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E03237: The Life of *Gaudentius (bishop of Novara, S01531) is written in Latin, presumably in Novara, at an uncertain date, perhaps in the late 7th or early 8th c., but by the 9th c. at the latest. It narrates Gaudentius’ association with *Laurentius (priest and martyr of Novara, S02438), *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, S00050), *Eusebius (bishop of Vercelli, S01219) and *Ambrose (bishop of Milan, S00490); his miracles, appointment as bishop of Novara and incomplete building of a basilica; after his death, the miracles performed by his incorrupt body on display in the church of the mother of God (Mary, mother of Christ, S00033), then in a tomb in the finished basilica.

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posted on 2017-07-11, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Life of Gaudentius (BHL 3278)


§ 1: Prologue. Praise of Gaudentius referring to the martyr Laurentius and Ambrose as examples.

§ 2: Presentation of Gaudentius. He is from Ivrea (urbs Eporediensis) but later becomes bishop of Novara (urbs Novariae) for twenty years. He observes strict discipline and chastity in his youth through prayer and abstinence.

§§ 3-5: He converts many through his speech, including his parents. He cures the sick and chases demons. However, because of the Devil, people start to reject Gaudentius’ teaching. He therefore leaves and reaches Novara, where he learns that a priest named Laurentius had already been fighting pagans and promoting faith. Laurentius has built fonts, performed baptisms, and preached Christianity, but he has been killed by a mob. Many healing miracles happen at his body in Novara up to this day.

§§ 6-8: The narrator goes back to Gaudentius. After his arrival in the city, Gaudentius follows Laurentius’ guidance and teaching, but after his death he becomes the notary of the blessed confessor Martin in Milan. Gaudentius deserves praise since he then takes side with Eusebius of Vercelli, who under the emperor Constantius, at a time when Arianism flourishes, is condemned to exile at the instigation of Valens and Ursicinus. He represents Eusebius in Vercelli while he is absent; after Eusebius’ return, the two become close friends and their congregations are united.

§§ 9-13: Gaudentius seeks to live in isolation, keeping fasts and vigils in a place within the walls of Novara. One night, he miraculously stops a fire. Shortly later, as Ambrose is returning from a trip to Vercelli and decides not to stop in Novara, his horse stops on the road and refuses to continue. Ambrose understands God’s will and goes to Novara, where he tells Gaudentius that he will become a bishop. However, Gaudentius replies that he will be consecrated by another bishop. And indeed, shortly after returning to Milan Ambrose dies and is succeeded by Simplicianus. Gaudentius is elected the first bishop of Novara after the people send a petition to the emperor and he is appointed by the archbishop Simplicianus.

§§ 14-16: Account of the many wonders performed by Gaudentius. Those who had killed Laurentius repent and are baptised thanks to his preaching; he performs many healing miracles and water dripping from his hands has the power to heal the sick. He instructs his people to live modestly and himself chastises his body. Over the course of 20 years he builds churches, monasteries and sanctuaries, and ordains several clerics. His death nearing, he takes care of his succession, telling to the clergy and the people that Agabius has been designed to succeed him and that they should accept it.

§§ 17-19: At his death, all the people assemble and mourn him. The basilica that Gaudentius had started to build and where he is now buried, was still unfinished (it was completed by his successor Agabius). People then prostrate themselves there weeping, to the extent that liturgy cannot take place. Gaudentius reveals to the people that his body should not be placed in a tomb but simply on the ground in the church of the Mother of God waiting for completion of the basilica. His body thus remains unburied from the 11th day before the Calends of February [= 22 January] until the 3rd day before the Nones of August [= 3 August]. It is fragrant and intact, his hair and nails even continuing to grow. This demonstrated that he was living in heaven with the angels. Many come to be healed at his body and people gather there from distant places. When the basilica is completed and consecrated, sixth months and twelve days after Gaudentius’ death, his intact body is buried there in a tomb, where miracles continue to happen.

§ 20: Narrative of a miracle. A wealthy girl from Rome is possessed by demons and is taken, chained, to the tomb of the Apostle Peter, who tells her she should go to Novara. She is brought their by her relatives and the demons are expelled as soon as she enters the basilica. She is freed from her chains, reaches the tomb, bursts into tears and praises God, before returning safely home.

§§ 21-22: Epilogue. Further praise of Gaudentius quoting Ps. 65:9; 107:35; 118:15-16; unworthiness of the writer; reference to the papa Leo, the bishop of Novara at the time of writing; closing prayer.

Text: Gavinelli 2001, 70-86. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Gaudentius, bishop of Novara : S01531 Laurentius, priest and martyr of Novara (northern Italy) : S02438 Ambrose, bishop of Milan, ob. 397 : S00490 Peter the Apostle : S00036 Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397 : S00050 Eusebius, bishop

Saint Name in Source

Gaudentius Laurentius Ambrosius Petrus Martinus Eusebius Mater Dei

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Novara Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Healing diseases and disabilities Changing abilities and properties of the body Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous sound, smell, light Bodily incorruptibility Exorcism Miracle with animals and plants Saint aiding or preventing the translation of relics

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Children Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Heretics Pagans Relatives of the saint Crowds Demons Animals

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Construction of cult building to contain relics Public display of relics


The Life is preserved in one main version, BHL 3278 (while BHL 3278a is a variant attested in the area of Novara, omitting the prologue and the epilogue). According to the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta (, BHL 3278 is preserved in three manuscripts, the earliest from the 10th-11th century, while BHL 3278a is found in four manuscripts, the earliest from Novara, from the 11th century. See however Colombo’s critical edition for a more comprehensive list of 18 manuscripts. More recently Gavinelli identified a manuscript, Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, S 55 sup., f. 122v-131v, from the second half of the 9th century, and provided a new dating, to the end of the 9th century, of the related and previously known manuscript, Intra, Archivio Capitolare, 12 (10), f. 113r-121r. As a result Gavinelli has published a new critical edition of BHL 3278, which we have used here. The Life has recently been translated into English by Everett, on the basis of Colombo’s edition.


The Life is of uncertain date of composition, but should have been written by the 9th century at the latest, when it is found in manuscripts, and most probably after Gregory the Great's Homilies on the Gospels, which seem to be borrowed by our Life (see Everett 2016), 33 n. 61). Summarising earlier hypotheses of dating, Gavinelli suggested the early 8th century, while Everett recently argued that it should be dated c. 685-725, both noting that this period corresponds to the earliest known evidence for cult of Gaudentius, and that the bishop Leo mentioned in the narrative may correspond to the only known bishop of Novara named Leo, who probably held the episcopal seat around c. 685-725. Repertories of Latin sources disagree on the dating: Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2194 places it in the 8th century, while Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 67 wrongly follows Colombo who argues that it is an 11th or 12th century text, although manuscript evidence contradicts this.


Edition (BHL 3278): Gavinelli, S., “Per una edizione della “Vita Sancti Gaudentii”: i codici carolingi,” Hagiographica 8 (2001), 35-86, at 70-86. English translation: Everett, N., Patron Saints of Early Medieval Italy, AD c. 350-800 (Toronto, 2016), 24-38. Further reading: Colombo, G., San Gaudenzio. Edizione critica della “Vita sancti Gaudentii” (Novara, 1983). Everett, N., Patron Saints of Early Medieval Italy, AD c. 350-800 (Toronto, 2016), 14-23. Gavinelli, S., “Per una edizione della “Vita Sancti Gaudentii”: i codici carolingi”, Hagiographica 8 (2001), 35-86.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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