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E05566: Venantius Fortunatus, in a poem written for Gregory of Tours, describes two miracles of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050). Poem 1.5, written in Latin in northern Gaul, 573/576.

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posted on 2018-05-27, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Venantius Fortunatus, Poems 1.5 (In cellulam Sancti Martini ubi pauperum vestivit, rogante Gegorio episcopo, 'In the cell of Saint Martin, where he clothed a poor man, [written] at the request of bishop Gregory'), 11-22

In the first part of the poem the poet instructs the traveller to stop at the cell (cellula) of Martin where he clothed a poor man.

Qui tamen altaris sacra dum mysteria tractat,
   signando calicem signa beata dedit:
namque viri sacro de vertice flamma refulsit,
   ignis et innocui surgit ad astra globus,
ac brevibus manicis, fieret ne iniuria dextrae,             15
   texerunt gemmae qua caro nuda fuit:
brachia nobilium lapidum fulgore coruscant
   inque loco tunicae pulchra zmaragdus erat.
Quam bene mercatur cui, dum vestivit egenum.
   tegmine pro tunicae brachia gemma tegit!             20
Tu quoque qui caelis habitas, Martine precator.
   pro Fortunato fer pia verba deo.

'Yet when at the altar he was performing the holy mass, in blessing the cup he revealed blessed miracles, for from
the man’s holy head a flame burst forth and a ball of harmless fire rose to the stars. His sleeves were short, but jewels clothed him where the flesh was bare, to prevent his hand being injured; (17) his arms glittered with the radiance of precious stones, and a beautiful emerald took the place of his tunic. What a happy exchange, for when he clothed the poor man, jewels covered the arms in exchange for the tunic’s covering! So too you who dwell in the heavens, Martin, our intercessor, on behalf of Fortunatus convey to God holy words of prayer.'

The poem ends with a prayer to Martin from Fortunatus and an address to Gregory (of Tours), who had commissioned the work.

Text: Leo 1881, 10. Translation: Roberts 2017, 21 and 23.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397 : S00050

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Gaul and Frankish kingdoms

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

Tours Tours Toronica urbs Prisciniacensim vicus Pressigny Turonorum civitas Ceratensis vicus Céré

Major author/Major anonymous work

Venantius Fortunatus

Cult activities - Places

Place associated with saint's life

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miraculous sound, smell, light

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

The socially marginal (beggars, prostitutes, thieves) Ecclesiastics - bishops


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.


Venantius Fortunatus recounts in this poem three stories that Sulpicius Severus included in his writings on Martin. The story of Martin clothing a poor man is described in Dialogues 2.1. The incident of the ball appearing above Martin's head is included in Dialogues 2.2 and the jewels covering his arms are in Dialogues 3.10. For the Dialogues of Sulpicius Severus, see E00845. Roberts suggests that the poem, without the last four lines (21-25), which invoke Martin's help for Fortunatus and address Gregory of Tours, was intended to be inscribed in the cell where the miracle had occurred (Roberts 2017, 842). According to Reydellet, citing Pietri, cellula in this poem does not mean a cell, but a secretarium, that was in the cathedral in Tours (Pietri 1983, 363 and 825; Reydellet 1994-2004, vol. 1, 24, n. 21). See also Pietri 1987, 29.


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. George, J., Venantius Fortunatus: A Latin Poet in Merovingian Gaul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992). Pietri, L., La ville de Tours du IVe au VIe siècle. Naissance d'une cité chrétienne (Rome: École Française de Rome, 1983). Pietri, L., "Tours," in: N. Gauthier and J.-Ch. Picard (eds.), Topographie chrétienne des cités de la Gaule des origines au milieu du VIIIe siècle, vol. 5: Province ecclésiastique de Tours (Lugdunensis Tertia) (Paris, 1987), 19-39. Roberts, M., The Humblest Sparrow: The Poetry of Venantius Fortunatus (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009).

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