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E06625: In his Letter 4.18 to Lucontius, written in Latin, Sidonius Apollinaris recounts an inscription that he composed for the church of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) in Tours (north-west Gaul). Written in Clermont (central Gaul), AD 467/477.

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posted on 2018-09-27, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Sidonius Apollinaris, Letters 4.18.4-5

In his letter to Lucontius (or Lucentius) Sidonius recounts how Perpetuus, bishop of Tours, rebuilt the church of Martin in Tours. He requested Sidonius to compose a poem to inscribe on the walls of the church, who wrote as follows:

Martini corpus totis venerabile terris,
in quo post vitae tempora vivit honor,
texerat hic primum plebeio machina cultu,
quae confessori non erat aequa suo.
Nec desistebat cives onerare pudore [5]
gloria magna viri, gratia parva loci;
antistes sed qui numeratur sextus ab ipso
longam Perpetuus sustulit invidiam,
internum removens modici penetrale sacelli
amplaque tecta levans exteriore domo; [10]
creveruntque simul valido tribuente patrono
in spatiis aedes, conditor in meritis,
quae Salamoniaco potis est confligere templo,
septima quae mundo fabrica mira fuit.
Nam gemmis auro argento si splenduit illud, [15]
istud transgreditur cuncta metalla fide.
Livor, abi, mordax, absolvanturque priores,
nil novet aut addat garrula posteritas;
dumque venit Christus, populos qui suscitet omnes,
perpetuo durent culmina Perpetui. [20]

‘In this place Martin’s body, throughout the world revered, whose honour still lives after life’s end, was first covered by an edifice of mean style, ill-befitting its patron-confessor; and shame lay ever heavy upon the people that the glory of the man should be so great, the beauty of the place so small. But Perpetuus the prelate sixth in order after him took away this age-long reproach: he removed the inner shrine that formed the modest chapel and raised a lordly pile by building outside and over it; and so by the favour of its mighty patron the church has grown in size, the builder in merit, and well might it vie with Salomon’s temple which was the world’s seventh wonder; that sanctuary gleamed with gold and silver and precious stones, but this one surpasses all metals with the gleam of faith. Get thee gone, biting envy! May our forefathers be absolved, and may babbling posterity neither alter nor add anything; and until Christ comes to rouse all peoples from the dead, may the edifice of Perpetuus perpetually endure.’

Text and translation: Anderson 1965, 132-135.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397 : S00050

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters 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, village, etc


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

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

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Renovation and embellishment of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Aristocrats

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects



Sidonius Apollinaris was born at Lyons about 430, into a senatorial family. He witnessed the decay of the Roman Empire in the West and met or corresponded with many important people of his times. He passed through the regular courses in grammar, literature, rhetoric, philosophy and law in his native city, and his works – Poems and Letters – reflect his academic training. He wrote poetry from his early years. Until his election as bishop of Clermont in 469 or 470, Sidonius had a career in secular politics. He resided in Clermont till his death, perhaps in 489. Sidonius' Letters consist of nine books, containing 149 letters addressed to about a hundred correspondents, including officials and bishops. He started preparing his Letters for publication probably about 469, though this date is hypothetical. Books 1-7 were published in about 477, Book 8 in about 480, and Book 9 in about 482. The collection starts with an introductory letter, in which Sidonius dedicated the work to his friend Constantius (PCBE 4, 'Constantius 3'), a priest of Lyon who was also a writer, notably of the Life of *Germanus of Auxerre (E05841). Originally, Book 7 was the intended end, as its last letter, also dedicated to Constantius, states. However more of Sidonius’ friends wished to be represented in the collection. Book 8 was compiled at the instance of Petronius, a jurisconsult of Arles and lover of letters (PCBE 4, 'Petronius 3'), and Book 9 was requested by Firminus, a learned man of Arles (PCBE 4, 'Firminus 1). Sidonius revised his letters before publication and added several specially composed on this occasion. His chief model was Pliny, who also wrote nine books of letters. They are not arranged in chronological order, though in broad terms those in the earlier books are earlier than those in the later ones, with the letters in Books 1 and 2 dating from before Sidonius’ election as bishop in 469/470. The Letters are a major source of information about many aspects of the civil and ecclesiastical life of Sidonius’ time. For more on Sidonius' biography, his works, and their dating see PCBE 4, 'Sidonius 1', as well as works below, such as Harries 1994, and Mathisen 2013.


According to Dalton this letter was written in AD 470, while PCBE 4 states it was composed in AD 467. It is dedicated to Lucontius or Lecentius (Anderson 1956), who is not otherwise known. For Lucontius see PCBE 4: 'Lucontius', p. 1189. Sidonius tells that he was asked for a poem by Perpetuus, the bishop of Tours, who held his office between 460 and 490. The church of Martin in Tours: The first small church (basilica parvula) over the tomb of Martin in Tours was built by Bricius, the fourth bishop of Tours, about 443/444 (Gregory of Tours, Histories 10.31, E02389) and was originally dedicated to Peter and Paul. This was the beginning of Martin’s cult in Tours, fifty years after his death. Bricius was also the first bishop who was buried in the church over Martin’s tomb (Histories 10.31), and the building became the funeral church for the bishops of Tours. About 470, Perpetuus, the sixth bishop of Tours, removed the old chapel (cellula) and built a great church in its place. The vault (camera) from the old chapel was removed to a new church of the Apostles Peter and Paul, also built by Perpetuus (Histories 2.14, E02023; Histories 10.31, E02391). Miracles that occurred at the tomb of Martin were recorded by Sulpicius Severus, and later versified by Paulinus of Périgueux (Miracles of Martin 1.2, E02802), at the request of Perpetuus. Paulinus of Périgueux and Sidonius Apollinaris were also asked for poems to write on the walls of the church. Perpetuus instituted a new feast to celebrate three separate events: the dedication of the church, the translation of Martin’s body, and his ordination as a bishop. This was observed on 4 July (Histories 2.14, E02023; Miracles of Martin 1.6, E02805), while 11 November (the day of Martin's mortal death) continued to be celebrated as his principal feast. Perpetuus’ works brought about a revision of Martin image, ensuring that the saint, as well as being celebrated as an ascetic and miracle-worker, started to be venerated as a holy bishop, with the bishops of Tours as the guardians of his cult. The new church also replaced the cathedral as the place where the majority of liturgies were celebrated. In 558 the church was burnt by Willichar and then roofed with tin by Eufronius, the eighteenth bishop of Tours, with financial help from King Chlothar, who came to Tours with many gifts in 561 (Histories 4.20-21, E02066 and E02099; Histories 10.31, E02418). In the church-complex of Martin, there were at least two courtyards (atria): western and eastern (Miracles of Martin 2.30, E03135). Off the western courtyard was the baptistery, where vigils on the Nativity of John the Baptist were held (Histories 10.31, E02392) and where relics of the Baptist were probably kept (Glory of the Martyrs 14, E00466). The church was decorated with frescoes (Histories 7.22). The tomb of Martin was located in the eastern apse – absida tumuli (Miracles of Martin 2.47, E03301). It was covered with a marble lid that was sent by Eufronius, priest and later bishop of Autun, in about 470/475 (Histories 2.15, E02024). On the lid was a cloth – palla – which was treated as a powerful contact relic, often able to effect healing (Histories 5.48, E02176; Miracles of Martin 2.54, E03309; Miracles of Martin 4.43, E04634, Miracles of Martin 2.60, E03484).


Editions and translations: Anderson, W.B., Sidonius, Poems. Letters. 2 vols (Loeb Classical Library 296, 420; Cambridge MA/London, 1936, 1965). Loyen, A., Sidoine Apollinaire, Poèmes (Paris, 1960); Lettres. 2 vols. (Paris, 1970). Further reading: Dalton. O.M., The Letters of Sidonius. 2 vols. (Oxford, 1915). Harries, J., Sidonius Apollinaris and the Fall of Rome (Oxford, 1994). Mathisen, R.W., "Dating the Letters of Sidonius," in: J. van Waarden and G. Kelly (eds.), New Approaches to Sidonius Apollinaris (Leuven, 2013), 221-248. Pietri, L., and Heijmans, M. (eds.), Prosopographie chrétienne du Bas-Empire, 4: Prosopographie de la Gaule chrétienne (314-614). 2 vols. (Paris, 2013). (= PCBE) On the church of Martin at Tours: Vieillard-Troiekouroff, M., "Le tombeau de saint Martin retrouvé en 1860," Revue d'histoire de l'Église de France 144 (1961), 151–183. Vieillard-Troiekouroff, M., "La basilique de Saint-Martin de Tours de Perpetuus (470) d'apres les fouilles archeologiques," in: Évolution générale et développements régionaux en histoire de l'art : actes du XXIIe Congrés international d'histoire de l'art, Budapest 1969, vol. 2 (Budapest, 1972). Vieillard-Troiekouroff, M., Les monuments religieux de la Gaule d’après les oeuvres de Grégoire de Tours (Paris, 1976), 311–324.

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