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E07792: In his Letter 7.1 to *Mamertus (bishop of Vienne, ob. c. 475, S02351), Sidonius Apollinaris describes an incident in which Mamertus miraculously stopped a fire from spreading. Written in Latin in Clermont (central Gaul), AD 473/476.

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posted on 2019-09-17, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Sidonius Apollinaris, Letters 7.1.4

Et vere iam de deo tu minime poteras absque peccato post virtutum experimenta diffidere. Nam cum vice quadam civitas conflagrare coepisset, fides tua in illo ardore plus caluit; et cum in conspectu pavidae plebis obiectu solo corporis tui ignis recussus in tergum fugitivis flexibus sinuaretur, miraculo terribili novo invisitato affuit flammae
cedere per reverentiam, cui sentire defuit per naturam.

'And in truth you of all men could not, without sinning, have distrusted God after the experience you had of his mighty works: for on one occasion, when a blaze had started in the city, your faith burned stronger amid the conflagration; in full view of the panic-stricken populace the mere interposition of your body beat off the fire, causing it to curl backward in retreating curves, and so, by a startling miracle never known or seen before, the flame which by nature was devoid of any understanding was from awe of you given power to recede.'

Text and translation: Anderson 1965, 288-289.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Mamertus, bishop of Vienne (Gaul), ob. 475 : S02351

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters


  • 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)

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

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops


Sidonius Apollinaris was born at Lyons about 430, into a senatorial family. He witnessed the decay of the Roman Empire in the West and met or corresponded with many important people of his times. He passed through the regular courses in grammar, literature, rhetoric, philosophy and law in his native city, and his works – Poems and Letters – reflect his academic training. He wrote poetry from his early years. Until his election as bishop of Clermont in 469 or 470, Sidonius had a career in secular politics. He resided in Clermont till his death, perhaps in 489. Sidonius' Letters consist of nine books, containing 149 letters addressed to about a hundred correspondents, including officials and bishops. He started preparing his Letters for publication probably about 469, though this date is hypothetical. Books 1-7 were published in about 477, Book 8 in about 480, and Book 9 in about 482. The collection starts with an introductory letter, in which Sidonius dedicated the work to his friend Constantius (PCBE 4, 'Constantius 3'), a priest of Lyon who was also a writer, notably of the Life of *Germanus of Auxerre (E05841). Originally, Book 7 was the intended end, as its last letter, also dedicated to Constantius, states. However more of Sidonius’ friends wished to be represented in the collection. Book 8 was compiled at the instance of Petronius, a jurisconsult of Arles and lover of letters (PCBE 4, 'Petronius 3'), and Book 9 was requested by Firminus, a learned man of Arles (PCBE 4, 'Firminus 1). Sidonius revised his letters before publication and added several specially composed on this occasion. His chief model was Pliny, who also wrote nine books of letters. They are not arranged in chronological order, though in broad terms those in the earlier books are earlier than those in the later ones, with the letters in Books 1 and 2 dating from before Sidonius’ election as bishop in 469/470. The Letters are a major source of information about many aspects of the civil and ecclesiastical life of Sidonius’ time. For more on Sidonius' biography, his works, and their dating see PCBE 4, 'Sidonius 1', as well as works below, such as Harries 1994, and Mathisen 2013.


This letter can be dated to about 474, since it was written when the Romans and Goths were still fighting for control of the Auvergne. Its main purpose is to inform Mamertus that Sidonius has been seeking God's intercession for Clermont by holding the Rogation processions which had first been instituted by Mamertus at Vienne, and which Sidonius says had helped Vienne to revive from the almost ruined state it had been in when Mamertus became bishop. The fire in the city is said by Sidonius to have taken place shortly before Mamertus instituted the Rogations. Later in the same letter, Sidonius describes how Mamertus translated the relics of Ferreolus of Vienne and Julian of Brioude (E06742). The story of Mamertus' power over the fire would later be retold by Avitus of Vienne (E07803) and Gregory of Tours (E07743).


Editions and translations: Anderson, W.B., Sidonius, Poems. Letters. 2 vols (Loeb Classical Library 296, 420; Cambridge MA/London, 1936, 1965). Loyen, A., Sidoine Apollinaire, Poèmes (Paris, 1960); Lettres. 2 vols. (Paris, 1970). Further reading: Dalton. O.M., The Letters of Sidonius. 2 vols. (Oxford, 1915). Harries, J., Sidonius Apollinaris and the Fall of Rome (Oxford, 1994). Mathisen, R.W., "Dating the Letters of Sidonius," in: J. van Waarden and G. Kelly (eds.), New Approaches to Sidonius Apollinaris (Leuven, 2013), 221-248.

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