University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E06716: Venantius Fortunatus writes the Life of *Marcellus (5th c. bishop of Paris, S01301), presenting him as a miracle-worker and defender of the city of Paris. Written in Latin in Paris, shortly before May 576.

online resource
posted on 2018-10-05, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Venantius Fortunatus, Life of Marcellus (Vita Marcelli, BHL 5248)


The Life of Marcellus is dedicated to Bishop *Germanus of Paris (S01166), named in a dedicatory letter. In the prologue Venantius Fortunatus presents his aim as preserving the stories of the saint's miracles for posterity.

4. Marcellus is born in Paris to middle-class parents, and from early childhood he engages in fasting and exhibits the qualities of humility and charity. So outstanding are his virtues that he is made a reader in the church.

5. He performs his first miracle when a craftsman challenges him to hold a hot piece of iron and tell its weight. Marcellus proceeds to hold the iron in his hand without injury and to give its correct weight.

6. He is made a subdeacon, and on the day of Epiphany, while drawing water from the river Seine for his bishop, Prudentius, the water changes into wine. Many people partake in communion from this wine, and its volume miraculously increases.

7. Later, when Marcellus is washing Prudentius' hands, the water turns to balsam.

8. When an archdeacon orders a young cleric to sing against the bishop's wishes, the bishop orders the cleric to be whipped and suddenly loses his voice as punishment; Marcellus, still a subdeacon, arrives and heals the bishop.

9. Marcellus is ordained a bishop, a dignity he considers more a burden than an honour. One day he sees a man who wishes to take communion but cannot because his arms are contracted behind his back. After the man confesses his sins, Marcellus heals him and gives him communion.

10. A dragon begins to inhabit the tomb of an adulterous woman and terrorises the people of Paris; in a miracle that Venantius Fortunatus compares to one of saint *Silvester (E03229), Marcellus drives the beast away by hitting its head with his staff three times and stuffing a cloth in its mouth.

Marcellus dies on the kalends of November [=1 November].

Text: Krusch 1885. Summary: Kent Navalesi.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Marcellus, bishop of Paris, ob. AD 450/500 : S01301 Silvester, bishop of Rome, ob. 336 : S00397

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - 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)

Paris 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

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Healing diseases and disabilities Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Power over objects

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops


The Life of Marcellus was written probably in 576 in the months before the death of its commissioner, Bishop Germanus of Paris. Its author, Venantius Fortunatus, was born and educated in Italy and made his career in Gaul as a poet in the service of kings, queens, bishops and other Gallic elites. He settled in Poitiers and served as a priest and advocate at Radegund's (S00182) convent of the Holy Cross, an important beneficiary of Germanus' episcopal support. Fortunatus wrote the Life of Marcellus during a visit to Paris, and he sent a draft of the Life to Radegund in Poitiers.


Marcellus (PCBE 4, 'Marcellus 6') was bishop of Paris at some point during the 5th century, but his life is effectively unrecorded before Fortunatus' composition.


Edition: Krusch, B., Vita sancti Marcelli, in: Venanti Honori Clementiani Fortunati presbyteri Italici opera pedestria (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores antiquissimi 4.2; Berlin, 1885), 49-54. Further Reading: Collins, R., "Observations on the Form, Language, and Public of the Prose Biographies of Venantius Fortunatus in the Hagiography of Merovingian Gaul," in: H.B. Clark and M. Brennan (eds.), Columbanus and Merovingian Monasticism (Oxford, 1981). Kitchen, J., Saints' Lives and the Rhetoric of Gender: Male and Female in Merovingian Hagiography (Oxford, 1998). Picard, J.-Ch., "II était une fois un évêque de Paris appelé Marcel," in: M. Sot (ed.), Haut Moyen-Âge: Culture, éducation et société. Études offertes à Pierre Riché (La Garenne-Colombes, 1990), 79-91.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager