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E06280: The Life of *Vivianus/Bibianus (bishop of Saintes, mid-5th c., S01282) is written in Latin in Gaul, probably in the 6th c. The Life mentions a visit by Vivianus to the shrine at Toulouse of *Saturninus (bishop and martyr of Toulouse, S00289), and installing relics sent from Rome in a church that he founded at Saintes.

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posted on 2018-09-02, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Life of Bibianus or Vivianus, Bishop of Saintes (Vita Bibiani vel Viviani episcopi Santonensis, BHL 1324)

The name of the subject of the Life is given here as Vivianus, but the form Bibianus is also common.


(§ 1) It is right that the life of a holy man like Vivianus, which was guided by holy precepts and not worldly desires and followed in the best traditions of the founders of the faith, should be preserved in the record of sacred history. The virtuous example of his deeds will be an excellent tool for the instruction of the faithful, and posterity will always have a model to follow. We therefore shall present an account of the family, character and deeds of Bishop Vivianus, lest oblivion erase them, so that recording the deeds of our special patron, he might, almost as if he were still here, continue to teach in person his flock, on whose behalf, we are confident, he does not cease to beseech God.

(§ 2) Vivianus was born in Saintes. His father was a pagan up to his death, but his mother, Maurella, was a Christian and with God’s help did much to encourage the religious formation of her son. At the age of sixteen, full of zeal, he devoted himself to the bishop of Saintes, Ambrosius. The bishop treated him as a son, overseeing his education in the scriptures, and enrolled him as a Reader. Regarded as a perfect candidate, he progressed through the ranks as sub-deacon and then deacon, at an appropriate pace. Having lived in a suitably dignified fashion, he was ordained a priest in his thirtieth year. His ascent to the priesthood had been textbook.

(§ 3) The providential mercy of God thus ensured a worthy successor to Ambrosius, and when he departed this life Vivianus was chosen unanimously, by laity and clergy, as the next bishop. But Vivianus, in keeping with the humility which had characterised his career to that point, refused the position, not wanting to appear ambitious, and declared himself unworthy. He concealed himself in the recesses of the sanctuary. His flight was not a sign of guilt, on the contrary it emphasised his worthiness all the more, and how fitting for a holy offering to be produced from the altar of a church sanctuary. A holy matron called Basilia, who was earnestly saying her prayers at the entrance to the sanctuary, spotted Vivianus lying prone, attempting to hide from those who were looking for him. He begged her to keep quiet about his presence. Basilia, not wishing to be distracted from her prayers, gave him away with a nod of her head. Thus, silently betrayed but also called forth by public approval he ascended to the bishop’s chair.

(§ 4) Vivianus was a dutiful pastor, instructing his flock in every aspect of religion, when Saintes was afflicted by an unbearable edict (it was in the era of the Goths, when Theodoric was king). The impact of the edict was such that the very freedom of the city was at stake. Having deprived ordinary people of their resources and having confiscated the estates [reading prediis for praesidium] of all the nobility, the barbarians intended to drag all the citizens in chains to Toulouse and, having squeezed the life out of the place, with the inhabitants out of the way, to indulge their penchant for theft by taking whatever they wanted. Vivianus saw what was happening and thought it wrong that a pastor should abandon his flock for wolves to plunder. The dutiful bishop chose to share the danger of his people; he wished to aid them as much by his presence as by his prayers. The mercy of God would the more easily loosen the chains of those imprisoned, when so great a bishop was known to put his own life on the line for his people. And so, although he was old, his body wasted away by fasting, and not really fit to endure such a long journey, he procured a cart, a typically humble vehicle. The most holy bishop intended to use a display of religious humility to trample upon the pretensions of the powerful.

(§ 5) When he reached Toulouse, the royal capital, he sought the protection of the martyr Saturninus and found a cheap lodging-place close by [the martyr’s shrine]. He would free the prisoners [reading oppressos for oppressus] more easily, he thought, by being alone, open to God, and concentrating totally upon the martyr, begging him with tears and prayers to become the advocate of his people in their time of need. During the night a thief stole the oxen from the bishop’s cart but, unable to find a hiding place for his booty, at dawn he found himself back at the scene of his crime. He admitted his guilt to Vivianus. The bishop calmly told him to keep the oxen, which, although dishonestly gained, he could use henceforth to sustain himself by honest toil, not theft. The bishop also invoked the words of the evangelist 'to sin no more' (John 8:11) lest he suffer punishment for crime in the future which he had avoided on this occasion.

(§ 6) The story of the bishop’s kindness spread very quickly and reached the ears of Theodoric. The king summoned the bishop into his presence and asked him to partake in a feast with some other bishops. He ate sparingly. Then, as was the custom, the king ordered the bishops to offer the cup to him. After the others did so, it was Vivianus' turn. He refused, saying it was his duty to administer the chalice from the altar to the sons of the church, not to those with whom he was not in communion. Theodoric was enraged by the insult and intended to take full revenge upon Vivianus. The bishop was unperturbed and, spending the night in prayerful vigil, he subdued the anger of the arrogant monarch. With the martyr’s help, the king, who thought he was feared, became afraid himself. Frightened by a dream, he put aside his anger and sought the bishop’s forgiveness. He summoned Vivianus to his presence again, humbly this time, so that his request for the freedom of his people might be granted. He came and, relying on divine authority rather than prayer, he freed both his own people and those who were in prison. And so, laden with gifts from the king who had desired to steal from them, he led his people back to Saintes and the church welcomed back its famous priest.

(§ 7) When a large Saxon pirate fleet laid siege to the town of Marciacus and the region was under barbarian threat, the town was protected by its mighty bishop. It was saved by a miracle when the bishop prostrated himself in prayer and a heavenly army took up position on its walls and towers. The enemy saw, and was terrified by, a holy vision which defies description and the godless barbarians were put to flight. Terrified by this divine help for their opponents, they sought peace terms of their own accord. Having come intent upon insane destruction, they returned home unharmed, defeated by a divine army, with no blood spilled. The town too was completely undamaged. This achievement is correctly attributed to the intercession of the bishop. His faithful prayer to the Lord was the source of victory.

(§ 8) Because it is no burden to recount for the faithful each thing that Vivianus did, let us also tell this story, which made him famous in other provinces. A merchant (negotiator) from the East came to Saintes one day and sought a meeting with Vivianus. The two became friends – God’s way of making known the merits of his servant. One day, as the bishop was making the rounds of his churches, he had a sudden nosebleed (de naribus eius sanguis subito in terra proflueret). It was a sign, not of any illness but of his virtue. It was a way of providing the maximum number of relics of Vivianus (reliquiarum eius maxima plenitudo), while he was still alive. That faithful merchant picked up the mixture of dust and blood from the spot where the nosebleed occurred, wrapped it carefully in cloth (in linteo cura conservationis involvit) and brought it home, so that he might always have a token of his good friend.

The merchant returned to his city in the East, but before he lowered the sails to enter the harbour, close to the town, those possessed by evil spirits began to proclaim the worth of Vivianus and, as if in the presence of a judge, were tortured by the holiness of the bishop. The assertion by the possessed of both the name and the presence of Vivianus caused consternation in the city. People rushed to the harbour to see if some person worthy of veneration had come from abroad. The merchant entered the harbour and the crowd of the faithful asked him who was this holy man Vivianus of whose reputation they were already aware. Had he brought him with him? Should they greet him suitably? The merchant said that he was not with him, on the contrary he had left him safe in Saintes. Then he suddenly remembered the blood relics of his friend he had brought back with him. The townspeople received them, thanking God for presenting to them his most faithful servant in this fashion. They carried such a great token (tantum pignus) to the basilica with all due ceremony, claiming that they had received a great protection since, through him, demons were driven from possessed bodies. It was as if the blessed bishop possessed two cities, the one where he actually was, the other through his virtue. And while God provided many benefits through Vivianus in Saintes,

... devotio sancta fidelium in Oriente basilicam in eius nomine summa operatione construxit, quam Severus, qui erat tunc temporis imperator, de proprio sumptu perduxit ad cultum.

'... the devoted faithful in the East built a basilica in his name with the utmost beneficence, which Severus, emperor at that time, developed into a centre of cult with his own money.'

Great things happen there by God’s mercy; the blind see and the lame walk.

(§ 9) ... memoratus antistes, labente iam senio, basilicam sibi propria devotione construxit et, ab Urbe beatissimorum martyrum reliquias qui peterent, suos fidelissimos distinavit. Qui cum essent iam in pr


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Vivianus/Bibianus, 5th c. bishop of Saintes (western Gaul) : S01282 Saturninus, bishop and martyr of Toulouse : S00289 Martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S00060

Saint Name in Source

Vivianus or Bibianus in different manuscripts Saturninus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Lives


  • 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, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Saintes Tours Tours Toronica urbs Prisciniacensim vicus Pressigny Turonorum civitas Ceratensis vicus Céré

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Ceremony of dedication

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Miraculous interventions in war Miraculous protection - of communities, towns, armies Exorcism Healing diseases and disabilities Miraculous behaviour of relics/images

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Monarchs and their family Foreigners (including Barbarians) Heretics Merchants and artisans

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - blood Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries Construction of cult building to contain relics Privately owned relics Public display of relics Unspecified relic


The Life of Vivianus was dated to the 8th or 9th c. by Krusch 1896, 92. However, his reasoning has been rejected by more recent studies. It was written at some point in the early to mid 6th c., according to Godding 2001, xxxix, and Heinzelmann 2010, 61. Godding notes the implication of the Life of Vivianus 4 that Gothic rule over Saintes was in the past, which implies a date of composition no earlier than 508.


Vivianus was bishop of Saintes in the mid 5th c., but there is little contemporary documentation of his episcopate. The Visigothic king called Theodoric could be either Theodoric I (r. 419-451) or Theodoric II (r. 453-466). The only other reference to a ruler in the Life is to an emperor named Severus, who supposedly financed a church dedicated to Vivianus in the East. However the only chronologically possible emperor named Severus (Libius Severus, r. 461-465) ruled only in the West. The relics brought from Rome for the church at Saintes founded by Vivianus just before his death (Life of Vivianus 9) are most likely to have been contact relics from the shrines of Peter and Paul, though this is not specified.


Edition: Krusch, B., Vita Bibiani vel Viviani episcopi Santonensis, in: Passiones vitaeque sanctorum aevi Merovingici (I) (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores Rerum Merovingicarum 3; Hannover, 1896), 94-100. Further reading (date of Life): Godding, R., Prêtres en Gaule mérovingienne (Subsidia Hagiographica 82; Brussels, 2001). Heinzelmann, M., "L'hagiographie mérovingienne. Panorama des documents potentiels," in: M. Goullet, M. Heinzelmann, and C. Veyrard-Cosme (eds.), L'hagiographie mérovingienne à travers ses réécritures (Beihefte der Francia 71; Ostfildern, 2010), 27-82. Further reading (historical background): Courcelle, P., "Trois dîners chez le roi visigoth d’Aquitaine," Revue des Études Anciennes 49 (1947), 169-177. Lot, F., "La 'Vita Viviani' et la domination visigothique en Aquitaine,” in: Lot, Recueil des travaux historiques (Geneva, 1968-73), vol. 2, 101-111.

Continued Description

oximo remeantes, sacra martyrum pignora deferentes, sanctum antestitem Dei inspiratione non latuit. Evocatis itaque civibus, osculum singulis tradens, viam etiam sui transitus intimavit, festivitatem nuntians, ut in diem tertium in honorabili loco sacrae advenientes reliquiae conderentur. Itaque fideliter omnibus praeparatis, quos postulaverat patronus, societati meritoque coniunctus, migravit in Domino. Sicque providentia Dei factum est, ut sub una die ecclesiam quam fabricaverat et devotione consecrasset et corpore.'The celebrated bishop, in his old age, built a church for himself by his own devotion and chose his most faithful servants to seek relics for it from the City of the most blessed martyrs (Rome). Inspired by God, the holy bishop sensed their imminent return with the sacred tokens of the martyrs. And so, he summoned his people and, giving each in turn a kiss, declared his passing from the world, announcing a holiday, instructing that the newly-arriving holy relics be installed in the sacred building on the third day. When all the preparations were made, which the patron (Vivianus) had demanded, he moved on to live in the well-earned company of the Lord. And so it came about by God’s providence that on the same day the church he had built was sanctified both by his devotion and by his body.’Right up the present time many favours are made manifest there, where the great bishop and confessor is held in devoted honour by the faithful.Text: Krusch 1896. Summary and translation: Philip Beagon.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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