Venantius Fortunatus, Poems 1.8 (De basilica Sancti Vincent ultra Garonnam, 'On the church of Saint Vincent beyond the Garonne'), 13-18
In the first part of the poem Venantius extols the martyrdom of Vincentius of Agen.
Huius amore novo pia vota Leontius explens,
quo sacra membra iacent, stagnea tecta dedit,
et licet eniteat meritis venerabile templum, 15
attamen ornatum praebuit iste suum.
Praemia succedant operanti longa salutis,
huius ut obsequiis culmina sacra micent.
'Out of fresh love for this man [Vincentius], Leontius, fulfilling a pious vow, donated a roof of tin where the holy limbs lie, and though the sacred church gleams brightly with the saint's virtues, yet Leontius too brought to its own decoration. May this benefactor enjoy the reward of extended good health, so that the holy edifice may shine by his services.'
Text: Leo 1881, 12. Translation: Roberts 2017, 27 and 29, modified.
Saint NameVincentius, martyr of Agen (Gaul) : S00432
Saint Name in SourceVincentius
Type of EvidenceLiterary - Poems
Evidence not before565
Evidence not after576
Activity not before542
Activity not after571
Place of Evidence - RegionGaul and Frankish kingdoms
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Tours
Major author/Major anonymous workVenantius Fortunatus
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsRenovation and embellishment of cult buildings
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - bishops
Cult Activities - RelicsBodily relic - unspecified
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.
DiscussionLeontius, bishop of Bordeaux, was a patron of Fortunatus, and he and his buildiing-works are the subject of several of his poems, including two dedicated specifically to him (1.15 and 16), and one to his wife Placidina (1.17). He is first documented as bishop of Bordeaux in 541/549 and last documented in 561/567, but we do not know when he died. For Leontius see PCBE 4: 'Leontius 16', pp. 1145-1149; George 1992, 108-113.
The Vincentius to whom this church was dedicated was Vincentius, martyr of Agen (in the territory of Bordeaux), and not the much better known Vincentius of Saragossa and Valencia. The poem refers explicitly to the holy limbs/body (sacra membra) of the saint as lying under Leontius' new roof; so this is presumably the church of St Vincent at Le Mas d'Agenais, near Agen, which claims the body of the saint (Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 166-167), though it is rather strange to have it referred to in the title of the poem just as the basilica 'beyond the Garonne'.
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.
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).
Vieillard-Troiekouroff, M., Les monuments religieux de la Gaule d'après les œuvres de Grégoire de Tours (Paris, 1976).