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E06705: In his Letter 5.17 to Eriphius, written in Latin, Sidonius Apollinaris writes of the church over the tomb of *Justus (bishop of Lyon, ob. c. 390, S02411) in Lyon (eastern Gaul) and how he attended there a feast of the saint. Written in Clermont (central Gaul), AD 461/477.

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posted on 2018-10-05, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Sidonius Apollinaris, Letters 5.17.3-4

In his letter Eriphius, Sidonius describes an event that occurred after he and his company took part in the feast at the tomb of Justus.

Conveneramus ad sancti Iusti sepulchrum (sed tibi infirmitas impedimento, ne tunc adesses); processio fuerat antelucana, sollemnitas anniversaria, populus ingens sexu ex utroque, quem capacissima basilica non caperet quamlibet cincta diffusis cryptoporticibus. Cultu peracto vigiliarum, quas alternante mulcedine monachi clericique psalmicines concelebraverant, quisque in diversa secessimus, non procul tamen, utpote ad tertiam praesto futuri, cum sacerdotibus res divina facienda. de loci sane turbarumque compressu deque numerosis luminibus inlatis nimis anheli; simul et aestati nox adhuc proxima tecto clausos vapore torruerat, etsi iam primo frigore tamen autumnalis Aurorae detepescebat.

‘We had gathered together at the tomb of Saint Justus (you, however, were prevented by illness from being there); the annual solemnity of the procession before daybreak. There was an enormous congregation of both sexes, too great for the very spacious church to contain, even with the expanse of covered porticoes with surrounded it. After the Vigils, which monks and clerics had celebrated with alternate strains of sweet psalmody, we all withdrew in various directions, but not far, as we wanted to be at hand for tierce when the priests should celebrate the Mass. Owing to the cramped space, the pressure of the crowd, and the numerous lights which had been brought in, we were absolutely gasping for breath; moreover, imprisoned as we were under the roof, we were broiled by the heat of what was still almost a summer night, although just beginning to be touched with the coolness of an autumn dawn.'

Text and translation: Anderson 1965, 226-229, adapted.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Iustus/Justus, bishop of Lyon, ob. c. 390 : S02411

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters


  • 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 - Liturgical Activity

  • Procession

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Visiting graves and shrines

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Aristocrats Crowds Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits


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 between 461 and 467, but PCBE 4 states that Sidonius' presence at Lyon was in 469, so the letter had to be written after that date. It is addressed to Eriphius, his friend (for Eriphius see PCBE 4: 'Eriphius', p. 642). Sidonius perhaps attended the feast of Justus' burial (depositio) celebrated on 2 September; Sidonius' comments about the weather would be consistent with this date. Sidonius' letter is the earliest evidence for the church at Lyon of Justus (ob. c. 390), a bishop of Lyon who gave up his episcopal office to go and live as an ascetic in Egypt (see E06326), but whose body was returned to Lyon after his death. According to a tradition recorded by the 9th c. chronicler Ado of Vienne, the church had originally been dedicated to the *Maccabees (pre-Christian Jewish martyrs of Antioch, S00303). After it received the relics of Justus, it was named after him, and it was probably under this appellation that it was known to Sidonius. The building was destroyed in 1562. Its dedication was celebrated by a festival which lasted a whole week. Sidonius describes it as a very large basilica (capacissima basilica) and surrounded by what he calls cryptoporticus. Strictly speaking this denotes underground structures, but Reynaud 1998, 91, argues that Sidonius simply means covered porticoes (as the word is translated by Anderson). For more details about the church of Justus, see Gauthier and Picard 1986, 27-28, and, in much greater detail, Reynaud 1998, 87-135.


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). Février, P.-A. et al., "Lyon," in: N. Gauthier and J.-Ch. Picard (eds.), Topographie chrétienne des cités de la Gaule, vol. 4: Province ecclésiastique de Lyon (Lugdunensis Prima) (Paris 1986), 15-35. 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) Reynaud, J.-F., Lugdunum Christianum. Lyon du IVe au VIIIe s.: topographie, nécropoles et édifices religieux (Documents d'archéologie française 69; Paris, 1998).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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