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E07232: In his Sermon 33, On paying tithes: before the nativity of St. John the Baptist, Caesarius bishop of Arles (southern Gaul) admonishes people to stay chaste and honest in the days preceding the feast of the nativity of *John the Baptist (S00020), and to abjure a 'pagan' practice on the festival, of night-time or early morning bathing in springs and rivers. Written in Latin at Arles, 503/542.

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posted on 2018-12-30, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 33, De reddendis decimis: ante natale Sancti Iohannis Baptistae


4. Et quia natale sancti iohannis baptistae cum gaudio cupimus celebrare, sicut et reliquis festivitatibus supervenientibus, ita inminente ista tam praeclara sollemnitate ante plures dies castitatem et honestatem omnes omnino custodiant; ut festivitatem istam possint omnes cum gaudio celebrare, et ad altare domini cum libera et sincera conscientia mereantur accedere. Hoc etiam deprecor, et per tremendum diem iudicii vos adiuro, ut omnes vicinos vestros, omnes familias, et cunctos ad vos pertinentes admoneatis, et cum zelo dei severissime castigetis; ne ullus in festivitate sancti iohannis aut in fontibus aut in paludibus aut in fluminibus nocturnis aut matutinis horis se lavare praesumat: quia ista infelix consuetudo adhuc de paganorum observatione remansit.

'We desire to celebrate joyfully the nativity of St. John the Baptist, just as we do the other feasts that come around. Since that illustrious feast is coming soon, let us all observe perfect chastity and honesty the several days preceding, in order that we may be able to celebrate the feast with joy and may merit to approach the Lord with a clear and upright conscience. I beseech and adjure you by the dreadful day of judgement to admonish your neighbours, your household, and all who are related to you, and to reprove them severely out of zeal for God. Let no one on the feast of St. John dare to bathe in the springs or marshes or rivers either at night or early in the morning; for that wretched custom still remains from pagan observances.’

Text: Morin, vol. 1, 146. Translation: Mueller, vol. 1, 166-167, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

John the Baptist : S00020

Saint Name in Source

Iohannes Baptista

Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Gaul and Frankish kingdoms

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Arles Tours Tours Toronica urbs Prisciniacensim vicus Pressigny Turonorum civitas Ceratensis vicus Céré

Major author/Major anonymous work

Caesarius of Arles

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Holy spring/well/river

Cult activities - Activities Accompanying Cult

  • Feasting (eating, drinking, dancing, singing, bathing)


After an early career as an ascetic monk, first at the island monastery of Lérins, Caesarius became bishop of Arles in 503, and held this post, through many political vicissitudes, until his death in 542 (for his Life see E06283). Caesarius acquired a considerable reputation as a preacher, delivering sermons in a straightforward style and language, with limited use of rhetorical effects; most of his sermons address issues of Christian morality and practice, and the handful that he delivered on the feast days of saints are often concerned with proper behaviour at their festivals. His sermons were popular, and are widely attested in the manuscript tradition. Germain Morin, the most recent collector and editor of his sermons, attributed nearly 250, in whole or in part, to Caesarius; many, according to Morin, are reworkings of earlier sermons, with shorter or longer additions by Caesarius. Although Morin's attributions are not always certain, we have accepted them without question, since to look into this issue is beyond the scope of our project. Morin divided the sermons into five groups: sermons or admonitions on various topics (1-80), sermons on Scripture (81-186), seasonal sermons (187-213), sermons on the saints and feast days (214-232), and sermons to monks (233-238).


The feast of the nativity of the Baptist occurs on 24 June, then believed to be midsummer's day, paralleling the feast of the nativity of Jesus six months earlier. On this feast and its connection with midsummer, see E07234 It is not known what people thought they were doing bathing outdoors on the night of the feast, but this was presumably a traditional practice - possibly, as Caesarius claims, one inherited from some pagan belief (though Caesarius does tend to brand as 'pagan' any practice that he did not think was sufficiently Christian; see also E07562).


Edition: Morin, G., Sancti Caesarii Arelatensis sermones: nunc primum in unum collecti et ad leges artis criticae ex innumeris mss. recogniti (Corpus christianorum. Series Latina, 103-104; Turnholti: Brepols, 1953). Translation: Caesarius of Arles, Sermons, vol. 1-3, trans. M. Mueller (The Fathers of the Church, Volume 31, 47 and 66; Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2004). Further reading: Césaire d’Arles, Sermons au peuple, vol. 1, ed. and transl. M.-J. Delage (Sources Chrétiennes, Volume 175; Paris: Éd. du Cerf, 1971), 13-216. Klingshirn, W.E., Caesarius of Arles: the Making of a Christian Community in Late Antique Gaul (Cambridge, 1994).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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