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E04379: Paulinus of Nola, writing in Latin between 395 and 408, in Spain and later Nola (southern Italy), in his fourteen poems (the Natalicia) in honour of *Felix (priest and confessor of Nola, S00000), describe the devotion of pilgrims to Felix throughout the year and the feast day celebrations which take place in Nola.

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posted on 2017-11-17, 00:00 authored by frances
Paulinus of Nola, Natalicia

Summary and General Description:

The date of Felix's feast is identified as the 14th January in Nat. 3: it is twenty days after the solstice, on which day Christ was born in the flesh (post solstitium, quo Christus corpore natus) (verse 15).

Paulinus describes the crowds of pilgrims who are present at Felix’s tomb on feast days (Nat. 1, verses 10-15; Nat. 2, verses 20-26; Nat. 6, verses 181-209; Nat. 11, verses 10-15,). The cities and regions the pilgrims come from - all located in Italy - are listed in Nat. 3 (verses 55-78).

Lucani coeunt populi, coit Apula pubes
et Calabri et cuncti quos adluit aestus uterque,
qui laeua et dextra Latium circumsonat unda;
et bis ter denas Campania laeta per urbes
ceu propriis gaudet festis, quos moenibus amplis
diues habet Capua et quos pulchra Neapolis aut quos
Gaurus alit, laeta exercent qui Massica qui que
Ufentem Sarnum que bibunt, qui sicca Tanagri
qui que colunt rigui felicia culta Galaesi,
quos Atina potens, quos mater Aricia mittit.

ipsa que caelestum sacris procerum monumentis
Roma Petro Paulo que potens rarescere gaudet
huius honore diei portae que ex ore Capenae
milia profundens ad amicae moenia Nolae
dimittit duodena decem per milia denso
agmine; confertis longe latet Appia turbis.

nec minus ex alia populis regione profectis
aspera montosae carpuntur strata Latinae,
quos Praeneste altum, quos fertile pascit Aquinum,
quos que suburbanis uetus Ardea mittit ab oris,
qui que urbem liquere Cales geminam que Teanum,
quam grauis Auruncus uel quam colit Apulus asper;
huc et oliuifera concurrit turba Venafro,
oppida Samnites duri montana relinquunt.

'The Lucanian clans gather, the youth of Apulia, the Calabrians, and all the peoples of Latium, round whom both seas resound left and right. Campania, rejoicing throughout her sixty cities, takes pleasure in the feast being her own. The contingent includes the citizens which rich Capua contains within her large walls, and those whom fair Naples or Caurus feeds, those who cultivate the gladdening Massic vines, and those who drink at the Ufens and the Sarnus; those who work at the dry soil of the Tanager, and at the fertile fields of the well-watered Galaesus; and those whom the strong Atina and their mother-city Aricia sent. Rome herself so powerful through the sacred tombs of the heavenly princes Peter and Paul, is delighted that her population shrinks because of the glory of this day. From the mouth of the Porta Capena she pours forth thousands, dispatching them in a thick swarm over the hundred and twenty miles to the walls of friendly Nola. The Appian way is invisible for long distances through the thick massed crowds.

No fewer are the city bands which have set out from other areas and take the rough road along the steep Latin way. There are those nurtured by loft Praeneste and fruitful Aquinum, and those whom ancient Ardea sends from the coast abutting on the city. Some have left Cales and the twin towns of Teanum, where the sober Aurunci and the rough Apulians dwell. A crowd hastens also from Venafrum rich in olives, and the tough Samnites leave their high-perched towns.'

Earlier, Paulinus explicitly states that - in addition to honouring Felix - many of these devotees were hoping for a miracle from the saint (Nat. 3, verses 21-36).

Devotees donated various gifts to the saint, which included food, curtains, lamps and candles (Nat. 6, verses 25-43). Vows - sometimes inscribed in silver foil - were affixed to the door posts of the shrine (Nat. 3, verses 44-45; Nat. 6, verses 33-34). The tomb was richly decorated with curtains, lamps, flowers and anointed with spikenard and oil, which is later collected and believed to have miraculous properties (Nat. 3, verses 98-115; Nat 6, verses 25-43). The festival celebrations were not an entirely sober affair. At other times, Felix's tomb was anointed with wine (Nat. 9, verses 547-595). The drunken nature of the festival is hinted at in this section: Paulinus justifies the figural representations in the basilicas at Nola by suggesting the entertainment they provide prevents the rustics (agrestes) visiting the shrine from getting too drunk (see also $E04768).

Throughout the rest of the year, the locals around Nola sang hymns to Felix and donated gifts to his shrine. Nat. 12, for example, describes how animals were earmarked for sacrifice, driven to the tomb, slaughtered and their meat distributed amongst the poor (see $E04741). Paulinus compares his poem to the songs those in the countryside around Nola sing in devotion to Felix in their homes (Nat. 13, verses 84-104). The singing of devotees in the church of Felix is described in Nat. 9, verses 542-567.

Text: Dolveck 2015. Translation: Walsh 1975.
Summary: Frances Trzeciak.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Felix, priest and confessor of Nola (southern Italy) : S00000

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Italy south of Rome and Sicily Italy south of Rome and Sicily

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Nola Cimitile

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

Nola Adriatic Sea Adriatic Sea Adriaticum Mare Cimitile Adriatic Sea Adriatic Sea Adriaticum Mare

Major author/Major anonymous work

Paulinus of Nola

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

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 - Miracles

Miracle after death

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Contact relic - oil Contact relic - water and other liquids Making contact relics

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Oil lamps/candles Precious cloths Flowers Inscription


The Natalicia are a series of poems which were composed by Paulinus of Nola (ob. 431), to be delivered annually on Felix’s feast day (14 January) between 395 and 408. These poems were composed and delivered before Paulinus became bishop of Nola. Natalicium 1 was composed in Spain whilst the rest of the poems were composed and delivered at Nola. They provide an insight into the development of the cult of Felix in Nola under Paulinus. They are often understood in the classical tradition of ‘birthday poems’ – in this case Felix’s birthday being the day he was reborn in heaven. Yet Roberts (2010) has argued they equally incorporate tropes from epideictic poetry and speeches delivered at public festivals. Additionally, Nat. 3 and 4 – sometimes called the Vita Felicis – draw on hagiographic tropes. The Natalicia have been re-edited in their original order by Dolveck (2015). The concordance with the numbering of Wilhelm Hartel's earlier edition (1894) is offered below: Natalicium 1 (395) - Carmen 12 Natalicium 2 (396) - Carmen 13 Natalicium 3 (397) - Carmen 14 Natalicium 4 (398) - Carmen 15 Natalicium 5 (399) - Carmen 16 Natalicium 6 (400) - Carmen 18 Natalicium 7 (401) - Carmen 23 Natalicium 8 (402) - Carmen 26 Natalicium 9 (403) - Carmen 27 Natalicium 10 (404) - Carmen 28 Natalicium 11 (405) - Carmen 19 Natalicium 12 (406) - Carmen 20 Natalicium 13 (407) - Carmen 21 Natalicium 14 (408) - Carmen 29 For a fuller discussion of the Natalicia see E04741.


See E04609 for the identification of 14 January as Felix's feast day in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum. Paulinus' account of the groups who came to Cimitile (from Rome and from almost the whole of southern Italy) to celebrate Felix's feast day draws heavily on Virgil's famous passage on the gathering of the clans (Aeneid 7).


Edition: Dolveck, Franz, Carmina, Paulini Nolani, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 21 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015). Translation: Walsh, P.G., Poems of Paulinus of Nola, Ancient Christian Writers (New York: Newman Press, 1975), 148. Further Reading: Trout, Dennis, Paulinus of Nola: Life, Letters and Poems (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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