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E06926: Aldhelm, in his poem On the Altars of the Twelve Apostles, records the dedication of an altar to *Philip (the Apostle, S00109), 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, 4.8

Hic quoque commemorat metrorum comma Philippum,
Quem pius aethrali ditavit gratia Christus;
Barbara qui docuit doctrinis agmina sacris
Credere per Scithiam salvantem saecula Christum,
Qui dudum tetra torpebant mortis in umbra
Auctorem lucis tenebroso corde negantes
Atque creaturae famulantes ordine verso,
Donec apostolicam hauserunt aure loquelam.
Limpida perpetui cernentes lumina Phoebi
Omnes certatim merguntur gurgite sacro
Flagitium sceleris purgantes fonte lavacri.
Inde Asiam properat sanctis convertere biblis,
Idola quae dudum decepta fraude colebat,
Credula sed citius pandit praecordia Christo,
Splendida discipuli dum fantis verba capessit.
Sic felix Asiae convertit dogmate regnum,
In qua post obitum fatali sorte quiescit;
Cuius hoc templum sacrata tuebitur ara.

'viii. On St Philip
Here too the measure of my verses commemorates St Philip, whom the holy Christ enriched with heavenly grace. With his holy teaching Philip taught the barbarous multitudes throughout Scythia to believe in Christ Who is the Saviour throughout all ages. Until then the Scythians were lying listless in the dark shadow of death, denying the Creator of Light in their blackened hearts and perversely worshipping His creation, until (at length) their ears took in the preaching of the apostle. Gazing now on the clear light of the Perpetual Sun [i.e. Christ], they are all eagerly immersed in holy water, thereby cleansing the shame of their sin in the fountain of baptism.

Thereupon Philip hastens with holy books to convert Asia, a continent which, misled by deception, formerly worshipped idols; but it quickly opened its believing hearts to Christ as it took in the glorious words of the disciple's preaching. Thus did the blessed man convert the realm of Asia with his teaching. He was laid to rest in Asia after his death through final destiny. The altar dedicated in his name shall protect this church.'

Text: Ehwald 1919, 27-8. Translation: Lapidge and Rosier 1985, 55.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Philip, the Apostle : S00109

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


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 Philip's preaching in Scythia he may also have made use of Pseudo-Abdias' Historiae Apostolicae. (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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