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E06928: Aldhelm, in his poem On the Altars of the Twelve Apostles, records the dedication of an altar to *Matthew (Apostle and Evagelist, S00791), 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, 4.10

Matheus egregium describens dogma salutis
Ebrea per simplum digessit dicta libellum
Plurima sanctificis narrans miracula scedis,
Quae modo per mundum divulgant scripta triquadrum;
Quem Fison fluvius paradisi fonte redundans
Mire portendit pandens misteria rerum:
Fontis designat salvator iure figuram,
De quo quadrifluis decurrunt flumina rivis:
Quattuor ut quondam nascentis origine saecli
Limpida per latum fluxerunt flumina mundum,
Quae rubros flores et prata virentia glebis
Gurgitibus puris et glauco rore rigabant,
Sic doctrina Dei fluxit de fonte quaterno
Arida divinis irrorans corda scatebris.
Hanc scriptor verax expressit Matheus olim
Quemque profeta Dei sacro spiramine plenus
Humana specie vidit signarier olim,
Quod Christi patres et avos numeraret avorum,
E quis salvator nostrae cunabula sarcis
Sumpserat in mundo scelerata piacula demens.

'x. On St Matthew
Matthew, in setting down the excellent doctrine of salvation, produced his account in Hebrew in (the form of) a simple book, narrating many miracles in these holy pages which scripture now makes known throughout the tripartite world. The River Fison, emanating from the fountainhead of Paradise and opening the hidden mysteries of things, symbolizes Matthew, in wondrous fashion. The symbol of the fountainhead itself properly signifies the Saviour from Whom the rivers flow in four channels since, in the beginning of the world, four clear rivers once flowed through the wide world and irrigated with their pure streams and crystal-clear waters the red flowers and the meadows growing green in the land: thus did the teaching of God flow from the four-fold fountainhead, irrigating parched hearts with its holy streams.

Matthew, the trustworthy narrator, was represented by that (symbol). The prophet of God [i.e. Ezechiel], filled with the Holy Spirit, once saw him to be symbolized by human likeness, because he [i.e. Matthew] had enumerated the (human) forebears of Christ and the forefathers of their forefathers, from whom the Saviour of this world had entered the cradle of our flesh, (thereby) removing the guilt of our sins.'

Text: Ehwald 1919, 28-9. Translation: Lapidge and Rosier 1985, 56.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist : S00791

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 Matthew he also appears to have made use of 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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