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E05683: Venantius Fortunatus, in a poem about the cathedral of Nantes (north-west Gaul), newly built by bishop Felix, and dedicated to the Apostles *Peter and *Paul (S00036 and S00008), makes possible reference to relics of the two apostles and clear reference to relics of *Hilary (bishop of Poitiers, ob. 367, S00183) and *Ferreolus (soldier and martyr of Vienne, S01893); all in 567. Poem 3.7, written in Latin in Gaul, 565/576.

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posted on 2018-06-09, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Venantius Fortunatus, Poems 3.7 (In honore eorum quorum ibi reliquiae continentur, 'In honour of those whose relics are contained there'), 17-18 and 51-58

This poem is part of a group of texts addressed to Felix, bishop of Nantes (Poems 3.4-10); it follows a poem (3.6) describing the dedication of the cathedral at Nantes which had been built by Felix. In this poem, the first part contains praise of Peter and Paul, the Apostles and patrons of the cathedral of Nantes. There follows a possible reference to relics of these Apostles being sent to Nantes from Rome:

Gallia, plaude libens, mittit tibi Roma salutem:               17
   fulgor apostolicus visitat Allobrogas.

'Gaul, rejoice with full heart, for Rome sends you salvation; the bright light of the Apostles has come to the Allobroges.'

Then Venantius describes the beauty of the church, stressing the light of the building and that of the relics it contains:

Dextera pars templi meritis praefulget Hilari,
   compare Martino consociante gradum.
Gallia sic proprios dum fudit ubique patronos,
   quos hic terra tegit, lumina mundus habet.
Altera Ferreoli pars est, qui vulnere ferri                      55
   munere martyrii gemma superba nitet.
Obtulit haec Felix, ut sit magis ipse sacerdos,
   Christe, tuum templum, qui tibi templa dedit.

'The right side of the building shines bright with the virtues of Hilary; Martin was his partner and his companion in rank. While Gaul in this way sends a flood of its patrons in every direction, the world wins as its lights those whom the earth here conceals. The other side holds Ferreolus, who by the stroke of a sword glistens as a glorious jewel in reward for his martyrdom. Felix made this offering so that he, your bishop, who gave you a temple, would himself thereby become your temple, Christ.'

Text: Leo 1881, 58. Translation: Roberts 2017, 147, 149 and 151.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397 : S00050 Hilarius/Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, ob. 367 : S00183 Ferreolus, soldier and martyr of Vienne : S01893 Paul, the Apostle : S00008 Peter the Apostle : S00036

Saint Name in Source

Martinus Hilarius Ferreolus Paulus Petrus

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 - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries


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.


This poem was probably written on the occasion of the dedication of the new cathedral of Nantes in 567. The building was built by Felix, who was bishop from 551 to 584. The term 'Allobroges' used in line 18 of the poem is a metonym of Gaul. For more details about the cathedral, see Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 180-181, and Pietri 1987, 88-91. For Felix of Nantes, see George 1992, 113-123; PCBE 4, 'Felix 9', pp. 752-757.


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., "Nantes," 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: Boccard, 1987), 83-94. 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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