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E04768: 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), describes the building work undertaken at Felix’s tomb in Nola/Cimitile under Paulinus’ supervision. Paulinus also refers to the relics of several other apostolic saints and martyrs housed in the basilica complex at Nola.

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posted on 2018-01-30, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Paulinus of Nola, Natalicia

Summary of the information in the Natalicia about cult buildings at Nola.

Natalicium 6, verses 175-180 [AD 400]
Paulinus states that Felix's tomb is surrounded by five basilicas.

Natalicium 9, verses 360–595 [403]
Paulinus provides an extended account of the basilica complex at Nola/Cimitile. He draws attention to improvements he has made: he had the outer walls repainted, he replaced the roof of the church and he replaced a run-down garden with a stylish forecourt. From this forecourt, devotees can see the tomb of the martyr. In the church itself, he added marble facings, wooden panels – which look like ivory – and lamps on brass chains.

Around the outer courtyard, rooms in which pilgrims can stay are on the first floor. Resting in altars nearby are the relics of several saints, including *Andrew (the Apostle, S00288), *John (the Apostle and Evangelist, S00042), *Thomas (the Apostle, S00199) and *Luke (the Evangelist, S00442), *Agricola and Vitalis (master and slave, martyrs of Bologna, S00310), *Proculus (martyr of Bologna, S00448), *Euphemia (martyr of Chalcedon, S00017) and *Nazarius (martyr of Milan, S00281).

Throughout the complex are numerous fountains and plentiful water flows forth from them. The churches of this complex are connected by passageways and archways, which allow light to pass through but retain the privacy of the churches.

The walls of the church are adorned with several paintings which depict biblical scenes. Paulinus notes that images depicting figures are unusual, but justifies this by drawing attention to the way they provide Christian education for the rustics (agrestes). The pictures also distract the rustics from getting drunk.

Natalicium 10, verses 1–59; 180–325 [406]
Paulinus describes the forecourt of the basilica complex. This courtyard is surrounded on one side by rooms for pilgrims, and on the other by churches. Images of holy men and women and biblical figures can be found on the walls of the cloisters. This is the same courtyard, which houses shrines dedicated to martyrs and apostles, which is described in Nat. 9.

In the inner courtyard which has a roof, white columns and a fountain protected by a structure of bronze latticework, several smaller fountains surround a large one in the middle. Paulinus refers to this courtyard as the 'heart' (gremium) of the basilica complex.

Paulinus then describes a chapel which sits in a church. This chapel has three parallel recesses and a ‘star-spangled dome’ (stellatus tholus), Paulinus states that it has been dedicated to the purifying font and the eucharist. In addition to this improvement, two basilicas dedicated to Felix have been repainted. The value of renovating these buildings is then discussed at length.

Natalicium 11, verses 395-424; 468-484; 604-631 [407]
Paulinus narrates how a thief stole treasures from the church, only for them to be miraculously returned. In this account, numerous details about the buildings at Nola are provided. The highly decorated lamps which adorn the interior of Felix’s shrine are described. After committing his crime, the thief hid amongst the tombs which were set along the side of the larger buildings of the basilica complex. A detailed description of the golden cross, which was placed in Felix’s shrine and which was stolen by the thief, is provided.

Summary: Frances Trzeciak.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Felix, priest and confessor of Nola : S00000 Andrew, the Apostle : S00288 John, the Apostle and Evangelist : S00042 Thomas, the Apostle : S00199 Luke, the Evangelist : S00442 Agricola and Vitalis, master and slave, martyrs of Bologna : S00310 P

Saint Name in Source

Felix Andreas Johannes Thomas Lucas Agricola, Vitalis Proculus Euphemia Nazarius

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 - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Saint as patron - of a community

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Rejection of specific images

Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Descriptions of images of saints

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Crosses Oil lamps/candles


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 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.


Archaeological work has revealed the extent and scale of Paulinus’ building projects. One basilica, the basilica vetus, was repainted and the other, the basilica nova, was built from scratch. This basilica was very large: 115 x 66 feet. The marble facings – referred to in Nat. 9 – were in fact made from eleven different types of marble imported from around the Roman empire. Overall, the architectural style echoed that of an elite Roman villa. All this work was completed in just seven years under Paulinus' supervision. Paulinus provides his own account of the results of this building work in the Natalicia. These poems offer an interesting comment on the relative merits of the depiction of human figures in Christian artwork, and hint at criticism of this practice. They also provide an insight into the author’s view of the appropriate relationship between worldly wealth and the cult of saints. His decision to channel his wealth into Felix’s shrine was significant and should not be taken for granted. Indeed, his views that wealth spent glorifying the saints on earth could provide future benefits in heaven – dubbed his ‘salvation economics’ by Dennis Trout - were not widely held by his contemporaries and are worthy of note. Maria Kiely draws attention to Paulinus' notable use of the word 'heart' (gremium) to describe the inner courtyard: this - and not Felix's tomb - is the most important part of the complex for him. This perhaps echoes the view of the inner courtyard of fourth-century aristocratic villas as the heart of the house. Similarly, the figural paintings on the walls of this courtyard likely echo the images of illustrious forebears which decorated the walls of villas. Alternatively, Paulinus' choice to represent saints and biblical figures on these and other walls may have drawn inspiration from similar images in St Peter's church at the Vatican, the catacombs in Rome - both of which he regularly visited (see E05094) - or the original tombs at Cimitile/Nola. The chapel with the ‘star spangled dome’ is likely a baptismal chapel. Amongst the saints whose relics are kept at Cimitile, Nazarius, martyr of Milan, is unusually present without his companion, Celsus.


Edition Dolveck, Franz, Carmina, Paulini Nolani, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015) no. 21, pp. 293 – 493. Translation P. G. Walsh, The Poems of Paulinus of Nola, Ancient Christian Writers (New York: Newman Press, 1975) pp. 73-105; 114-201; 209-220; 254-307. Further Reading Brown, Peter, Through the Eye of the Needle, (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 2012). Kiely, Maria, 'The interior courtyard: the heart of Cimitile/Nola', Journal of Early Christian Studies, 12 (2004) 443 - 479. Lehmann, Tomas, Paulinus Nolanus und die Basilica Nova in Cimitile/Nola (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2004). Mratschek, Sigrid, ‘Multis enim notissima est sanctitas loci: Paulinus and the Gradual Rise of Nola as a Center of Christian Hospitality’, Journal of Early Christian Studies, 9(4) (2001) 511-53. Roberts, Michael, ‘Rhetoric and the Natalica of Paulinus of Nola’, Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica, 95(2) (2010) 53-69 Trout, Dennis, Paulinus of Nola: Life, Letters and Poems (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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