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E06916: Aldhelm's poem On the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul records the dedication of a church to the Apostles *Peter (S00036) and *Paul (S00008), presumably in Britain, perhaps at Malmesbury (south-west Britain). Written in Latin in southern Britain, c. 670/710.

online resource
posted on 2018-10-17, 00:00 authored by bsavill
Aldhelm, Carmina Ecclesiastica, 1

Hic celebranda rudis florescit gloria templi,
Limpida quae sacri signat vexilla triumphi;
Hic Petrus et Paulus, tenebrosi lumina mundi,
Praecipui patres, populi qui frena gubernant,
Carminibus crebris alma venerantur in aula.

Claviger aetherius, portam qui pandis in aethra,
Candida caelorum recludens regna Tonantis,
Ausculta clemens populorum vota precantum,
Marcida qui riguis umectant imbribus ora;
Suscipe singultus commissa piacla gementum,
Qui prece flagranti torrent peccamina vitae!

Maximus et doctor , patulo vocitatus ab axe,
Cum cuperes Christo priscos praeponere ritus,
Saulus, qui dictus mutato nomine Paulus
Post tenebras claram coepisti cernere lucem,
Vocibus orantum nunc aures pande benignas
Et tutor tremulis cum Petro porrige dextram,
Sacra frequentantes aulae qui limina lustrant,
Quatenus hic scelerum detur indulgentia perpes
Larga de pietate fluens et fonte superno,
Dignis qui numquam populis torpescit in aevum!

Here flowers the renowned glory of a new church, (glory) which emblazons bright banners of a holy victory; here Peter and Paul, the lights of a darkened world, excellent Fathers who control the reins of their people, are venerated in this holy church with continual prayers.

[To St Peter]: Ethereal key bearer, you who open the gateway to the skies, unlocking the shining realms of God's heaven: listen mercifully to the petitions of these peoples praying, who moisten their withered faces with streams of tears; acknowledge the lamentations of those who bewail the sins they have committed, who with their burning prayers are cauterizing the evils of this life!

[To St Paul]: And you, great doctor, who, at the time when you were inclined to prefer pagan mysteries to Christ, were summoned from on high; (and), who previously were called Saul, with your name changed to Paul you began to see the clear light after the shadows [Acts 22:3-13]: now you open your kindly ears to the voices of those praying (to you) and, kindly guardian, in company with St Peter, extend your right hand to the fearful (crowds) who in multitudes seek the holy threshold of this church, so that eternal forgiveness, flowing from bountiful kindness and the heavenly font – which shall never grow still for those who deserve – may here be given for their sins.'

Text: Ehwald 1919, 11-12. Translation: Lapidge and Rosier 1985, 46, title lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Peter the Apostle : S00036 Paul, the Apostle : S00008

Saint Name in Source

Petrus Paulus, Saulus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Britain and Ireland

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Malmesbury St Albans St Albans Verulamium

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Places Named after Saint

  • Church

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives



The Carmina Ecclesiastica is an editor's title for a collection of five dedicatory poems for churches and altars (tituli) by the Anglo-Saxon scholar Aldhelm (ob. 709/10), who probably never intended them to be viewed together as a single group (Lapidge and Rosier, 1985, 35-45). Aldhelm appears to have been a son of Centwine, king of the Gewisse or West Saxons (south-west Britain) from 676 until 682/5, when he abdicated and retired to a monastery. We do not know when Aldhelm himself took religious vows, but he definitely attended, perhaps for many years, Archbishop Theodore and Abbot Hadrian’s school at Canterbury (from shortly after 670?), and possibly studied at the Irish foundation of Iona, off the coast of north-west Britain (perhaps in the 660s?). Around 682/6 he became abbot of the West Saxon monastery of Malmesbury, and in 689 probably accompanied King Cædwalla on his pilgrimage to Rome (see E05710 and E06661). In 705/6 he was appointed ‘bishop west of the wood’ in his home kingdom (later identifiable with the diocese of Sherborne). (For all aspects of Aldhelm’s career, see Lapidge, 2007.) Carmen Ecclesiasticum 1 is quoted in full in the 12th century works of Faricius and William of Malmesbury, and there is further manuscript evidence that it was known in continental Europe.


William of Malmesbury asserted in the 12th century that this poem had originally been composed for his own monastery's church of Peter and Paul (cf. E06661), famously once under Aldhelm's abbacy (Gesta Pontificum, v. 197). However, dedications to these two saints do not seem to have been unusual in early Anglo-Saxon England (see e.g. the monastery at Canterbury, E06969, itself a foundation with close ties to Aldhelm), so this identification may not be secure. (See further Lapidge and Rosier, 1985, 38-9, 232-3.)


Edition: Ehwald, R., Aldhelmi opera (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi 15; Berlin, 1919). Translation: Lapidge, M., and Rosier, J.L., Aldhelm, The Poetic Works (Cambridge, 1985). Further reading: Lapidge, M., "The Career of Aldhelm," Anglo-Saxon England 36 (2007), 15-69.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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