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E05761: Venantius Fortunatus describes in a poem how the action of Count Sigoald in feeding the poor at the church of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) in Tours on behalf of King Childebert, gained the saint's favour for the king. Poem 10.17, written in Latin in Gaul, 576/595.

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posted on 2018-06-17, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Venantius Fortunatus, Poems 10.17 (Ad Sigoaldum comitem, quod pauperes pro rege paverit, 'To Count Sigoald, because he fed the poor on behalf of the king'), 21-42

Sigoald, probably the count of Poitiers, distributed alms to the poor on behalf of King Childebert. The poem begins (lines 1-20) with an exposition of the idea that for the rich to distribute alms to the poor was to purchase their own salvation.

Pro Childebercthi regis florente salute,
   surgat ut in solio qui fuit altus avo,
fiat ut hinc iuvenis validis robustior annis,
   ceu viguit proavus, sic sit in orbe nepos.
Ergo suus famulus Sigoaldus amore fidelis                         25
   pauperibus tribuit, regis ut extet apex.
Hinc ad Martini venerandi limina pergens
   auxilium domini dum rogat ipse sui
et dum illuc moderans rex pro regione laborat,
   ut precibus sanctus hunc iuvet, illud agit.                      30
Denique procedens * * sacra festa tenere
   pauperibus Christi praebuit ipse dapem.
dispensata placent alimenta per agmina Christi,
   pascitur et populus quem fovet arce deus.
Plurima caecorum refovetur turba virorum,                      35
   est quibus in tenebra lux deus atque via.
Hinc alitur clodus quem dirigit ordine Christus
   quique sui domini pendulus implet opus.
Quis referat tantos memorare sub ordine morbos,
   occurrens pariter quos sua cura fovet?                         40
Unde catervatim coeuntia milia pascens
   erogat ut habeat, rex quoque cuncta regat.

'It is for the prosperity and well-being of King Childebert – that he rise high on the throne exalted by his grandfather and that thereby that young man grow stronger and sturdier each year, and the grandson wield worldly power as his great-grandfather once did – for these reasons his faithful servant Sigoald out of affection distributed alms to the poor, that the king's glory might be exalted. Then proceeding to the shrine of the venerable Martin, when he asked for assistance for his lord, while the king was striving to govern in the interests of that realm, he brought it about that the saint would aid the king with his prayers. Next when going to celebrate the holy festival of * * he furnished a meal for the poor of Christ. The nourishment provided for the ranks of Christ won favor, and the people whom God in heaven protects found sustenance. A large number of blind men thereby found refreshment, for whom God is their light and the path in their darkness. In this way the lame were fed whom Christ set on the right way, and who, though unsteady, fulfilled the behest of their Lord. Who will be able to record in total the many illnesses which his solicitude attended to and relieved? And so feeding the thousands who collected together en masse, he paid out to take in and to secure the king's rule over all.'

Text: Leo 1881, 250-251. Translation: Roberts 2017, 699, modified.


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 - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Distribution of alms

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family Officials The socially marginal (beggars, prostitutes, thieves)


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.


Sigoald (PLRE IIIB, 'Sigivaldus 3') was count of either Tours or Poitiers. Here his action of feeding the poor at the church of Martin in Tours on behalf of King Childebert (r. 575-595) gains the king the support of the saint. Fortunatus expresses the hope that with God's favour, Childebert will become as powerful as his grandfather and great-grandfather (Chlothar I and Clovis). The poem contains a number of interesting elements relating to the distribution of alms by Sigoald: while distributing alms, he comes to the shrine (limina) of Martin at Tours, and provides a dinner (dapem) for the poor who are gathered there, on the occasion of a 'holy festival' (sacra festa). There is a lacuna in the line which mentions the festival (line 31). It is most likely that the missing word is sancti (which fits the meter), and that the reference is to a meal for the poor given on the 'holy festival of the saint' – one of Martin's feast-days (4 July or 11 November); however, another, metrically equivalent, word (such as paschae, Easter) is not impossible (Roberts 2017, 887). The crowds of the blind and lame mentioned by Fortunatus as the beneficiaries of the alms are the poor supported by the matricula of the church at Tours, and whom we know from other sources were usually gathered around it (see e.g. E02257, on Gregory, Histories 7.29).


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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