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E04657: Paulinus of Nola describes two miracles effected by *Paul (the Apostle, S00008) and *Felix (priest and confessor of Nola, S00000). These events are described in a metrical letter in Latin written in Nola (southern Italy), and addressed to Cyntherius, an Aquitanian aristocrat, in c. 400.

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posted on 2018-01-23, 00:00 authored by frances
Paulinus of Nola, Ad Cyntherium (Carmen 24)

This metrical letter is split into two parts. The first describes a journey conducted by Martinianus – a messenger – which included a shipwreck in southern Gaul (lines 1-529). Martinianus experiences two miracles on his journey from Aquitaine to Nola, which are described and discussed by Paulinus. In the first, he is miraculously saved from drowning when his ship sinks. He was saved because, as he was leaving the ship, he took his copy of the Epistles of Paul the Apostle with him (lines 273-6):

hunc in pauore codicem sed nesciens
rebus relictis sumpserat,
uel ille codex spiritu uiuens sacro
non sentienti adhaeserat.

'In a panic when he had left all else behind, he had unconsciously lifted this book, or else that book which is alive with the holy spirit had attached itself to him without his knowledge'.

Paul’s power was present in the letters, and Martinianus was saved. Paulinus, in a clear reference to Paul's saving of his fellow passengers when shipwrecked off Malta (in Acts 28), also identifies the Apostle's special ability to save sailors (lines 285-298):

sed in suarum litterarum corpore 
Paulus magister adfuit 
amans que puro corde lectorem sui 
de mortis abduxit manu; 
iterum eximendos e maris fundo uiros 
largitus est Paulo deus. 

quae quondam in ipso nauigante apostolo 
fuit potestas gratiae, 
haec nunc per eius suffragata litteras 
Martiniano et ceteris, 
qui Christianis tunc cohaeserunt fuga, 
discrimen a discrimine 
tutum parauit, ut fideles inpiis 
discriminarat naufragos. 

‘But the master Paul was at hand in the physical presence of his Epistles. He loved this man who read him with a chaste heart, and so he rescued him from the hand of death. Once more God bestowed on Paul the deliverance of men from the depths of the sea. The same power of grace which the apostle possessed when he was himself afloat, having been obtained through his letters for Martinianus and the other Christians who then were clinging together in flight, provided a safe separation from danger, just as he separated the believers among the shipwrecked from the godless.'

Martinianus gets on another ship and reaches Italy. When travelling on the via Appia to Nola on a mule, he is saved from being thrown from the beast by Felix (lines 413-422).

nec sente uultum nec lapide artus contudit, 
Felicis exceptus manu; 
qui iam propinquantem aedibus fratrem suis. 

non passus occursu mali 
suis periclum in finibus capessere 
hostem remouit inuidum, 
et hunc fidelis conpotem uoti suis 
confessor induxit locis 
nostris que iuxta sedibus gratum intulit 
Felix patronus hospitem.

‘He did not bruise his face on the thorns nor his limbs on the rocks, for he was rescued by Felix’s hand. Felix did not allow our brother now approaching his shrine to encounter evil and sustain hazard on his own estate. So our confessor dislodged the jealous enemy, and conducted Martinianus into his abode, now that his faithful vow had been completed. This Felix our patron brought his welcome guest to our abode as well.'

The second half contains instructions to an aristocratic Aquitanian couple – Cyntherius and his wife – on how to raise their son as a candidate for the monastic life (lines 530-931).

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


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Felix, priest and confessor of Nola (southern Italy) : S00000 Paul, the Apostle : S00008

Saint Name in Source

Felix Paulus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters Literary - Poems


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Italy south of Rome and Sicily

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Nola Adriatic Sea Adriatic Sea Adriaticum Mare

Major author/Major anonymous work

Paulinus of Nola

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Miraculous protection - of people and their property Specialised miracle-working

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Aristocrats Ecclesiastics - bishops Other lay individuals/ people Animals


This metrical letter was composed by Paulinus in Nola around 400. It was addressed to an aristocratic Aquitanian couple – Cyntherius and his wife – who had entrusted their son to Sulpicius Severus’ monastic community at Primuliacum (modern day Prémillac) in southern Gaul. It is one of several letters which Paulinus addressed to aristocratic and ascetic Roman circles in the later fourth and early fifth centuries. The two sections of the letter seem to be brought together at random, but they are united by a focus on a specific topic. At the Last Judgement the damned and the saved will be separated. Throughout the poem, Paulinus focuses on this theme: Martinianus was saved from drowning while sinners died; Cyntherius and his wife are encouraged to offer their son to God and raise him to be one of the saved. Thus, just as Martinianus is saved from a shipwreck, Cyntherius’ son will be saved from the world. Indeed, in raising their child in this way, both Cyntherius and his wife will also be amongst the saved at the Last Judgement.


In this passage Felix is referred to as patron (patronus) of Nola and the surrounding area. For more on Paulinus' characterisation of Felix as the patron of this region, see E04767. Paul saved Martianus from drowning because he was "at hand in the physical presence of his epistles". This passage suggests that - in Paulinus' understanding - saints can act not only through bodily remains and contact relics, but also in a similar way through the texts authored by them. A similar account, though more explicit in its use of a text as a kind of relic, can be found in Gregory of Tours' account of the curing of a man's blindness through contact with a book of the miracles of *Nicetius (bishop of Lyons in Gaul, ob. 573, S00049), which he gives in his Life of the Fathers (E00059). It is also likely that both Paulinus and Gregory sought to make a further point about the reading of religious texts. Paulinus' poem focuses on the theme of salvation, and Martinianus' escape from drowning mirrors the escape of virtuous souls from hell. He only escapes with the aid of Paul's letters. Similarly, it is the highly symbolic disability of blindness which is cured by the book of Nicetius' miracles.


Edition: Dolveck, Franz, Carmina, Paulini Nolani, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 21 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015), 573-605. Translation: Walsh, P.G., The Poems of Paulinus of Nola, Ancient Christian Writers (New York: Newman Press, 1975), 221-244. 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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