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E06237: Venantius Fortunatus, in a poem on virginity, gives a list of prominent female virgin saints. Poem 8.3, written in Latin in Gaul, probably in the early 570s.

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posted on 2018-08-23, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Venantius Fortunatus, Poems 8.3 (In nomine domini nostri Iesu Christi et domnae Mariae matris eius de virginitate, 'In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the lady Mary his mother, on virginity'), 25-46

This an extract from a long poem which addresses Agnes, abbess of Radegund's convent of the Holy Cross in Poitiers, and describes the marriage with Christ in heaven on an idealised virgin. The precise context of this extract is a description of the court of heaven.

Inde dei genetrix pia virgo Maria coruscat,                  25
   virgineoque agni de grege ducit oves,
ipsa puellari medio circumdata coetu
   luce pudicitiae splendida castra trahit.
Per paradisiacas epulas sua vota canentes
   ista legit violas, carpit et illa rosas.                            30
Pratorum gemmas ac lilia pollice rumpunt
   et quod odoratum est flore comante metunt.
Eufemia illic, pariter quoque plaudit Agathe,
   et Iustina simul consociante Thecla.
Hic Paulina Agnes Basilissa Eugenia regnant,               35
   et quascumque sacer vexit ad astra pudor.
Felices quarum Christi contingit amore
   vivere perpetuo nomina fixa libro!
Has inter comites coniuncta Casaria fulget,
   temporibus nostris Arelatense decus,                      40
Caesarii monitis luci sociata perenni
   si non martyrii, virginitatis ope.
Quos Liliola refert aequatis moribus ambos,
   et claram heredem proxima palma manet.
Et quaecumque suos vigilans meditabitur actus,        45
   his erit egregio participanda gradu.

'Then the mother of God, the holy virgin Mary, shines brightly and leads the sheep from the virginal flock of the lamb. She herself, surrounded by a company of maidens around her, heads a host that is radiant with chastity’s light. Hymning their marriages among the banquets of paradise, one gathers violets, another picks roses. They pluck with their thumbs the jewels o f the meadows and lilies, and harvest what is scented with full-petaled flower. There Euphemia along with Agatha joins in the celebration, and Justina, with Thecla to accompany her. Here reign Paulina, Agnes, Basilissa, and Eugenia, and all whom their holy chastity has raised to the stars. Happy are they who have won the right through the love of Christ to have their names inscribed in the eternal book! Among these companions as one of them Caesaria shines brightly, the glory of Arles in our own time. Through the precepts of Caesarius she enjoys perpetual light, by virtue of virginity, if not of martyrdom. Liliola in like conduct brings both of them to mind, and a similar palm awaits her, their glorious heir. Whatever woman attentively imitates their actions will share with the two of them their lofty status.'

Later in this same poem, in a further account of the court of heaven, Fortunatus produces a long list of saints, male and female, associating them with their cities or regions - see $E06245

Text: Leo 1881, 182. Translation: Roberts 2017, 499 and 501.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033 Euphemia, martyr of Chalcedon : S00017 Agatha, virgin and martyr of Catania : S00794 Thekla, follower of the Apostle Paul : S00092 Agnes, virgin and martyr of Rome : S00097 Basilla, virgin and martyr of Rome : S00

Saint Name in Source

Maria Eufemia Agatha Thecla Agnes Basilissa Eugenia Casaria Paulina Iustina

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 - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives



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.


Reydellet notes that six of the eight female martyrs listed in this passage (Euphemia, Agatha, Justina, Paulina, Agnes and Eugenia) are represented in the wall mosaic depicting a procession of female saints in the basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (see E06046). Thecla is included by Fortunatus in his catalogue as a well-known model of virginity, but Basilissa is a fairly obscure martyr of Rome (S00684). Perhaps her name is included because it means 'queen' in Greek, echoing the spiritual career of Radegund, patron of Fortunatus and herself a former queen. See Reydellet 1994-2004, vol. 2, 131, n. 16. The emphasis given to Caesaria of Arles, a non-martyr, is because Radegund modelled her monastic rule on that which Caesarius of Arles produced for Caesaria. The one figure mentioned by Fortunatus who did not attract cult as a saint is Liliola, the successor of Caesaria as abbess of her monastery at Arles. This poem was perhaps composed for Agnes’ assumption of the role of abbess in the monastery of Holy Cross in Poitiers in the early 570s (Reydellet 1994-2004, vol. 2, 129, n. 10).


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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