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E05563: Venantius Fortunatus, in a poem on the church of *Andrew (the Apostle, S00288) built by Bishop 'Vitalis' of Ravenna, lists the relics housed there. Poem 1.2, written in Latin in Ravenna (north-east Italy), 545/565.

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posted on 2018-05-27, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Venantius Fortunatus, Poems 1.2 (Versus de templo domni Andreae quod aedificavit Vitalis episcopus Ravennensis, 'Verses on the church of lord Andrew which bishop Vitalis of Ravenna built')

Quisquis ad haec sancti concurris limina templi,
   si venias supplex, hic prece sumis opem.
Quam sacer antistes Vitalis condidit arcem,
   culmine quae celso est tempore ducta brevi;
fundavit, struxit, dotavit, deinde dicavit                                      5
   et meruit templi solvere vota sui.
Quo veneranda pii requiescunt viscera Petri,
   qui meruit solus clave ligare polos;
Paulus apostolica simul hac retinetur in aula,
   seductor quondam qui modo doctor ovat;                             10
hanc sacer Andreas propriam sibi vindicat arcem
   et cum fratre pio participata regit;
haec sua tecta replet Laurentius igne sereno,
   cui pia flamma dedit luce perenne diem;
Vitali domus ista placet, qui vivus harenis                                    15
   defossus meruit perdere mortis iter;
sunt loca Martini qui texit veste tonantem:
   ne magis algeret, se spoliare dedit;
ecce Vigili arx est quem rustica turba peremit:
   unde mori voluit, mors magis ipsa fugit;                                  20
incolit haec pariter Marturius atque Sisennus,
   quos genus atque fides et tenet una salus;
sanctus Alexander felixque Cicilia pollent,
   quos meritis omnes una corona manet.
Haec bonus antistes Vitale urguente Iohannes                           25
   condidit egregio viscera sancta loco.
O nimium felix, aeternum in lumen iture,
   cuius vita suo proficit ista deo!

'All you who hurry to the threshold of this sacred church, if you come as a suppliant, by prayer you will receive aid here. The structure that the holy bishop Vitalis erected, which in a short time was brought to a great height, he founded, built, endowed, then dedicated and duly paid his vow to raise this church. (7) There rest the venerable relics of holy Peter, who alone won the right to secure heaven with his key; in this apostolic hall Paul also finds a place, once a tempter, but who now rejoices to be called teacher; (10) this structure saintly Andrew lays claim to for himself and rules over it in the company of his holy brother; Laurence too fills this building of his with a tranquil fire, to whom a holy flame granted the gift of day with eternal light; (15) this is a dwelling favored by Vitalis, who buried alive in the earth won for himself the right to overcome the journey to death; the place holds Martin too, who clothed in his cloak the Lord: he caused himself to be stripped so as not to endure further chill; here is the shrine of Vigilius, whom a crowd of countrymen slaughtered: because of his willingness to die, instead death itself took flight; (21) together Marturius and Sisennus take up their dwelling in this place, whom a single family, faith, and salvation unite; holy Alexander and the blessed Cecilia lend their powerful presence: all these a single crown awaits for their merits. (25) These the good bishop John at Vitalis’s urging laid up as holy relics in this venerable site. O how very happy you are, destined to enter eternal light, whose actions in this life work to benefit his God!'

Text: Leo 1881, 8-9. Translation: Roberts 2017, 15 and 16.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Andrew, the Apostle : S00288 Peter the Apostle : S00036 Paul, the Apostle : S00008 Laurence/Laurentius, deacon and martyr of Rome : S00037 Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397 : S00050 Vigilius, bishop and martyr of Trento : S01407 Caec

Saint Name in Source

Andreas Peter Paulus Laurentius Martinus Vigilius Cicilia Vitalis

Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Ravenna Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Venantius Fortunatus

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic


Venantius Fortunatus was born in northern Italy, near Treviso, and educated at Ravenna. In the early 560s he crossed the Alps into Merovingian Gaul, where he spent the rest of his life, making his living primarily through writing Latin poetry for the aristocracy of northern Gaul, both secular and ecclesiastical. His first datable commission in Gaul is a poem to celebrate the wedding in 566 of the Austrasian royal couple, Sigibert and Brunhild. His principal patrons were Radegund and Agnes, the royal founder and the first abbess of the monastery of the Holy Cross at Poitiers, as well as Gregory, the historian and bishop of Tours, Leontius, bishop of Bordeaux, and Felix, bishop of Nantes, but he also wrote poems for several kings and for many other members of the aristocracy. In addition to occasional poems for his patrons, Fortunatus wrote a four-book epic poem about Martin of Tours, and several works of prose and verse hagiography. The latter part of his life was spent in Poitiers, and in the 590s he became bishop of the city; he is presumed to have died early in the 7th century. For Fortunatus' life, see Brennan 1985; George 1992, 18-34; Reydellet 1994-2004, vol. 1, vii-xxviii; PCBE 4, 'Fortunatus', 801-822. The eleven books of Poems (Carmina) by Fortunatus were almost certainly collected and published at three different times: Books 1 to 7, which are dedicated to Gregory of Tours, in 576; Books 8 and 9 after 584, probably in 590/591; and Books 10-11 only after their author's death. A further group of poems, outside the structure of the books, and known from only one manuscript, has been published in modern editions as an Appendix to the eleven books. For further discussion, see Reydellet 1994-2004, vol. 1, lxviii-lxxi; George 1992, 208-211. Almost all of Fortunatus' poems are in elegiac couplets: one hexameter line followed by one pentameter line. For the cult of saints, Fortunatus' poems are primarily interesting for the evidence they provide of the saints venerated in northern Gaul, since many were written to celebrate the completion of new churches and oratories, and some to celebrate collections of relics. For an overview of his treatment of the cult of saints, see Roberts 2009, 165-243.


For Vitalis of Ravenna and his construction of the church of Andrew in Ravenna, see E05560. The saints whose relics were collected there are a mix of major biblical saints (Peter, Paul and Andrew), with Roman martyrs (Laurence and Caecilia) and martyrs of northern Italy (Vitalis of Ravenna itself, Vigilius of Trento, and the three Anaunian martyrs, Sisinnius, Martyrius and Alexander). The bishop John, who collected the relics at the urging of Vitalis, cannot be identified properly. According to Reydellet 1994-2004, vol. 1, 168, n. 14, there are two hypotheses about his identification: that he was John III, pope between 561 ad 574, but this is impossible because of the dating of the poem, or that he was a suffragan bishop of Ravenna in the time of Vitalis/Maximianus.


Editions and translations: Leo, F., Venanti Honori Clementiani Fortunati presbyteri Italici opera poetica (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi 4.1; Berlin: Apud Weidmannos, 1881). Roberts, M., Poems: Venantius Fortunatus (Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 46; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017). George, J., Venantius Fortunatus, Personal and Political Poems (Translated Texts for Historians 23; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1995). Reydellet, M., Venance Fortunat, Poèmes, 3 vols. (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1994-2004). Further reading: Brennan, B., "The Career of Venantius Fortunatus," Traditio 41 (1985), 49-78. Carlà, F., "Milan, Ravenna, Rome: Some Reflections on the Cult of the Saints and on Civic Politics in Late Antique Italy," Rivista di Storia e Letteratura Religiosa 46:2 (2010), 197-272. George, J., Venantius Fortunatus: A Latin Poet in Merovingian Gaul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992). Roberts, M., The Humblest Sparrow: The Poetry of Venantius Fortunatus (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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