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E05104: Paulinus of Nola, writing in Latin in c.403/4 in Nola (southern Italy), in a long letter to Sulpicius Severus, discusses building-work carried out by Severus at Primuliacum (southern Gaul) and sends proposals for poetic inscriptions at the site; Paulinus also describes his own building-work at Nola/Cimitile and Funda/Fondi (both southern Italy), quoting in full the poems he has written for these churches. Several of these poetic inscriptions refer to the saints venerated at Primuliacum, Nola and Fondi.

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posted on 2018-02-20, 00:00 authored by frances
Paulinus of Nola, Letter 32.1-3

Paulinus opens by discussing the building work at Primuliacum, including a baptistry which includes a depiction of both *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) and of Paulinus. Paulinus complains that he is not worthy, and suggests that the following inscriptions, which draw attention to his sinfulness, might accompany the images:

Abluitis quicumque animas et membra lauacris, 
Cernite propositas ad bona facta uias. 
Adstat perfectae Martinus regula uitae, 
Paulinus ueniam quo mereare docet. 
Hunc peccatores, illum spectate beati; 
Exemplar sanctis ille sit, iste reis. 

‘All you who wish to wash your souls and bodies in this font should behold the paths set before you for good deeds. Martin is here so that you may see a model of perfect life, whereas Paulinus schools you in how to merit forgiveness. Martin should catch the eye of the blessed, Paulinus of the sinners. So Martin must be the example for the saintly, Paulinus for the guilty.’

Diues opum Christo, pauper sibi pulchra Seuerus 
Culmina sacratis fontibus instituit. 
Et quia caelestes aulam condebat in actus, 
Qua renouarentur fonte deo que homines, 
Digna sacramentis gemina sub imagine pinxit, 
Disceret ut uitae dona renatus homo. 
 Martinum ueneranda uiri testatur imago, 
Altera Paulinum forma refert humilem. 
Ille fidem exemplis et dictis fortibus armat, 
Vt meriti palmas intemerata ferat; 
Iste docet fusis redimens sua crimina nummis, 
Vilior ut sit res quam sua cuique salus.

‘Severus, so rich in wealth lavished on Christ and so poor in that devoted to himself, here sets this fine roof over the consecrated waters. He built this shrine for the works of heaven, so that here men may be refashioned by water and by God. So he has adorned it, making it worthy of the sacrament, by painting twin portraits above, so that when men attain new birth they may learn the gifts of life. One man’s revered portrait bears witness to Martin; the other represents the lowly Paulinus. Martin arms our faith by good example and courageous words, so that our faith may be unsullied and win the palm of glory. Paulinus redeems his sins by casting away his pence, and so teaches us how our possessions are of less account than our salvation’.

Paulinus of Nola, Letter 32.6

Paulinus also includes other inscriptions for the church at Primuliacum, some of which deal with the saints whose relics rest in the church. Three options are offered to commemorate *Clarus (monk of Marmoutier, ob. c. 397, S00479).

Nominis ut titulo, sic mentis lumine Clarus 
Presbyter hoc tegitur; sed membra caduca sepulchro, 
Libera corporeo mens carcere gaudet in astris 
Pura probatorum sedem sortita piorum. 
Sancta sub aeternis altaribus ossa quiescunt, 
Vt dum casta pio referuntur munera Christi, 
Diuinis sacris animae iungantur odores.

‘Clarus the priest is clothed in that inner light which reflects his name. His mortal body lies in the tomb. But his mind, freed from the prison of the body, finds joy amongst the stars, for its purity has gained the haven of the holy men who are approved. His sacred bones are at rest beneath the eternal altar; and so when the chaste gift of Christ is devoutly offered there, the fragrance of his soul may be joined to the divine sacrifice’

Presbyter hic situs est meritis et nomine Clarus, 
Martino studiis comes et meriti modo consors. 
Digna pio domus est altaria, sub quibus artus 
Conditur, exanimo; nam spiritus aethere gaudet 
Discipulum que pari sociat super astra magistro.

‘A priest lies here, Clarus by name and famed by his merits, Martin’s companion in meditation and now his partner in praise. The altar is a worthy home for this devoted man now dead, whose limbs lie beneath it. But his spirit rejoiced in the upper air. Above the stars, he shares with the Master he resembles his disciple here below.’

Clare fide, praeclare actu, clarissime fructu, 
Qui meritis titulum nominis aequiperas, 
Casta tuum digne uelant altaria corpus, 
Vt templum Christi contegat ara dei. 
Sed quia tu non hac, qua corpus, sede teneris, 
Qui meritis superis spiritus inuolitas, 
Siue patrum sinibus recubas domini ue sub ara 
Conderis aut sacro pasceris in nemore, 
Qualibet in regione poli situs aut paradisi, 
Clare, sub aeterna pace beatus agis. 
Haec peccatorum bonus accipe uota rogantum, 
Vt sis Paulini Therasiae que memor. 
Dilige mandatos interueniente Seuero 
Quos ignorasti corpore sic meritos. 
Vnanimi communis amor sit fomes utrisque 
Perpetui summo foederis in domino. 
Non potes inplicitos diuellere; si trahis unum, 
Vnus adhaerentes qua rapitur rapiet. 
Ergo indiuiduos pariter conplectere fratres, 
Vt que sumus, sic nos dilige participans.
Sic deus acciuit, sic nos Martinus amauit; 
Sic et tu pariter, Clare, tuere pares, 
Non meritis sed amore pares.
 tu, sancte, ualebis 
Exorare pares et meritis fieri, 
Si cum Martino socia pietate labores, 
Vt uincant uestrae crimina nostra preces, 
Et simul in uestri ducamur sorte Seueri 
Vestra que nos semper protegat ala sinu.

‘Clarus, renowned in faith, highly renowned in deeds, most renowned in your harvest, your name is reflected by your merits. It is right that a pure altar covers your body, so that God’s altar may conceal the temple of Christ. But you are not restricted to the abode where your body lies, for your spirit flies to the reward you have merited above. Whether you lie in the bosom of our fathers, or are buried beneath the Lord’s altar, or feast in a sacred grove – wherever, Clarus, you are set in heaven or Paradise, you live happily in eternal peace. In your kindness receive these prayers of sinners who ask you to be mindful of Paulinus and Therasia. Love these persons entrusted to you by the meditation of Severus, though when you were here in the flesh you were unaware of their merits. Let the love of a friend held in common kindle in both of us an eternal covenant in the highest Lord. You cannot separate men who are united; should you seek to drag away one, he will draw to his forced destination those who cling to him. So embrace Severus and Paulinus together as brothers indivisible. Love us and join with us in this union. God summoned us together, Martin loved us together. So, Clarus, you must likewise protect us together. Our equality lies not in merit, but in love; but you, holy Clarus, will be able to ensure our equality also in merit, if you become Martin’s partner in the toil of paternal love, so that your prayers may prevail over my sins. So I may attain the destiny of Severus and your wing may ever protect me in its folds.’

Paulinus of Nola, Letter 32.7-8

Paulinus describes the new basilica which Severus had built at Primuliacum. He refers to the coming dedication of the basilica – which he expects will be attended by large crowds. He suggests that both the relics of the apostles and martyrs and the fragment of the True Cross – which he had sent to Severus – might be placed in the altar. He then provides the following inscriptions:

Diuinum ueneranda tegunt altaria foedus 
Conpositis sacra cum cruce martyribus. 
Cuncta salutiferi coeunt martyria Christi, 
Crux corpus sanguis martyris, ipse deus.  
Namque deus semper uobis sua munera seruat; 
Atque ubi Christus, ibi spiritus et pater est. 
Sic ubi crux, et martyr ibi, quia martyris et crux, 
Martyrii sanctis quae pia causa fuit. 
Illa cibum uitae mortalibus, illa coronas, 
Quae domino famulos participant, peperit. 
In cruce fixa caro est, qua pascor; de cruce sanguis 
Ille fluit, uitam quo bibo, corda lauo. 
Christe, tuo coeant simul haec tua dona Seuero, 
Portitor et testis sit crucis iste tuae. 
Carne tua uiuat, tuus illi pocula sanguis 
Praebeat, in uerbo uiuat agat que tuo. 
Qua que tuum socio Martinum adscendere Claro 
Vidit, et ipse tuo munere uectus eat. 

‘The revered altar conceals a sacred union, for martyrs lie there with the Holy Cross. The entire martyrdom of the saving Christ is here assembled – cross, body and blood of the martyr, God himself. For God preserves his gifts for you forever, and where Christ is, there also are the Spirit and the Father. Likewise where the cross is, there, too, is the martyr; for the martyr’s cross is the holy reason for the martyrdom of the saints. That cross has won for men the food of life, has won also the crowns which gain a portion with the Lord for his servants. The flesh which I eat was nailed to the cross; from the cross flows that blood by which I drink life and cleanse my hear. Christ, may these gifts of yours unite with your Severus. May he bear your cross and witness to it. May he live on your flesh; may your blood provide his drink ; may he live and work by your word. Through your kindness may he love and work by your word. Through your kindness may he be borne on that upward journey on which he beheld your Martin and his companion Clarus rise’

Yet in case Severus desires to keep the fragment of the True Cross available, and only dedicate the church to the apostles and martyrs, the following inscription is provided:

Pignora sanctorum diuinae gloria mensae 
Velat apostolicis edita corporibus, 
Spiritus et domini medicis uirtutibus instans 
Per documenta sacros uiua probat cineres. 
Sic geminata piis adspirat gratia uotis, 
Infra martyribus, desuper acta sacris.  
Vota sacerdotis uiuentum et commoda paruo 
Puluere sanctorum mors pretiosa iuuat. 

‘The splendour of God’s table conceals those dear relics of the saints which have been taken from the bodies of the apostles. The spirit of the Lo


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Felix, priest and confessor of Nola (southern Italy) : S00000 Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397 : S00050 Gervasius and Protasius, martyrs of Milan : S00313 Nazarius and Celsus, companion martyrs of Milan : S00281 Clarus, monk of Marmou

Saint Name in Source

Felix Martinus Gervasius, Protasius Nazarius Clarus Lucas Andreas

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 - Liturgical Activity

  • Ceremony of dedication

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Commissioning/producing an image

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Crowds

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Bodily relic - corporeal ashes/dust Bodily relic - entire body Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Public display of relics

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects



Letter 32 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. 403/4. It contains records of many inscriptions, mosaics and paintings from basilicas in Nola/Cimitile, Funda (modern Fondi) and Primuliacum (modern Prémillac).


This letter ought to be seen in the context of Paulinus and Severus’ actions in promoting cults of specific saints. Severus wrote a Life of Martin and oversaw the construction of a basilica at Primuliacum which contained the relics of Clarus, Martin’s disciple. Paulinus oversaw building work surrounding Felix’s tomb at Nola/Cimitile (for more on this see E04768). Felix, Martin and Clarus regularly appear in letters between Paulinus and Severus. The relics described here also reveal much about the elite ascetic networks of the later fourth and early fifth centuries. Both Primuliacum and Nola/Cimitile boasted a relic of the true cross. This was gifted to Paulinus by Melania (Roman aristocrat and monastic founder in Jerusalem, ob. AD 410), who visited Nola as a pilgrim on several occasions. He in turn sent a fragment to Severus in response to a request for relics (E02995). The relics of apostles and martyrs at Nola – which are unspecified in this letter – are discussed in more detail in Paulinus’ poems (see E04768). They belong to *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). Of particular interest are the relics of Nazarius which – along with the relics of *Gervasius and Protasius (martyrs of Milan, S00313) which rest at Funda – were sent to Paulinus by Ambrose (bishop of Milan, ob. 397). Dennis Trout argues that these exchanges of relic gifts played a central role in ascetic social networks in this period. The images described in this letter are also of interest. In Natalicium 9 (Carmen 27) Paulinus defended the figural representations in the basilica at Nola/Cimitile, by arguing that they could educate the crowds visiting the church (particularly on feast days), as well as entertaining them to dissuade them from becoming too drunk. The former reason no doubt played a role in the figural representations of the Trinity.


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).

Continued Description

rd hovers near with healing powers, and demonstrates by living proofs that these are sacred ashes. So twin graces favour our devoted prayers, the one springing from the martyrs below, the other from the sacrament above. The precious death of the saints assists, through this fragment of their ashes, the prayers of the priest and the welfare of the living’Paulinus of Nola, Letter 32.9-16Paulinus sends his courier with inscriptions and sketches of his own basilica complex, renovated under his supervision, at Cimitile/Nola. He describes the five basilicas, an altar containing relics of the apostles and martyrs in a tripartite apse, a vault adorned with mosaics, the walls of which are faced with marble. The following verses describe the mosaics:Pleno coruscat trinitas mysterio: Stat Christus agno, uox patris caelo tonat Et per columbam spiritus sanctus fluit. Crucem corona lucido cingit globo, Cui coronae sunt corona apostoli, Quorum figura est in columbarum choro.  Pia trinitatis unitas Christo coit Habente et ipsa trinitate insignia: Deum reuelat uox paterna et spiritus, Sanctam fatentur crux et agnus uictimam, Regnum et triumphum purpura et palma indicant. Petram superstat ipse petra ecclesiae, De qua sonori quattuor fontes meant, Euangelistae uiua Christi flumina. ‘The Trinity shines out in all its mystery. Christ is represented by a lamb, the father’s voice thunders forth from the sky, and the Holy Spirit flows down in the form of a dove. A wreath’s gleaming circle surrounds the cross and around this circle the apostles form a ring, represented by a chorus of doves. The holy unity of the Trinity merges in Christ, but the Trinity has its threefold symbolism. The father’s voice and the spirit show forth God, the cross and lamb proclaim the holy victim. The purple and the palm point to kingship and to triumph. Christ himself, the rock, stands on the rock of the church and from this rock four splashing fountains flow, the evangelists, the living streams of Christ.’Below this, another inscription refers to the relics of the altar.Hic pietas, hic alma fides, hic gloria Christi, Hic est martyribus crux sociata suis. Nam crucis e ligno magnum breuis hastula pignus Tota que in exiguo segmine uis crucis est. Hoc Melani sanctae delatum munere Nolam, Summum Hierosolymae uenit ab urbe bonum. Sancta deo geminum uelant altaria honorem, Cum cruce apostolicos quae sociant cineres. Quam bene iunguntur ligno crucis ossa piorum, Pro cruce ut occisis in cruce sit requies! ‘Here is reverence, and fostering faith, and Christ’s glory; here is the cross, joined with those who witnessed it. For the tiny splinter of the wood of the cross lies in this small segment. It was brought to Nola by the gift of the holy Melania, this greatest of blessings that has come from Jerusalem. The holy altar conceals a twofold honour to God, for it combines the cross and the ashes of the martyrs. How right it is that the bones of holy men lie with the wood of the cross, so that there is rest on the cross for those who died for it!’Outside the apse, the basilica continues with a high panelled ceiling with two colonnades that run through an arch on either side. Four chapels can be found in each colonnade, which provide space for prayer and the ‘monuments of clergy and their friends’ (memoriae religiosorum ac familiarum) so that they might rest in eternal peace. A couplet adorns the lintel of each chapel [not given in the letter]. Several other inscriptions are given. The basilica does not look East, as is usual, but faces the tomb of *Felix (priest and confessor of Nola, southern Italy, S00000). The apses wind around, and an open courtyard connects the two basilicas. A lattice wall means the new basilica can be seen from the old one. Several other inscriptions above the entrance of the new church, dedicated to Felix, are provided. One of these refers to Felix:Vt medium ualli, pax nostra, resoluit Iesus Et cruce discidium perimens duo fecit in unum, Sic noua destructo ueteris discrimine tecti Culmina conspicimus portarum foedere iungi. Sancta nitens famulis interluit atria lymphis Cantharus intrantum que manus lauat amne ministro. Plebs gemina Christum Felicis adorat in aula, Paulus apostolico quam temperat ore sacerdos. ‘As Jesus our peace has destroyed the dividing barrier and made us one with him, sweeping away our divorce by means of the cross, so we see this new building no longer sundered from the old, but joined to it and united by the doors. A fountain gleaming with its attendant waters plays between the holy churches, and washes the hands of those who enter with its ministering stream. The people worship Christ in both these churches of Felix, governed by Paul their bishop with his apostolic words.’On the front arch of the basilica, another inscription refers to Felix:Quos deuota fides densis celebrare beatum Felicem populis diuerso suadet ab ore, Per triplices aditus laxos infundite coetus; Atria quamlibet innumeris spatiosa patebunt, Quae sociata sibi per apertos comminus arcus Paulus in aeternos antistes dedicat usus. ‘You whose devoted faith constrains you in great crowds to hymn blessed Felix with diverse tongues, stream through the threefold entrance in loose-knit throng. For though you come in thousands, the huge churches will have space for you. Paul the bishop consecrates them for immortal purposes, as they stand close joined to each other by means of open arches.’On another arch there is the following couplet:Antiqua digresse sacri Felicis ab aula, In noua Felicis culmina transgredere. ‘You who have left the old church of holy Felix, now pass to his new abode’.Paulinus then records two inscriptions from this basilica: on the two sacristies which enclose the apse on each side. Paulinus of Nola, Letter 32.17Paulinus then describes inscriptions he has composed which are intended for the basilica at Funda. At the time of writing, the basilica – which was built at Paulinus’ behest – was still being constructed. Paulinus planned to consecrate the basilica with ashes of apostles and martyrs in Christ’s name. Paulinus provides an inscription which describes a painting in the basilica:Sanctorum labor et merces sibi rite cohaerent, Ardua crux pretium que crucis sublime, corona. Ipse deus, nobis princeps crucis atque coronae, Inter floriferi caeleste nemus paradisi Sub cruce sanguinea niueo stat Christus in agno, Agnus ut innocua iniusto datus hostia leto, Alite quem placida sanctus perfundit hiantem Spiritus et rutila genitor de nube coronat. Et quia praecelsa quasi iudex rupe superstat, Bis geminae pecudis discors agnis genus haedi Circumstant solium; laeuos auertitur haedos Pastor et emeritos dextra conplectitur agnos. ‘Here the saints' toil and reward are rightly merged, the steep cross and the crown which is the cross’s high prize. God himself, who was the first to bear the cross and win the crown, Christ, stands as a snowy lamb beneath the bloody cross in the heavenly grove of flower-dotted paradise. This lamb, offered as an innocent victim in unmerited death, with rapt expression, is haloed by the bird of peace which symbolises the Holy Spirit, and crowned by the Father from a ruddy cloud. The lamb stands as judge on a lofty rock and surrounding this throne are two groups of animals, the goats at odds with the lambs. The shepherd is diverting the goats to the left and is welcoming the deserving lambs on his right hand.’The following inscription refers to the relics of several saints:Ecce sub accensis altaribus ossa piorum Regia purpureo marmore crusta tegit.  Hic et apostolicas praesentat gratia uires Magnis in paruo puluere pignoribus. Hic pater Andreas et magno nomine Lucas Martyr et inlustris sanguine Nazarius; Quos que suo deus Ambrosio post longa reuelat Saecula, Protasium cum pare Geruasio. Hic simul una pium conplectitur arcula coetum Et capit exiguo nomina tanta sinu. ‘Under the lighted altar, a royal slab of purple marble covers the bones of holy men. Here God’s grace sets before you the power of the apostles by the great pledges contained in this meagre dust. Here lie father Andrew, the gloriously famed Luke, and Nazarius, a martyr glorious for the blood he shed; here are Protasius and his peer Gervasius, whom God made known after long ages to his servant Ambrose. One simple casket embraces here his holy band, and in its tiny bosom embraces names so great.’Paulinus of Nola, Letter 32.18 – 24. For the remainder of the letter, Paulinus argues for the value of using one’s wealth to build and adorn churches in honour of the saints. In doing so, the sponsor gains spiritual benefits which they will enjoy in heaven. Text: Hartel 1894. Translation: Walsh 1966-7.Summary: Frances Trzeciak.

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