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E05102: Paulinus of Nola, writing in Latin in c. 400 in Nola (southern Italy), describes the visit of *Melania the Elder (aristocrat of Rome, monastic founder in Jerusalem, ob. AD 410, S01185) to the shrine of *Felix (priest and confessor of Nola, S00000) at Nola/Cimitile. Her sanctity is referred to using hagiographic tropes and her clothes were believed to impart spiritual benefits.

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posted on 2018-02-20, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Paulinus of Nola, Letter 29 (to Sulpicius Severus)

Throughout this letter, Paulinus draws attention to Melania’s asceticism and sanctity using hagiographic tropes. She is a ‘soldier of Christ with the virtues of Martin [of Tours]’ (virtutibus Martini miles Christi) (6) and is likened to *John (the Baptist, S00020) (7). Paulinus describes her childhood and ascetic conversion (8-10); her persecution under the Emperor Valens (ob. 378) (11); and her humility and ascetic virtues (12).

Paulinus contrasts her humble clothing with that of her children, who wore silk, and describes the spiritual benefits they hoped to gain from touching Melania and her garments (12):

Illi sericati et pro suo quisque sexu toga aut stola soliti splendere filii crassam illam uelut spartei staminis tunicam et uile palliolum gaudebant manu tangere, et uestimenta sua uelleris auro et arte pretiosa pedibus eius substernere pannis que conteri gestiebant, expiari se a diuitiarum suarum contagio iudicantes, si quam de uilissimo eius habitu aut uestigio sordem conligere mererentur.

‘Those silk clad children of hers, though accustomed to the splendour of a toga or a dress according to their sex, took joy in touching that thick tunic of hers, with its hard threads like broom, and her cheap cloak. They longed to have their woollen garments, so valuable with their golden embroidery, trodden down beneath her feet or worn away with the rubbing of her rags. For they thought that they were cleansed from the pollution of their riches if they succeeded in gathering some of the dirt from her tawdry clothing or her feet.’

Text: Hartel 1894. Translation: Walsh 1966-7.
Summary: Frances Trzeciak.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

John the Baptist : S00020 Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397 : S00050 Melania the Elder, Roman aristocrat and monastic founder in Jerusalem, ob. AD 410 : S01185 Felix, priest and confessor of Nola : S00000

Saint Name in Source

Iohhanes Martinus Melania Felix

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 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 - Places

Cult building - secondary installation (fountain, pilgrims’ hostel)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Relatives of the saint Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - dust/sand/earth Touching and kissing 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.


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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