, addressing Ambrose and his envoys, assures them that the saints come to Rouen for the second time: first, they had entered the hearts of the people, now they enter the church of the city. The relics are welcomed by the entire clergy of the city.

(§ 3) The relics are welcomed by the monks, children, virgins, widows and all other people who live in chastity.

(§ 5) The reception of the relics and the theological meaning of particular ceremonies is described:

Age nunc, fratres dilectissimi, sacrosanctis reliquiis melle, lacte subacta psalmorum uerba libemus. Vigiliis et ieiuniis inebriata sobrietas ablutionem postulet peccatorum. Inclinemus ad nos sanctorum fauorem dum calet aduentus. Horum quidem domicilia superna sunt, sed nos ut hospites precemur. ... Vos quoque, sacrae inuiolatae que uirgines, psallite, psallite, et choreis tramites quibus ad caelum ascenditur pede pulsate. Illos, inquam, qui perpetuo paradisi uere gaudent, clara luce, nullis nubibus turbidi, illos plantis terite, illos adsultibus fatigate. ...

'Come then, beloved brethren, let us pour out for the sacred relics the words of psalms steeped in honey and milk. Let sobriety drunk on vigils and fasting beg for the cleansing of sins. Let us draw the saints' favour towards us in the fervour of their arrival. Their dwellings are on high, but let us invoke them as guests. ... You too, holy and inviolate virgins, chant, chant, and in your choirs dance on the paths which lead to heaven. Those that rejoice in the everlasting springtime of paradise, in brilliant light, not darkened by any cloud, those, I say, you must wear out with your dancing, tire with your leaping. ...'

(§ 6) Victricius welcomes the arriving relics and names the (relics of) saints who are already present in Rouen: John the Baptist, Andrew, Thomas, Gervasius and Protasius, Agricola, and Euphemia. In another part of the chapter he names John the Baptist, Thomas, Andrew and Luke: see $E00726.

(§ 11) Victricius argues that saints act in the same way in places where they are buried and in places where their relics are deposited. He names examples of particular saints: John the Evangelist, Proculus, Agricola, Antonius, Saturninus, Troianus, Nazarius, Mucius, Alexander, Datysus, Chindeus, Ragota, Leonida, Anastasia, Anatoclia: see $E00723.

(§ 12) If the people of Rouen pray to the saints on the day of their arrival at the city, the saints can intervene on their behalf and alleviate the punishment for their sins. The arrival of the relics to the city is juxtaposed with the arrival (adventus) of the emperor (see $E00725). Victricius alludes to a church which he ordered to be constructed to house the relics and which is still being built.

Text: Mulders and Demeulenaere 1985. Translation: Clark 1999. Summary Marta Tycner.


Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies Literary - Theological works


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Gaul and Frankish kingdoms

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Rouen Tours Tours Toronica urbs Prisciniacensim vicus Pressigny Turonorum civitas Ceratensis vicus Céré

Major author/Major anonymous work

Victricius of Rouen

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Sermon/homily

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Activities Accompanying Cult

  • Feasting (eating, drinking, dancing, singing, bathing)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Considerations about the nature of relics

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Crowds Women Children Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries Construction of cult building to contain relics


In Praise of the Saints was composed by Victricius, bishop of Rouen (Rotomagus) in Gaul as an expanded version of his homily, delivered on the occasion of the arrival of relics of saints to Rouen. The relics were sent to Victricius by Ambrose, bishop of Milan, and the treatise was most probably written immediately after their festal reception, and given to the envoys, who took it back to Milan (Clark 1999, 365-366). The date of composition can be established firmly: the homily was delivered after the invention of the body of Nazarius in Milan on 28 July 395 (E00905; E02034), and before the death of Ambrose on 4 April 397. Bishop Ambrose discovered in Milan bodies of several saints and sent their relics to other bishops in Italy and Gaul. As suggested in § 6 of the treatise, the reception commemorated by Victricius was almost certainly the second occasion on which relics of saints were transferred from Milan to Rouen. The text deals mostly with the theology of relics, with some references to the event itself. The theological argument is sometimes difficult to comprehend. On the text see Demeulenaere and Mulders 1985, 55-63; Clark 1999; Wiśniewski 2010, 28-33.


The theology of relics proposed by Victricius is exceptional. The author identifies the relics with God, and - since God is omnipresent - argues that the saints too are present in every piece of their relics, as much as they are in their full bodily remains and in their heavenly selves. The custom of transferring relics was in Victricius' times still exceptional and probably required good theological reasoning to be accepted. For a discussion, see Clark 1999, 365-376, and Wisniewski 2010, 28-33. From the text we learn that the arrival of the relics was a festal event. The bishop of the city (Victricius himself) welcomes the relics 40 miles from Rouen - in the text we find a suggestion that this distance is still not long enough (§ 1). A huge crowd of people, including the entire clergy of the city, monks, virgins, widows and children assemble to greet the saints and Victricius alludes to chanting and dancing which might have taken place during the ceremony. We learn that a church is being constructed to house the relics. Victricius argues that a prayer directed to the saints on the day of the translation is particularly efficient and effective when it comes to intercession in absolving sins. For the details of the arrival ceremony see E00725. In § 6 Victricius names saints whose relics are already present in Rouen. The list and the wording of the passage suggest that these relics had been sent to Rouen also from Milan (see E00726). In § 11 we hear about saints whose relics cure people away from the saints' burial places. The list of the names includes Nazarius, whose relics were discovered in Milan by Bishop Ambrose in 395 and probably formed part of Ambrose's gift to Victricius. It is uncertain whether the gift included relics of the other saints mentioned (see E00723).


Edition: Demeulenaere, R., and Mulders, J., Foebadius, Victricius, Leporius, Vincentius Lerinensis, Evagrius, Ruricius (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 64; Turnholti: Brepols, 1985). English translations: Clark, G., “Victricius of Rouen: Praising the Saints,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 7: 3 (1999), 365-399 (with also a full discussion). (available online: P. Bec, "In Praise of the Saints", in T. Head (ed.), Medieval Hagiography: An Anthology, London 2000, 31-51. Polish translation with introduction: Wiśniewski, R., Poczatki kultu relikwii na Zachodzie (Akme. Zrodla starozytne; Warszawa, 2010). Further reading: Clark, G., “Translating relics: Victricius of Rouen and fourth‐century debate,” Early Medieval Europe 10:2 (2001), 161-176.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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