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E05101: Paulinus of Nola, writing in Latin in c.400 in Nola (southern Italy), sends to Sulpicius Severus (ob. 425) the gift of a tunic which he had received from *Melania the Elder (aristocrat of Rome, monastic founder in Jerusalem, ob. AD 410, S01185). Paulinus claims he wore this tunic before sending it, in order to receive spiritual benefits from something which would soon be owned by Severus.

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posted on 2018-02-20, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Paulinus of Nola, Letter 29.5 (to Sulpicius Severus)


Paulinus sends a gift to Severus along with this letter: Melania’s woollen tunic, which is a sign of her favour (pignus). Paulinus states that he has already worn this and apologises, but claims that in wearing it, he wronged Severus and thus honoured him more than if he had sent an untouched tunic. This is because it is a sign of the esteem he holds Severus in. He states that he wore this to ‘snatch a blessing’ (ut mihi benedictionem ... praecererem) from something which would soon be worn by Severus.

Summary: Frances Trzeciak.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Melania the Elder, Roman aristocrat and monastic founder in Jerusalem, ob. AD 410 : S01185

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters


  • 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 - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Women Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - saint’s possession and clothes


Letter 29 in the letter collection of Paulinus of Nola (ob. 431). It is one of many letters which Paulinus addressed to aristocratic and ascetic Roman circles in the later fourth and early fifth centuries. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Paulinus did not curate any collection of his letters: instead collections were compiled by friends and admirers. This letter dates from c. 400.


This is not direct evidence of the cult of saints. However the physical transmission of sanctity central to the creation of contact relics are at work here. It is thus an interesting example of this mechanic at work in a slightly different context. It is also worth noting that the language Paulinus uses to describe the relics is charged: benedictio is often used to refer to contact relics, for example ampullae for oil, and pignus can be used to refer to relics. In this passage, Paulinus not only underlines his close links with Melania – a prominent ascetic whom he treats as a saint in the same letter (see E05102). He also treats the garment, which was soon to be Severus’, in a similar way to a contact relic (though Severus had yet to wear it). In doing this he flattered Severus. It is also possible that he encouraged Severus to think about the garment in a similar way: as bearing a blessing from Paulinus.


Edition: Hartel, W., Sancti Pontii Meropii Paulini Epistulae, 2nd ed., revised M. Kamptner (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 29; Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna, 1999). Translation: Walsh, P.G., Letters of St. Paulinus of Nola, vol. 2 (Ancient Christian Writers 35; Westminster MD: Newman Press, 1967). Further Reading: Conybeare, Catherine, Paulinus Noster: Self and Symbols in the Letters of Paulinus of Nola (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). 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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