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E05752: Venantius Fortunatus, in a poem to Gregory (bishop of Tours 573-594), on behalf of a girl accused of theft and sold into slavery, recounts how he met her parents praying at a tree miraculously raised up by *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050); in the territory of Tours, in 573/576. Poem 5.14, written in Latin in Gaul, 573/576.

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posted on 2018-06-16, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Venantius Fortunatus, Poems 5.14 (Ad eundem [= Gregorium episcopum] de commendatione puellae, 'To the same person, in recommendation of a girl'), 1-18

Cum graderer festinus iter, pater alme Gregori,
   qua praecessoris sunt pia signa tui,
quod fertur convulsa iacens radicitus arbor
   Martini ante preces exiluisse comis,
quae fidei merito nunc stat spargendo medellas,               5
   corpora multa medens, cortice nuda manens:
fletibus huc genitor genetrixque puella,
   voce inplendo auras et lacrimando genas.
Figo pedem, suspendo aurem: mihi panditur ore
   vix per singultus vendita nata suos.                             10
Quaero adhuc: questus perhibet nullo indice furto
   furti ex obiectu hanc pater ire iugo:
se voluisse dare et iurantes ordine testes
   nomine quemque tenens, nec potuisset egens.
Non aderat iudex, erat accusator adurguens:                 15
   hic ego quid facerem, posse vetante, sacer?
   'Si pius hic', dixi, 'praesens Martinus adesset,
nil permisisset perdere pastor ovem'.

'As I was hurrying on my way, kindly father Gregory, where there is evidence of your predecessor’s holiness – for they say that a tree lying flat with its roots torn out, at the prayers of Martin burst forth in foliage, and now by the virtue of his faith stands tall dispensing healing, curing many bodies, though quite bereft of bark – (7) here I encountered a father and mother in tears for their daughter, filling the air with their voices and their cheeks with tears. I halt my step, I cock my ear; with difficulty through their sobs I make out their story: a daughter sold into slavery. (11) I continue my questions; the father laments, though without evidence of theft she lost her freedom: theft was the charge. He wanted to provide witnesses, taking the oath in due order – everyone was listed by name – but he was poor and could not. (15) There was no judge there to hear the case, only a vehement accuser. What could I have done, holy father, I have no power? "If saintly Martin were present here with us," I said, "he, as a shepherd, would not allow his sheep to be lost."'

Fortunatus then asks Gregory of Tours to examine the case and help restore the girl to her father.

Text: Leo 1881, 121. Translation: Roberts 2017, 337 and 339.


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

Other (mountain, wood, tree, pillar)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle with animals and plants

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Aristocrats Ecclesiastics - bishops Other lay individuals/ people Slaves/ servants

Cult Activities - Relics

Souvenirs of miracles 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 poem is dedicated to Gregory, the historian and bishop of Tours, so must have been written after Gregory began his episcopate in 573. On Fortunatus' poems to Gregory of Tours, see George 1992, 124-131; Roberts 2009, 269-283; Roberts 2015. Gregory describes this miracle of Martin in his Glory of the Confessors 7 (see E02457), where he locates it as happening at Neuillé-le-Lierre in the territory of Tours. Line 6 of Fortunatus' poem suggests that the tree had been stripped of its bark by the faithful, wishing to possess a small piece of this miraculous object.


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). Roberts, M., "Venantius Fortunatus and Gregory of Tours: Poetry and Patronage," in: A.C. Murray (ed.), A Companion to Gregory of Tours (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2015), 35-59.

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