Venantius Fortunatus

Saint Venantius Fortunatus or Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus (c. 530-c. 600/609) was a Latin poet and hymnodist, and a Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church.


Venantius Fortunatus was born in northern Italy somewhere between Valdobbiadene, Ceneda, and Treviso. He grew up during the Byzantine reconquest of Italy and was educated at Ravenna. His later work shows familiarity not only with classical poets such as Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Statius, and Martial, but also with Christian poets, including Arator, Claudian, and Sedulius.

Fortunatus eventually migrated through Germany to Gaul in the mid-560s, probably with the specific intention of becoming a poet in the Merovingian court. After political circumstances impeded his court career, Fortunatus received patronage from various religious figures, including St Gregory of Tours. He became bishop of Poitiers sometime before the year 600.


He is best known for two poems that have become part of the liturgy of the Roman 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 banners of the King are lifted"), which is a sequence sung at Vespers during Holy Week. This poem was written in honour of a large piece of the True Cross that had been sent from the Byzantine Emperor Justin II to Queen Radegunde of the Franks, who after her husband Chlotar I's death had founded a monastery in Aquitaine. The Municipal Library in Poitiers houses an eleventh century manuscript on the life of Radegunde, copied from a sixth century account by Fortunatus.

All in all, Venantius Fortunatus wrote eleven surviving books of poetry in Latin in a diverse group of genres including epitaphs, panegyrics, georgics, consolations, and religious poems. 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. He also wrote a verse hagiography of St Martin of Tours and a hagiographic life of his patron Queen Radegunde.

Feast Day

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

Further reading

  • 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.

External links

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