Venantius Fortunatus, Poems 1.1 (Ad Vitalem episcopum Ravennensem, 'To Vitalis, bishop of Ravenna'), 1-6, 11-12
Antistes domini, meritis in saecula vivens,
gaudia qui Christi de grege pastor habes:
cum te Vitalem voluit vocitare vetustas,
noverat aeternum te meruisse diem;
dignus apostolica praefulgens mente sacerdos, 5
qui sacer Andreae tam pia templa locas
Emicat aula potens, solido perfecta metallo, 11
quo sine nocte manet continuata dies.
'Bishop of the Lord, by your virtues living forever, who take joy in shepherding the flock of Christ, when your parents in the past chose to call you Vitalis, they knew that you deserved to win eternal light, a worthy priest, shining with the spirit of the apostles, who piously built for Andrew so holy a church ... The mighty church is aglow, finished with panels of metal, where without any night day is always present. ...'
Text: Leo 1881, 7. Translation: Roberts 2017, 13.
Saint NameAndrew, the Apostle : S00288
Saint Name in SourceAndreas
Type of EvidenceLiterary - Poems
Evidence not before545
Evidence not after565
Activity not before545
Activity not after556
Place of Evidence - RegionItaly north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcRavenna
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Ravenna
Major author/Major anonymous workVenantius Fortunatus
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsConstruction of cult buildings
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - bishops
SourceVenantius Fortunatus was born in northern Italy, near Treviso, and educated at Ravenna. In the early 560s he crossed the Alps into Merovingian Gaul, where he spent the rest of his life, making his living primarily through writing Latin poetry for the aristocracy of northern Gaul, both secular and ecclesiastical. His first datable commission in Gaul is a poem to celebrate the wedding in 566 of the Austrasian royal couple, Sigibert and Brunhild. His principal patrons were Radegund and Agnes, the royal founder and the first abbess of the monastery of the Holy Cross at Poitiers, as well as Gregory, the historian and bishop of Tours, Leontius, bishop of Bordeaux, and Felix, bishop of Nantes, but he also wrote poems for several kings and for many other members of the aristocracy. In addition to occasional poems for his patrons, Fortunatus wrote a four-book epic poem about Martin of Tours, and several works of prose and verse hagiography. The latter part of his life was spent in Poitiers, and in the 590s he became bishop of the city; he is presumed to have died early in the 7th century. For Fortunatus' life, see Brennan 1985; George 1992, 18-34; Reydellet 1994-2004, vol. 1, vii-xxviii; PCBE 4, 'Fortunatus', 801-822.
The eleven books of Poems (Carmina) by Fortunatus were almost certainly collected and published at three different times: Books 1 to 7, which are dedicated to Gregory of Tours, in 576; Books 8 and 9 after 584, probably in 590/591; and Books 10-11 only after their author's death. A further group of poems, outside the structure of the books, and known from only one manuscript, has been published in modern editions as an Appendix to the eleven books. For further discussion, see Reydellet 1994-2004, vol. 1, lxviii-lxxi; George 1992, 208-211.
Almost all of Fortunatus' poems are in elegiac couplets: one hexameter line followed by one pentameter line.
For the cult of saints, Fortunatus' poems are primarily interesting for the evidence they provide of the saints venerated in northern Gaul, since many were written to celebrate the completion of new churches and oratories, and some to celebrate collections of relics. For an overview of his treatment of the cult of saints, see Roberts 2009, 165-243.
DiscussionPoem 1.1 is dedicated to Vitalis, bishop of Ravenna, but there is no such bishop of Ravenna recorded in this period (when our records for the ecclesiastical history of the city are good). As Roberts notes, he is therefore often identified as Vitalis, a bishop of Altinum (north-east Italy) (Roberts 2017, 841). Despite this identification, it is very probable that this invocation is in fact to Maximianus who was the bishop of Ravenna from 546 to 556 (when Fortunatus was studying in the city). Carlà suggests that Maximianus could have used Vitalis as a pseudonym, in order to connect himself with one of the main patron saints of the city (Carlà 2010, 259).
This construction of a church of Andrew by Vitalis of Ravenna may well refer to the restoration of an earlier church, since the Liber Pontificalis Ecclesiae Ravennatis 76 records that Maximianus did just this (E05786). Carlà underlines the political aim of such activity: Andrew was a patron of Constantinople, the new capital of the Empire, and Maximianus perhaps wanted to strengthen the connection between the two cities (Carlà 2010, 259).
The phrase in line 11 'solido perfecta metallo' (literally 'perfected with solid metal') is difficult to understand - 'metallum' can be used for fine stone, quarried, like metal, from the ground.
BibliographyEditions and translations:
Leo, F., Venanti Honori Clementiani Fortunati presbyteri Italici opera poetica (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi 4.1; Berlin: Apud Weidmannos, 1881).
Roberts, M., Poems: Venantius Fortunatus (Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 46; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017).
George, J., Venantius Fortunatus, Personal and Political Poems (Translated Texts for Historians 23; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1995).
Reydellet, M., Venance Fortunat, Poèmes, 3 vols. (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1994-2004).
Brennan, B., "The Career of Venantius Fortunatus," Traditio 41 (1985), 49-78.
Carlà, F., "Milan, Ravenna, Rome: Some Reflections on the Cult of the Saints and on Civic Politics in Late Antique Italy," Rivista di Storia e Letteratura Religiosa 46:2 (2010), 197-272.
George, J., Venantius Fortunatus: A Latin Poet in Merovingian Gaul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).
Roberts, M., The Humblest Sparrow: The Poetry of Venantius Fortunatus (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009).