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E05686: Venantius Fortunatus, in a poem about a castle on the Moselle built by Nicetius, bishop of Trier (north-east Gaul), tells of a tower that may have contained relics of saints; AD 525/566. Poem 3.12, written in Latin in Gaul, 565/566.

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posted on 2018-06-09, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Venantius Fortunatus, Poems 3.12 (Item de castello eiusdem super Mosella, 'Again on the castle of the same person [= Nicetius, bishop of Trier] above the Moselle'), 33-36

The second of two poems addressed to Nicetius, bishop of Trier (3.11-12). Nicetius built a hilltop fortress (castellum) at a place named 'Mediolanus'. Fortunatus describes its pleasant location, and its impressive buildings, which included 'a lofty hall supported on marble columns'. The poet then turns to the fortifications:

Turris ab adverso quae constitit obvia clivo,              33
   sanctorum locus est, arma tenenda viris.
Illic est etiam gemino ballista volutu,
   quae post se mortem linquit et ipsa fugit.

'Opposite is a tower that meets you as you climb the slope; it is a place of saints, an arsenal for arming men. There is also a ballista there of double shot, which leaves death behind itself and itself flees.'

Text: Leo 1881, 65. Translation: Roberts 2017, 169, modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Saints, unnamed : S00518

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 - secondary installation (fountain, pilgrims’ hostel)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Privately owned relics


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.


The location of 'Mediolanus' is uncertain, but it may have been modern Niederemmel (Roberts 2017, 852). Nicetius, subject of one of the Lives in Gregory of Tours' Life of the Fathers (E05466), was bishop of Trier from c. 525 to c.566. For Nicetius, see PCBE 4, 'Nicetius 6', 1373-1377. The most straightforward interpretation of the description of this tower as sanctorum locus, literally a 'place of saints', is that it contained relics, as an addition protection for the site.


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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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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