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E05633: Venantius Fortunatus, in a poem On the basilica of saint *Bibianus (Vivianus/Bibianus, bishop of Saintes, mid-5th c., S01282) in Saintes (south-west Gaul), recounts how Leontius, bishop of Bordeaux, completed the building begun by two bishops of Saintes, and how Leontius' wife, Placidina, embellished the tomb of the saint; all in 530/571. Poem 1.12, written in Latin in Gaul, 565/576.

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posted on 2018-06-01, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Venantius Fortunatus, Poems 1.12 (De basilica Sancti Bibiani, 'On the church of Saint Bibianus')

Digna sacerdotis Bibiani templa coruscant.
   Quo si iusta petis, dat pia vota fides.
Quae praesul fundavit ovans Eusebius olim,
   ne tamen expleret raptus ab orbe fuit.
Cui mox Emerius successit in arce sacerdos,                      5
   sed coeptum ut strueret, ferre recusat onus.
Qui precibus commisit opus tibi, papa Leonti,
   cuius ad hoc votum iugiter instat amor:
ultro tale decus tibi se servavit agendum,
   nec nisi tu fueras qui loca sacra dares.                           10
O meritum iusti mansurum in luce perenni,
   per quem se cupiunt templa verenda coli!
Sacra sepulchra tegunt Bibiani argentea tecta,
   unianimis tecum quae Placidina dedit.
Quo super effusum rutilans intermicat aurum                   15
   et spargunt radios pura metalla suos;
ingenio perfecta novo tabulata coruscant
   artificemque putas hic animasse feras.
Sed cui vos animo donaria tanta dedistis,
   hic agat ut vobis stet diuturna salus.                             20
Nec dubitent qui digna ferunt, sibi magna rependi.
   Dum quoque pro parvis reddat opima deus.

'The brilliance of this church is worthy of Bishop Bibianus; if you make just requests here, faith fulfills your holy prayers. In the past Bishop Eusebius with joy laid its foundations, but he was taken from this world and unable to finish the work. (5) Soon Emerius succeeded him in the eminence of the bishopric, but he balked at the task of completing the building. By his prayers, though, he consigned to you, Bishop Leontius, this duty and in the fulfillment of this charge you show constant love and devotion. (9) Such a distinction readily reserved itself for you to perform it; no one but you could have provided this sacred site. How the merit of the just man will endure in perpetual light, by whom holy churches themselves long to be venerated! Silver coating covers the sacred tomb of Bibianus, the gift of Placidina, of one mind with you. (15) Laid upon it the sheen of gold intermingles its glimmer, and the unalloyed metal spreads widely its rays. A paneled ceiling of novel and ingenious construction lends luster; you’d think here the artist had brought wild animals to life. (19) May the saint to whom you have given wholeheartedly such gifts assure that your salvation is firm established forever, and may those who bring worthy offerings not doubt they will receive great rewards, since even for small services God renders rich recompense.'

Text: Leo 1881, 14. Translation: Roberts 2017, 35.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Bibianus, bishop of Saintes (western Gaul), ob. AD 5th century : S01282

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

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Women


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. The church in this poem was located in Saintes, a suffragan see within the metropolitan diocese of Bordeaux: for more details, see Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 284-285. Eusebius and Emerius were bishops of Saintes around the middle of the 6th century. Conflict between Leontius and Emerius is recorded in Gregory of Tours' Histories 4.26.


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). Vieillard-Troiekouroff, M., Les monuments religieux de la Gaule d'après les œuvres de Grégoire de Tours (Paris, 1976).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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