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Venantius Fortunatus

Saint Venantius Fortunatus
Venantius Fortunatus Reading His Poems to Radegonda VI by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1862).
Born c. 530 AD
Venetia, Italy
Died c. 600 or 609 AD
Poitiers, France
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church
Feast 14 December

Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus (c. 530–c. 600/609) was a Latin poet and hymnodist in the Merovingian Court, and a Bishop of the early Catholic Church. He was never canonised—no saint was canonised till Saint Ulrich of Augsburg in 993[1]—but he was venerated as Saint Venantius Fortunatus during the Middle Ages.[2]


  • Life 1
  • Works 2
  • Impact and Contributions 3
  • Feast Day 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


Venantius Fortunatus was born between 530 and 540 AD at Duplavis, near

  • [4]
  • : St. Venantius FortunatusCatholic Encyclopedia
  • Poems at The Latin Library (Latin)
  • Works by or about Venantius Fortunatus at Internet Archive
  • Works by Venantius Fortunatus at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)

External links

  • Brennan, B. "The career of Venantius Fortunatus", Traditio, Vol 41 (1985), 49-78.
  • George, J. Venantius Fortunatus: Personal and Political Poems. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1995.
  • George, J. Venantius Fortunatus: A Latin Poet in Merovingian Gaul. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.
  • Reydellet, M. Venance Fortunat, Poèmes, 3 vols., Collection Budé, 1994-2004.
  • Seppo Heikkinen, "The Poetry of Venantius Fortunatus: The Twilight of Roman Metre," in Maria Gourdouba, Leena Pietilä-Castrén & Esko Tikkala (edd), The Eastern Mediterranean in the Late Antique and Early Byzantine Periods (Helsinki, 2004) (Papers and Monographs of the Finnish Institute at Athens, IX),
  • Roberts, Michael. The Humblest Sparrow: The Poetry of Venantius Fortunatus. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan, 2009.

Further reading

  1. ^ "St.Ulrich of Augsburg" [3] .
  2. ^ Judith W.George, Venantius Fortunatus: A Latin poet in Merovingian Gaul (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.), p. 34.
  3. ^ George 1992: 19
  4. ^ George 1992:20.
  5. ^ George 1992: 25.
  6. ^ George 1992: 25; Brian Brennan, "The career of Venantius Fortunatus," Traditio, 41 (1985): 54.
  7. ^ Brennan 1985: 67.
  8. ^ George 1992: 34.
  9. ^ Venance Fortunat, "Poèmes." Paris: Les Belles Lettres. 1994: 6.1a; Judith George, Venantius Fortunatus: Personal and Political Poems Liverpool: Liverpool University Press 1995: 25-33
  10. ^ Fortunat 6.2; George 1995: 34-38.
  11. ^ Fortunat: 9.2; George 1995: 80-86.
  12. ^ Fortunat: 10.8; George 1995: 97-98
  13. ^ Brian Brennan, "The image of Frankish Kings in the poetry of Venantius Fortunatus." Journal of Medieval History, 10 (March 1984):3.
  14. ^ Judith George "Poet as politician: Venantius Fortunatus’ panegyric to King Chilperic," Journal of Medieval History, 15 no. 1 (March 1989): 17; Brennan 1984: 5-6
  15. ^ Judith George “Portraits of two Merovingian bishops in the poetry of Venantius Fortunatus.” Journal of Medieval History, 13 no. 3 (September 1987):190.
  16. ^ Michael Lapidge Anglo-Latin literature, 600-899, p 399.
  17. ^ Michael John Roberts, "The Last Epic of Antiquity: Generic Continuity and Innovation in the Vita Sancti Martini of Venantius Fortunatus," Transactions of the American Philological Association, 131 (March 2001), 258.
  18. ^ Brennan 1984: 1.
  19. ^ Brian Brennan, "The image of the Merovingian Bishop in the poetry of Venantius Fortunatus," Journal of Medieval History, 18 no. 2 (June 1992): 119.


Fortunatus is a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, commemorated on 14 December, primarily in the diocese of Poitiers and certain churches of the Veneto.

Feast Day

His works have been set to music in settings which themselves have become prominent artworks. Anton Bruckner composed a motet based on Vexilla Regis, and Knut Nystedt a choral setting of O Crux Splendidior.

From the point of view of the present day, Fortunatus provides another window into the world of the Merovingian court.[18] For much of this period, the only reliable source on the subject is Gregory of Tours’ history, but as it is well known that Gregory had his own political and personal agendas, the objectivity of his accounts can sometimes come into question.[19] While Fortunatus tends to embellish or even mock the happenings and truth of the situations he writes about, there is an element of inferred truth, whether it is his classical embellishments on the marriage panegyric for Sigibert, or his recalling the traits of the ideal ruler to correct a bad king. With this, he supplies an alternate view of everything going on at court, which at times differs from Gregory’s account.

In his time, Fortunatus filled a great social desire for Latin poetry. He was one of the most prominent poets at this point, and had many contracts, commissions and correspondences with kings, bishops and noblemen and women from the time he arrived in Gaul until his death. He used his poetry to advance in society, to promote political ideas he supported, usually conceived of by Radegunde or by Gregory, and to pass on personal thoughts and communications. He was a master wordsmith and because of his promotion of the church, as well as the Roman tendencies of the Frankish royalty, he remained in favour with most of his acquaintances throughout his lifetime.

Impact and Contributions

His hymns are used extensively in the Hymnal 1982 of the Episcopal Church. One of his hymns was set to music by the modern composer Randall Giles. Another hymn as translated from the Latin (Welcome, happy morning! age to age shall say) celebrates Easter with music by Sir Arthur Sullivan.

Fortunatus' other major work was Vita S. Martini [16] It is a long narrative poem, reminiscent of the classical epics of Greek and Roman cultures but replete with Christian references and allusions, depicting the life of Saint Martin.[17] He also wrote a verse hagiography of his patron Queen Radegund (continued by the nun Baudovinia).

His verse is important in the development of later Latin literature, largely because he wrote at a time when Latin prosody was moving away from the quantitative verse of classical Latin towards the accentual meters of medieval Latin. His style sometimes suggests the influence of Hiberno-Latin, in learned Greek coinages that occasionally appear in his poems.

Fortunatus wrote panegyrics and other types of poems, including praise, eulogies, personal poems to bishops and friends alike,[15] consolations and poems in support of political issues, particularly those presented by his friends Gregory of Tours and Radegunde. His eleven books of poetry contain his surviving poems, all ordered chronologically and by importance of subject. For instance, a poem about God will come before the panegyric to a king, which will come before a eulogy to a Bishop. This collection of poems is the main primary source for writing about his life.

[14] Venantius Fortunatus wrote eleven surviving books of poetry in Latin in a diverse group of genres including

Fortunatus is best known for two poems that have become part of the liturgy of the Catholic Church, the Pange Lingua Gloriosi Proelium Certaminis ("Sing, O tongue, of the glorious struggle"), a hymn that later inspired St Thomas Aquinas's Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium. He also wrote Vexilla Regis prodeunt ("The royal banners forward go"), which is a sequence sung at Vespers during Holy Week. This poem was written in honour of a large piece of the True Cross, which explains its association also with the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The relic had been sent from the Byzantine Emperor Justin II to Queen Radegund of the Franks, who after her husband Chlotar I's death had founded a monastery in Poitiers. The Municipal Library in Poitiers houses an 11th-century manuscript on the life of Radegunde, copied from a 6th-century account by Fortunatus.


Fortunatus’ arrival in Metz coincides with the marriage of King Sigibert and Queen Brunhild, and at the ceremony he performed a celebration poem for the entire court. After this incident, Fortunatus had many noble patrons, as well as bishops, who wished him to write poetry for them. About a year after he arrived in Metz, Fortunatus travelled to the court of King Charibert, Sigibert’s brother, in Paris, and stayed there until Charibert’s death in 567 or 568. Due to danger presented by King Chilperic, brother of Sigibert and Charibert, Fortunatus had to move south to Tours, returning to Sigibert’s lands. From there, he ventured to Poitiers where he met Radegund. They became close friends, and Fortunatus wrote many poems in her honour and in support of her political campaigns. Fortunatus had made another great friendship in Tours and Poitiers: with Gregory of Tours, who was installed as Bishop of Tours in 573, from whom Fortunatus also received patronage. In 580, Fortunatus wrote a poem defending Gregory against treasonous charges placed upon him at Chilperic’s court. After the death of Sigibert, and that of Chilperic, Fortunatus moved to Childebert’s court in Poitiers. Childebert was Sigibert’s son. Sometime around 576, he was ordained into the church.[7] He stayed there until around the year 599-600, when he was appointed Bishop of Poitiers, to replace Plato, Bishop of Poitiers. Fortunatus died in the early 7th century. He was called a saint after his death, but was never formally canonized.[8]

Fortunatus eventually migrated, arriving in the spring of 566 in Metz at the Merovingian Court, probably with the specific intention of becoming a poet in the court. It was there his successful career really began. To reach Metz, he took a winding route, passing through four modern countries: Italy, Austria, Germany and France. Fortunatus himself explains two entirely different reasons for this route. Describing the first reason, he “portrays himself in the guise of a wandering minstrel, his journey just one in a series of adventures.” [5] The second reason is more religious, explaining in his Vita S. Martini that he took this route to worship at the shrine of St Martin in Tours, visiting other shrines as he went.[6]

, and bears their influence. In addition, Fortunatus likely had some knowledge of the Greek language and the classical Greek writers and philosophers, as he makes reference to them and Greek words at times throughout his poetry and prose. Coelius Sedulius, and Claudian, Arator poets, including Christian, but also with Martial, and Statius, Ovid, Horace, Virgil, in the Roman style. His later work shows familiarity not only with classical Latin poets such as classical education to study. While there, he was given a Ravenna Sometime in the 550s or 60s, he travelled to [4]

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