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E06924: Aldhelm, in his poem On the Altars of the Twelve Apostles, records the dedication of an altar to *Thomas (the Apostle, S00199), presumably in 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, 4.6

Hic Thomas, Didymus nomen sortitus Achivum,
Servat sacratum sarta testudine templum,
Vulnera qui tangens crudeli cuspide gesta
Credidit extemplo salvantem saecla monarchum,
Quamvis ante foret sociis incredulus almis
Atque fidem dubio gestaret corde sinistram,
Dum chaos inferni surgens de morte vedemptor
Linqueret abstrusum vasta comitante caterva;
Sed mox ambiguum convertit rubra cicatrix
Discipulo palpante trucis vulnuscula ferri,
Dum foribus clausis , trepidans qua turba latebat,
Pacifer intraret Christus salvator in aulam.

Hunc igitur soboles misit veneranda Tonantis
Eoas gentes almis convertere biblis
Plurima magnificis patrantem signa triumphis.
India tum sacris coluit simulacra nefandis
Doctrinis veterum stolidis instructa parentum,
Sed confessa fidem Thoma lucrante salutem
Credidit in Christum, caeli qui sceptra gubernat.

Denique transacto praesentis tempore vitae
Protinus aethereum Thomas lustravit Olimpum
Quem fani flamen veteris cultorque sacelli
Sanguine rorantem rigido transverberat ense
Praemia sumpturum, cum tellus sponte dehiscet
Omnia de priscis et surgent corpora tumbis.

'vi. On St Thomas
Here St Thomas, who was given the Greek name Didymus, protects the holy church with its repaired roof. Thomas, when he touched the wounds made by the cruel spear [John 20:24-5], believed at once in (the resurrection of) the King Who redeems the world - even though he had previously been distrustful of his kindly colleagues and had nourished an improper belief in his doubtful heart as the Redeemer, arising from death, left the murky chaos of hell accompanied by a vast multitude. But the red scar immediately resolved the doubt when the disciple touched the wounds left by the savage blade, as Christ the peace-bringing Saviour entered the room where the fearful crowd (of disciples) was hiding behind closed doors [John 20:26].

Christ, therefore, the holy offspring of God, sent this man, who was performing many miracles with magnificent success, to convert the peoples of the orient with holy books. India at that time worshipped icons with unspeakable rites, having been indoctrinated by the stupid teaching of its forefathers; but it confessed the true faith when Thomas won its salvation and (henceforth) believed in Christ, Who controls the sceptres of heaven.

Accordingly, when his time in this present life had been spent, Thomas straightaway sought the ethereal heaven. A temple-priest, the officiant of an ancient shrine, transfixed (Thomas) with a hard blade so that he was dripping with blood (but) he is to receive his rewards when the earth of its own accord shall gape open and all corpses rise from their ancient tombs.'

Text: Ehwald 1919, 24-5. Translation: Lapidge and Rosier 1985, 53-4.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Thomas, the Apostle : S00199

Saint Name in Source

Thomas, Didymus

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

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 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 this account of Thomas, he may also have made use of a now-lost apocryphal Acts of Thomas. (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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