Venantius Fortunatus, Poems 1.3 (De basilica domni Stephani, 'On the church of lord Stephen'), 3-4, 11-12
Pertulit hic martyr pro Christo orientis in axe: 3
ecce sub occasu templa beatus habet.
'This martyr [Stephen] suffered for Christ in eastern climes; but, see, the blessed man has churches in the West.'
After some verses describing Stephen's martyrdom, the poet claims that Palladius earned an eternal home by founding a church for him:
Haec sacra Palladius Levitae templa locavit, 11
unde sibi sciat non peritura domus.
'Palladius established this holy church for the deacon [Stephen] so he could win for himself a house that will not perish.'
Text: Leo 1881, 9. Translation: Roberts 2017, 17 and 19, lightly modified.
Saint NameStephen, the First Martyr : S00030
Saint Name in SourceStephanus
Type of EvidenceLiterary - Poems
Evidence not before545
Evidence not after576
Activity not before545
Activity not after576
Place of Evidence - RegionItaly north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia
Gaul and Frankish kingdoms
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcRavenna
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Ravenna
Major author/Major anonymous workVenantius Fortunatus
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsConstruction of cult buildings
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - bishops
SourceVenantius 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.
DiscussionThe Palladius mentioned in this chapter could be Palladius of Saintes, who was ordained bishop in 573 and died about 600 (Roberts 2017, 842; PCBE 4, 'Palladius 10', pp. 1404-1408); if so the church was presumably in Saintes, though no early church of Stephen is documented there.
Brennan, however, believes that Venantius wrote this poem during his studies in Ravenna (Brennan 1985, 54).
BibliographyEditions 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).
Brennan, B., "The Career of Venantius Fortunatus," Traditio 41 (1985), 49-78.
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).