Venantius Fortunatus

Saint Venantius Fortunatus
AlmaTadema-VenantiusFortunatus.jpg
Venantius Fortunatus Reading His Poems to Radegonda VI by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1862).
Bornc. 530 AD
Venetia, Kingdom of the Ostrogoths
Diedc. 600 or 609 AD
Pictavium, Kingdom of the Franks
Venerated inWestern Orthodox Church
Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Feast14 December

Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus (c. 530 – c. 600/609 AD) was a Latin poet and hymnodist in the Merovingian Court, and a Bishop of the Early Church. He has been venerated as Saint Venantius Fortunatus since the Middle Ages.[1]

Life

Venantius Fortunatus was born between 530 and 540 AD at Duplavis, near Treviso in Venetia, Italy.[2] He grew up during the Roman reconquest of Italy, but there is controversy concerning where Fortunatus spent his childhood. Some historians, such as D. Tardi, suggest that Fortunatus’ family moved to Aquileia because of the turbulent political situation in Treviso after the death of King Theoderic. This theory is suggested because there is evidence of Fortunatus speaking warmly about one of the bishops there, Bishop Paul of Aquileia. Other scholars, such as Judith George, suggest that his family never moved to Aquileia, pointing out that the poet speaks more of Duplavis than any other place regarding his childhood.[3] Sometime in the 550s or 60s, he travelled to Ravenna to study. While there, he was given a classical education, in the Roman style. His later work shows familiarity not only with classical Latin poets such as Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Statius, and Martial, but also with Christian poets, including Arator, Claudian, and Coelius Sedulius, 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.

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.” [4] 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.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

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