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E07869: The epitaph of Queen Caretena of the Burgundians, written in Latin in 506, records that she was buried in a church which she had founded. It was included in a collection of epitaphs, compiled at an unknown point between the early 7th and mid 9th century, where the heading states that the church was in Lyon (southern Gaul) and was dedicated to *Michael (the Archangel, S00181).

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posted on 2020-03-31, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Epitaph of Queen Caretena

The epitaph is preserved only in a manuscript collection, where it is headed as follows:


epitaphium Peiper || religiosae Peiper || reginae Peiper || Michahelis Peiper

'Epitaph of the devout queen Caretena, who is buried at Lyon. In the basilica of St Michael'

The epitaph itself is a twenty-six line poem in elegiac couplets. After describing aspects of the queen's life (for which see the Discussion), the epitaph moves on to the church which she founded and in which she was buried.

Lines 17-26:

Cedat odoriferis quondam dominata Sabaeis,
   Expetiit mirum quae Salomonis opus.
Condidit haec templum presens, quod personat orbe,
   Angelicisque dedit limina celsa choris.                                   20
Laxatura reos regi quas sepae ferebat,
   Has offerre preces nunc tibi, Christe, potest.
Quam cum post decimum rapuit mors inuida lustrum
   Accepit melior tum sine fine dies.
lamque bis octona Septembrem luce mouebat                          25
   Nomen Messalae consulis annus agens.

19. praesens Peiper || 21. saepe Peiper

'May she give way, she who once ruled fragrant Sheba, who sought out the marvellous work of Solomon. This woman here founded a church which rings out through the world, and gave a magnificent home to angelic choirs. The prayers to pardon sinners which she often brought to the king, she now, Christ, can offer to you. When jealous death seized her after her tenth lustrum, a better day without end then received her, when just now the year bearing the name of the consul Messala was moving September along with its twice eighth day [i.e. 16 September 506].'

Text: Peiper 1881, 185, modified with manuscript readings. Translation: David Lambert.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Michael, the Archangel : S00181

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Funerary inscriptions Literary - Poems Literary - Other


  • 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 name in other Language(s)

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

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family Women


The epitaph of Queen Caretena is preserved in a single manuscript, Paris BNF Lat. 2832, fol. 112v, which was copied in southern Gaul, probably at Lyon, between 848 and 859 (Handley 2000, 48-9). Among numerous other texts, it contains a collection of verse epitaphs, mostly from southern Gaul. All but one of the Gallic epitaphs survive only in this collection. For a full study of the collection, see Handley 2000. The heading given here was presumably written by the compiler of the collection. An absolute terminus ante quem is provided by the date of the manuscript, which can be shown from internal evidence to have been copied between 848 and 859. However, the collection of epitaphs may have been compiled much earlier: the latest datable item it contains is from the beginning of the 7th century (see Handley 2000, 52), and the collection could in principle have been compiled at any point between then and the copying of the manuscript. R. Peiper provided an edition of the Gallic epitaphs in an appendix to his MGH edition of the works of Avitus of Vienne (note that this is not an edition of the manuscript collection – it omits some items from it and includes items from other sources). They also appear in epigraphic collections such as that of Le Blant. For a digitised image, see:


The only surviving text to refer by name to Caretena is this epitaph. While acknowledging her role as a queen, the epitaph primarily stresses her religious devotion: in the first part (not reproduced here), she is described as living a life of ascetic renunciation even as queen, practising charity, and eventually giving up her rank to adopt a fully religious life. The poem then moves on to the reproduced passage which describes the church she founded, and then her death at the age of about fifty ('after her tenth lustrum') on 16 September 506. Caretena's epitaph does not name her husband or say which kingdom he ruled, but given her burial at Lyon she must have been a member of the Burgundian royal family and is therefore presumed to be the wife of the Burgundian king at the time of her death, Gundobad (see e.g. Shanzer and Wood 2002, 19). Gundobad's wife is mentioned in various other sources without being named (see e.g. E05146). For a full exploration of what can be established about Caretena, see Kampers 2000 (note that Caretena's entry in PLRE II is unreliable: in particular, it misidentifies her husband as Gundobad's predecessor Chilperic). It is worth emphasising that the location of Caretena's tomb at Lyon, on which her identification primarily depends, is not mentioned in the epitaph itself, but only the heading of the manuscript copy. This is also the case for the dedication of the church to Michael the Archangel. It is the location of the church and its dedication which form the basis of the widely accepted conjecture that Avitus of Vienne's Homily 17, on the dedication of a church to Michael, was delivered at the consecration of Caretena's church (see E07118).


Editions: Peiper, R., Alcimii Ecdicii Aviti Viennensis episcopi opera quae supersunt (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores antiquissimi 6.2; Berlin, 1883), 185. Le Blant, E., Inscriptions chrétiennes de la Gaule antérieures au VIIIe siècle, vol. 2 (Paris, 1865), no. 31. ILCV 46 CIL XIII 2372 Further reading: Handley, M., "Epitaphs, Models, and Texts: A Carolingian Collection of Late Antique Inscriptions from Burgundy," in: A. Cooley (ed.), The Afterlife of Inscriptions (Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, Supplement 75, 2000), 47-56. Kampers, G., "Caretena – Königin und Asketin," Francia 27 (2000), 1-32. Shanzer, D., and Wood, I. (trans.), Avitus of Vienne, Letters and Selected Prose (Translated Texts for Historians 38; Liverpool, 2002).

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