University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E05122: Paulinus of Nola, writing in Latin after 408 in Nola (south Italy), describes how Christ taking the form of *Felix (priest and confessor of Nola, southern Italy, S00000) appeared to, and aided, a man at risk of shipwreck.

online resource
posted on 2018-02-21, 00:00 authored by frances
Paulinus of Nola, Letter 49

In this letter to a high ranking Roman nobleman called Macarius, Paulinus describes a miraculous story concerning an old man called Valgius. A ship owned by a certain Secundinianus was loaded with grain and, under imperial orders, set sail from Sardinia to Rome. It was hit by a storm and all but Valgius abandoned ship. Alone, Valgius remained on the ship which was buffeted by winds for twenty-three days. He was protected by God: angels helped him by performing the work of the crew and God woke him – by tweaking his ear – when he slept too long. At times, Christ watched over him, taking on the ‘revered appearance of his friend and confessor, my lord and our common patron Felix’ (confessoris et amici sui, domini mei, communis patroni Felicis ore uenerabilis). At these times, Valgius threw himself at Felix’s feet and placed his head in his lap as Felix steered the boat for him. Paulinus makes it clear that Christ was present in the image of Felix.

After twenty three days, Valgius was rescued by fishermen who towed him to land. He took refuge in Nola and recounted his tale to Paulinus. Paulinus sends Valgius to Rome as a ‘spiritual gift' (xenium spirituale)’for Macarius. He emphasises his holiness as a man whom Christ helped and whose ear Christ touched. Indeed, he focuses on this ear at length, stating:

nam tam adsidue aurem ipsius retractaui, ut paene detriuerim. Uoluissem quoque uel unius partem auris abscidere, nisi in illo uulneris quae mihi pignoris res fuisset.

‘I have so incessantly fingered his ear that I have almost worn it away; I should even have liked to cut off a part of that ear, except that such a token would have meant wounding him’.

Paulinus then asks Macarius to help Secundinianus, the owner of the ship. He recounts how Valgius had landed on the estate of a senator called Postumianus. There, the boat was stripped of all goods. Secundinianus had then travelled to Rome, where he was now present, petitioning for compensation for this act.

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


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Felix, priest and confessor of Nola (southern Italy) : S00000

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 Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Nola Rome

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

Nola Adriatic Sea Adriatic Sea Adriaticum Mare Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Major author/Major anonymous work

Paulinus of Nola

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Saint as patron - of an individual

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous protection - of people and their property

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Other lay individuals/ people Merchants and artisans Aristocrats

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - other body parts Contact relic - other Division of relics


Letter 49 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 after 408. Paulinus sent this letter to intervene in the legal conflict between the ship-owner, Secundinianus, and Postumianus (possible PLRE 1: 'Postumianus 2'), the senator whose servants stripped the boat. After the boat was stripped, Secundinianus petitioned the governor (iudex) of Lucania for aid, and then travelled to Rome to pursue his case there. Paulinus approached a friend – a powerful figure in Rome who had the power to intervene in this case – to support his case. This friend was previously identified as Macarius, but Sebastian Mußfeldt has shown how tenuous this identification is, and suggests the real name of this friend remains unknown to us. It is interesting that Paulinus does not explicitly refer to his own status as he asks for help, but instead bases his request for support on divine authority, particularly the support from Felix and Christ.


Paulinus' treatment of Valgius is interesting: he is a 'holy gift' (xenium spirituale) sent to Macarius and spiritual benefits can be gained from touching the parts of the body - for example his ear or hair - that Christ and Felix touched. As such, in Dennis Trout's and Cynthia Hahn's view, he should be considered as a living contact relic.


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). Hahn, Cynthia, "What Do Reliquaries Do for Relics?" Numen, 57 (2010), 284-316. Mußfeldt, Sebastian, "Bleibende Fragen: Zu Adressat und Datierung von Epistel 49 des Paulinus von Nola," Hermes, 13:2 (2007), 206-214. Trout, Dennis, Paulinus of Nola: Life, Letters and Poems (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager