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E05632: Venantius Fortunatus, in a poem On the basilica of lord *Dionysius (Dionysius/Denis, bishop and martyr of Paris, S00349), recounts how Leontius, bishop of Bordeaux (south-west Gaul), completed and enlarged the building begun by his predecessor; presumably in the territory of Bordeaux, in 540/571. Poem 1.11, written in Latin in Gaul, 565/576.

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posted on 2018-06-01, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Venantius Fortunatus, Poems 1.11 (De basilica domni Dionysi, 'On a church of lord Dionysius')

Qui cupis egregii structorem noscere templi,
   tam pia non patiar vota latere tibi.
Longius hinc olim sacra cum delubra fuissent
   et plebs ob spatium saepe timeret iter,
exiguam dederat hic praesul Amelius arcem,                          5
   Christicolam populum nec capiente loco:
quo vitae claudente diem dehinc prole graduque
   venit ad heredem hoc opus atque locus,
fundavitque piam hanc papa Leontius aulam.
   Obtulit et domino splendida dona suo.                              10
quam venerandus habet propriam Dionysius aedem,
   nomine sub cuius sanctificata nitet;
qui fervente fide, Christi solidatus amore,
   vertice subposito colla secanda dedit.
Membrorum contemptor erat cupiendo coronam.               15
   Vile putans quicquid ferret amore dei.
Ut moritura caro donum inmortale pararet,
   vulnera dilexit, sed caritura nece;
hostili occurrens gladio se misit Olympo:
   unde mori voluit, vota salutis habet.                                 20
Nec angusta prius subtraxit fana sacerdos,
   haec nisi perficeret quae modo culta placent,
adsidue in prisco peragens cerimonia templo,
   donec rite sequens consolidasset opus.

'For you who wish to know the builder of this fine church, I will not allow such holy wishes to remain hidden. Seeing that once the holy shrine had been further from this place and that because of the distance the people often dreaded the journey, Bishop Amelius established here a small foundation, though its site did not accommodate all the Christian people. (7) When he brought to a close the course of his life, then by birth and status, this task and this site devolved upon his heir, and Bishop Leontius set up here this holy church and offered brilliant gifts to his Lord. (11) This shrine revered Dionysius possesses as his own, from whose name it wins sanctity and luster. For he in the fervor of his faith, firm-founded on the love of Christ, bowed his head and offered his neck to be severed. (15) In coveting a crown he had contempt for his limbs, thinking but slight whatever he endured for God’s love. So that flesh soon to die might win a deathless prize, he welcomed wounds that were to bring him no death. By meeting the enemy’s sword he consigned himself to heaven; because he wished to die, he fulfilled his wish for salvation. (21) Nor did the bishop remove the cramped shrine until he had completed what now charms with its finery, continuing dutifully to perform in the old church the proper rites, until in due order he had completed work on its successor.'

Text: Leo 1881, 12-14. Translation: Roberts 2017, 33.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Dionysius/Denis, bishop and martyr of Paris : S00349

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems



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

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.


Leontius, bishop of Bordeaux, was a patron of Fortunatus and he and his buildiing-works are the subject of several of his poems, including two poems dedicated specifically to him (1.15 and 16), and one to his wife Placidina (1.17). He is first documented as bishop of Bordeaux in 541/549 and last documented in 561/567, but we do not know when he died. For Leontius see PCBE 4, 'Leontius 16', pp. 1145-1149; George 1992, 108-113. This church is likely to have been in the territory of Bordeaux, Leontius' diocese.


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). Roberts, M., The Humblest Sparrow: The Poetry of Venantius Fortunatus (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009).

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