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E06919: Aldhelm, in his poem On the Altars of the Twelve Apostles, records the dedication of an altar (and/or apse) to *Peter (the Apostle, S00036), presumably in Britain. Written in Latin in southern Britain, c. 670/710.

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posted on 2018-10-17, 00:00 authored by bsavill
Aldhelm, Carmina Ecclesiastica, 4.1

Hanc Petrus absidam sanctorum sorte coronat,
Claviger aethereus, qui portam pandit in aethra,
Ianitor aeternae recludens limina vitae;
Omnibus hic geminum digessit dogma per orbem,
Quod binis constat descriptum rite libellis,
Pectore qui patulo Christi praecepta capessunt.
Ut prius aequoreas captabat rete catervas
Linea squamigeris extendens vincula turmis,
Sic hominum cuneos mundi de gurgite raptos
Ducit ad aeternum caelesti remige regnum,
Ut sibi salvator vera cum voce spopondit,
Quando piscantem panda de puppe vocavit.
Qui ponti pedibus caleavit caerula glauci,
Sed mare mergentem tumidis non sorbuit undis,
Dextera dum Christi turgentia marmora pressit;
Cuius praestabat defunctis umbra medelam,
Dum sani rursus redeunt ad lumina vitae,
Quamvis ante nigrae lustrassent limina mortis.

Hic quoque poplitibus nec non et crure gemello
Claudum restaurat fretus virtute Tonantis
Et cito sanatis praecepit pergere plantis,
Quem prius ad templum gestabant forte propinqui .
Hic etiam binos multavit morte malignos,
Qui pretium fundi celarant fraude nefandum;
Insuper et magicum falsi fantasma Simonis
Funditus evacuans tetras detrusit in umbras
Romanum vulgus solvens errore vetusto,
Qui praecelsa rudis scandit fastigia turris
Atque coronatus lauri de fronde volavit,
Sed mox aethereas dimittens furcifer auras
Cernuus ad terram confractis ossibus ambro
Corruit, et Petro cessit victoria belli;
Qui cruce confixus gaudens tormenta luebat
Horrida crudelis passurus vulnera ferri;
Quem Deus aeternis ornatum iure triumphis
Arbiter omnipotens ad caeli culmina vexit.


i. On St Peter
St Peter crowns this apse with the blessedness of the saints – the celestial key-bearer, who opens the gateway to heaven, the doorman who throws open the doors of eternal life. He made clear his two-fold doctrine to all (peoples) throughout the world – (two-fold), in that it is duly written down in two books [i.e. the two Epistles of Peter] which contain the teachings of Christ in clear conscience. Just as he had formerly caught fishy shoals in his net, stretching out flaxen fetters for the scaly tribes, so now in his heavenly ship he takes the throngs of men (which he has) snatched from the whirlpool of this world to the eternal realm – exactly as the Saviour promised to him in true words when He called him from the curved boat to Peter (who was) fishing. Peter (also) walked by foot on the blue waters of the sparkling sea: but the sea did not swallow up the sinking man in its swelling surge since the right hand of Christ calmed the raging waters. Peter's shadow used to provide a remedy for those who had died, since, having been healed, they returned once again to the light of this life, even though they had formerly entered the gates of black death.

Peter also, aided by the divine power of God, restored a man who was lame in his knees and in both thighs; Peter immediately ordered him – whom neighbours had previously happened to carry to the temple – to walk on both his newly-healed feet [Acts 3:2-9]. He also punished with death two evil people [i.e. Ananias and his wife Saphira] who had by fraud concealed (part of) the unspeakable price (for a piece) of land [Acts 5:1-10]. What is more, he completely banished the magical practices of the false Simon Magus, driving them off into dark shadows (and thus) freeing the Roman populace from ancient superstition. For Simon had climbed the lofty summits of a new tower and, crowned with a branch of laurel, he set off flying; but the greedy crook fell face-down on the ground, expelling at once his vital breath, with all his bones shattered; and victory in this battle went to St Peter. (In the end) Peter, fixed rejoicing on the cross, underwent torture, suffering the horrendous wounds (inflicted by) the cruel sword. God, the omnipotent judge, took Peter, duly adorned with his heavenly triumphs, to the summits of heaven.'

Text: Ehwald 1919, 19-20. Translation: Lapidge and Rosier 1985, 50.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Peter the Apostle : S00036

Saint Name in Source


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 name in other Language(s)

St Albans St Albans Verulamium

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Power over life and death Punishing miracle

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Pagans Heretics


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 4 is by far the longest poem of the group, and is divided into twelve parts, one for each of the twelve Apostles (with Paul as the replacement for Judas Iscariot); we have entered each of these parts separately into our database, as E06919-E06930. The poem survives through four continental European manuscripts.


Bugga's church in Carmen Ecclesiasticum 3, with its primary dedication to Mary, is described as having 'holy altars [which] gleam in twelve-fold dedication' (E06918), so it is possible that the twelve poems to the different Apostles of Carmen Ecclesiasticum 4 relate to twelve altars in this church. Even if they refer to different institutions, the two poems suggest that twelve-fold apostolic dedications of churches may not have been unusual in the early Anglo-Saxon church. Aldhelm's main source for Carmen Ecclesiasticum 4 is Isidore of Seville's On the Origin and Death of the Fathers. For his account of Peter, he appears also to draw upon the apocryphal Acts of Peter with Simon and Jerome's De viris illustribus. (See further Lapidge and Rosier, 1985, 41-44, 239-42.)


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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