The February Poems in the Chronography of 354

The month of February has a number of illustrations.  In the Vatican Barberini manuscript, the 4-line poem (tetrastich) appears written down the side.  Here it is:

At quem caeruleus nodo constringit amictus,
quique paludicolam prendere gaudet avem,
daedala quem iactu pluvio circumvenit Iris:
Romuleo ritu februa mensis habet.

And he whom the cerulean cloak wraps (ties up) with a knot,
And who delights to chase the marsh-dwelling fowl,
He whom the skilful Iris/Rainbow pelts with a rain shower;
This month by the Romulean ritual has the feast of purification.

The 2-line poem (= distich) is also present.  Each distich consists of a hexameter at the foot of the left-hand page, and a pentameter at the foot of the right-hand page.  Here it is:

Umbrarum est alter quo mense putatur honore
pervia terra dato manibus esse vagis.

The second is of the ghosts, in which month it is believed,
That, after sacrifice has been made, earth is accessible to wandering spirits

The images show a figure, hunting with an eagle, while a vessel pours down water onto an Ibis.

The 16th century Vienna manuscript 3416 (online here) gives us this, evidently redrawn, image:

Vienna 3146, f. 3v – February

The 17th century R1 manuscript, Vat. (online here) gives us this, with the tetrastich and the first line of the distich, so I’ve made the picture somewhat larger:

Vatican, Barberini lat. 2154B, f.17 – February

Divjak and Wischmeyer give us an image from the important (but offline) Brussels manuscript 7543-49:

Brussels MS 7543-7549, f.201 – February

The gender of the figure must have been somewhat hard to determine in the original – Vienna has treated it as female, Rome as male, while the Brussels manuscript shows one that could be either.  The kantharos  vessel pours down upon the crane, or possibly an ibis.  A fish and some squids appear to the right.  The figure holds an eagle.

(For more information on this series of posts, please see the Introduction to the Poems of the Chronography of 354).


The January Poems in the Chronography of 354

Each month in the Chronography of 354 consists of a two-page spread.  On the left there is an illustration of the month, on the right a calendar of days and festivals and anniversaries.

For the month of January the 4-line poem (= tetrastich) is preserved only in manuscripts of the Anthologia Latina.  Here it is:

Hic Iani mensis sacer est, en aspice ut aris
Tura micent, sumant ut pia tura Lares.
Annorum saeclique caput, natalis honorum
Purpureis fastis qui numerat proceres.

This month is sacred to Janus; Lo! See on the altars
How the incense glitters, how the Lares accept the pious incense.
It is the start of years and time, the birthday of the offices
Which the nobles enumerate in their purpled calendars.

The 2-line poem (= distich) is present, thankfully.  Each distich consists of a hexameter at the foot of the left-hand page, and a pentameter at the foot of the right-hand page.  Here it is:

Primus, Iane, tibi sacratur ut omnia mensis
Undique cui semper cuncta videre licet.

The first month is sacred to you, Janus, like everything;
From both sides it is possible for him always to see everything.

But there is a twist here: the first line is different in two of the manuscripts, R1 and R2.  Instead the first line reads:

Ianus adest bifrons primusque ingreditur annum…

Two-faced Janus is here, and first begins the year…

It seems to be taken for granted in the literature that the illustration and the hexameter in R1 and R2 are not genuine; but renaissance compositions.

The 16th century Vienna manuscript 3416 (online here) is the only one that has twelve images in it.   But these have clearly been redrawn by someone who fancied himself as an artist.  Here is the one for January (f.2v, image 15):

Vienna (Vindobonensis 3416, f.2v) – January

The 17th century R1 manuscript, Vat. (online here) image, f.16, seems more authentic in style, and is within the original border.

R1 (Vat. Barb. lat. 2154B, f.16r) – January

The only month illustration in R2 (available online in a scanned microfilm here) is as follows:

R2 (Vat. lat. 9135, f.224r, p.288 in the viewer) – January

R1 and R2 are the same image, copied at the same time.

The figures in V and R1 are both making a sacrifice with incense, but there the similarity ends.

(For more information on this series of posts, please see the Introduction to the Poems of the Chronography of 354).


An Introduction to the Poems of the Chronography of 354

I’m going to do a little series of twelve posts, one per month, on the poems in an ancient text, the Chronography of 354.  Let me first say something about that book.

In 354 AD, perhaps as a gift for New Year’s Day, an otherwise unknown Roman nobleman named Valentinus received a  very splendid present.  It was a luxury book, containing a series of useful official-type documents: lists of consuls, months, a calendar, lists of church festivals and much more.  It is known today as the Chronography of 354.

These were all useful, but what made it special was the full-page illustrations that filled it.  These were made by a famous artist named Furius Dionysius Filocalus.  They included portraits of “our emperors” – a sour-looking Constantius dropping coins from his hand, and his nephew, the luckless Gallus, executed later that year.  Each month of the calendar had a facing picture depicting some aspect of the month or the seasonal activities.

The book itself seems to have survived to around 800 AD, when copies were made.  A mass of partial copies of these copies have reached us, all more or less unsatisfactory.  Some contain some of the images.  Some are text only.  Modern editions are all rather unsatisfactory too.  It is a hard text to edit, in fairness. It is curious that, even today, the only publication that gives the newcomer an idea of the work as a whole, in order, is the version that I compiled for my own website (here) in 2006.

Part VI of the work, the calendar, may be found here. For each month, on facing pages, there is an illustration, within an ornate frame – and then opposite, the various days and events of the month.  Here is the picture for February, from a renaissance manuscript, printed in the 19th century:

Chronography of 354 – illustration of February

There are two elements to this picture that I did not engage with back in 2006, since they are most likely not original.  To the right, drawn clumsily down the side, is a four-line poem, a tetrastich.  Underneath, in majuscule, is half of a two line poem or distich – the second line appears underneath the facing page.

I intend to do a short series of posts here, dealing with the tetrastichs and distichs.  It would be nice to deal with them month by month, just as they appear in the manuscripts of the Chronography.

Now for a bit of bibliography.

Since 2006 an excellent study has appeared by Richard Burgess, “The Chronograph of 354: Its manuscripts, contents and history”, Journal of Late Antiquity 5 (2013), 345-396. This includes a convincing discussion of the tetrastichs and distichs.

The following year there appeared a mighty two-volume attempt at a modern edition and commentary: J. Divjak & W. Wischmeyer, Das Kalenderhandbuch von 354: Der Chronograph des Filocalus, Vienna: Holzhausen (2014).  Generously, the publishers have since made it available for free download: vol.1, and vol. 2.  This is no small blessing.

The new book was reviewed harshly by Burgess, and it seems as if the task of handling so much data perhaps overwhelmed the editors, as much as it overwhelms the reader.  But they edit the tetrastichs and distichs and even – very wisely – provide them with German translations.  So I intend to make use of their efforts.

Since 2006 a bunch of the manuscripts have come online and are accessible, particularly at the Vatican.  This also is a blessing, and I hope to use some of this material.

There is a mass of scholarly literature on every aspect of the Chronography, but most of it I have not read.  My purpose here is to make these texts better known.

Let’s talk a bit about how these texts actually come to us.

The distichs were edited by A. E. Housman, as a poem of twenty-four lines, who pronounced it to be pure “Augustan” in style.  The verses are perhaps 1st century.

The tetrastichs are said to be fifth-century, but I’m not sure on what basis.  But, although they are transmitted to us with the Chronography, they also circulated independently and have reached us in that way also, as part of the Latin Anthology.  The content of the poems seems to describe pictures in a calendar, but not always the pictures that we have.

The manuscript tradition of all this material is rather tangled, but a few details (from Burgess) may explain why the tetrastichs and distichs are thought to be later.

All but one of the extant manuscripts of the Chronography derive from a now lost Luxemburg manuscript of the 9-10th century which comes to light in 1560.  This is given the siglum “L”.  It was copied from Valentinus’ original book (siglum “O”).  The Luxemberg manuscript clearly had the tetrastichs and distichs, at least by the time that renaissance copies were made from it.

But the Luxemburg manuscript was not the only copy made from “O”.  It seems that St Gall 878 (= “S”), which contains only text from various parts of the work, was also copied directly from “O” in the 830s.  The copyist of “S” included the distichs, but he did not copy the tetrastichs.  This suggests that the tetrastichs were not present in “O”.

Neither the tetrastichs nor the distichs fit into the ornate graphic design of the framework of the ancient original.  They are tacked on the side and the bottom of the page.  This suggests again that neither is original.  The distichs are present in a clear rustic capitals, and were probably added in antiquity.  They do not relate to the text in any way, however.  The tetrastichs were added in a sloppy way, which might even be as late as the renaissance.  But they do relate in some ways to the illustrations.

I think that’s more than enough detail for now.  One problem with writing about the Chronography is that you always feel the urge to add more detail.  And then more.  Almost nobody who has written about this has resisted this temptation, with the result that the publications are very dense and unreadable.  Divjak and Wischmeyer almost drowned in the mass of data!  I shall try to do better, but those wanting more information must refer to the sources above.

I will post this and the first two months, since we’re a bit late with starting this.  I hope to post the other months at the start of each month.  For each month I will give the tetrastich and the distich.  Since the tetrastich often refers to the ancient image for the month, I will include this also.


“From your Valentine” – a modern legend, plus a bibliographical puzzle partly resolved

Anyone searching the web for information about Saint Valentine is going to come across a story where Valentine heals his jailer’s daughter, the two fall in love, and, on the morning of his execution he sends her a message signed “Your Valentine”.  There seems to be no canonical version of the story, so no two versions are quite alike.  One version referenced by Wikipedia – ah those “reliable sources” – is by Rosemary Guiley, The Encyclopedia of Saints, (2001) p.341 (preview).  This reads:

Little is known about the real Valentine. In fact, many early martyrologies listed two and sometimes three Valentines: a priest in Rome, a bishop in lnteramna (now Terni) and a third in Africa. Most scholars now presume that all three Valentines are the same man.

Most probably, Valentine either lived in Rome or was called from Terni to Rome as a consequence of his giving comfort to the martyrs under Emperor Claudius II, known as the Cruel. Imprisoned, Valentine, also a physician, reportedly converted his jailer to Christianity by restoring the eyesight of the jailer’s daughter. Brought before the Roman prefect, Valentine refused to renounce his faith and was beaten and beheaded on February 14. On the morning of his execution, he supposedly sent a farewell message to the jailer’s daughter, signed “from your Valentine.” His body was buried on the Flaminian Way in Rome, and his relics were taken to the church of St. Praxedes.

Another legend about Valentine has the priest surreptitiously marrying Roman couples when Claudius II, frustrated at his difficulty in taking men from their homes to be soldiers, outlawed marriage. In this version, Valentine languishes and dies in prison on the emperor’s orders but is not executed.

This unreferenced narrative is not a good account of the two sources, the passiones of St Valentine of Rome and St Valentine of Terni.  But anybody looking further will encounter a genuine scholarly work.  In Henry Ansgar Kelly, Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine, Brill (1986), p.59 (preview), we read:

There is nothing in the foregoing accounts of the Valentines of February to suggest a connection between any of them and the rites of spring, whether of birds or men, before Chaucer’s time. It was only centuries later that there was invented the story that St. Valentine of Rome wrote a farewell letter to Asterius’s daughter, which he signed, “Your Valentine.”[43]

Note 43 reads:

43. Frank Staff, The Valentine and its Origins (London. 1969). p. 122, says that “this little story is quoted from Kemmish’s Annual for 1797, and is reputed to come from ‘a very old book.'” A. Kemmish or Kemmisch was a publisher in Southwark; the British Museum catalogue lists Kemmisch’s Annual and Universal Valentine Writer. . . for 1805, but I have not been able to find a listing for a 1797 edition.

Kelly’s bafflement is understandable.  Kemmish’s Annual for 1805 is online here.  But a look at it reveals that it is just verses to be written to one’s sweetheart.  It can never have contained the material in question.  There does not seem to be any such Almanack for 1797.

I have found this bibliographical problem repeated in other places also – just where did Staff get his story from?

Staff’s book is not online, but fortunately a copy was available quite cheaply and arrived yesterday.  (On opening the volume my nostrils were assailed by the foul odour of a book left in a damp room. Booksellers must be the only trade to habitually sell unclean goods.)  The book itself is about the custom of “valentines”, the paper items sent at this time of year.  Only page 122 contains any background on St Valentine, and it deserves to be quoted in full.  There are no footnotes.


It is not known for certain which Saint Valentine is being honoured as the Patron Saint of Lovers on the 14th of February, because history records two saints of this name, both martyred at about the same time and both buried on the Flaminian Way, outside the Porta del Popolo of Rome.

During the Victorian era, when the giving of valentines was so popular, the story of the saint was often written-up in the form of articles which appeared fairly regularly as the Saint’s Day came round. Many of the writers more or less copied what had already been written before, but some, more serious, such as Professor John W. Hales, endeavoured to trace the origins and to give a more studious account. Professor Hales wrote an extremely interesting and learned article in the February 1882 number of The Antiquary. But it is thanks to Alban Butler, an eighteenth-century historian, who wrote an account of the lives of the saints, that the description and manner of the saint’s martyrdom has been recorded in the way we know. Some writers refer to Valentine as a Roman priest, and others to Bishop Valentine.

According to general belief, both the priest and the Bishop, who can be identified as the Bishop of Terni, a small town about 80 miles from Rome, were martyred in the same way and on the same day, the year varying between A.D. 270 and 273. This is repeated in the Encyclopedia Britannica which adds, “that the Passion of the priest Valentine is part of the legend of SS. Marius and Martha and their companions; that of the latter has no better historical foundation; so that no argument can be drawn from either account to establish the difference of the two saints. . . .” The account concludes by saying that The Martyrologium Hieronymianum mentions only one Valentinus: Interamnae Miliario LXIIII via Flaminia natale Valentini.

In a recent enquiry of the Comissione per l’Archeologia Cristiana in Rome, reference was made to the Enciclopedia Cristiana where it is stated that Saint Valentine was born in Terni, and is called a Roman martyr because in the year 273 he was executed in Rome, and because at that time Terni, which is within 100 miles of Rome, was under Roman jurisdiction. This therefore might be the reason for the confusion, the Bishop of Terni being referred to as a Roman Bishop. The Bishop of Terni is venerated at Terni, where, within a small Basilica to his memory, is an altar containing his relics. In the small ancient church of St. Praxedes in Rome is a glass-fronted wooden box which contains some of the bones of St. Valentine, together with those of St. Zenone. There can be little doubt that the Bishop of Terni and the Roman priest are one and the same.

From an unknown source comes the story that the Emperor Claudius issued a decree forbidding people to marry, because marriage kept men at home and the Emperor wanted all men to be soldiers and to fight for Rome. The good Valentine ignored this decree and invited young lovers to come to him in secret to be united with the blessing of the Church. Their secret marriages were discovered and the Emperor commanded Valentine to be thrown into prison and later executed. Another legend connected with the saint relates that whilst in prison awaiting his execution, he attempted to restore the sight of the keeper’s blind daughter, whom he had befriended. ” . . From that time the Girl became enamoured of him, nor did he treat her Affection with Contempt. But after a long imprisonment he was ordered for Publick Execution on the 14th of February. While in Prison being deprived of Books, he used to amuse himself with cutting curious Devices in Paper, on one of which he wrote some pious Exhortations and Assurances of Love, and sent to the Keeper’s Daughter the Morning of Execution; and being concluded in the Words, ‘Your Valentine’ there is great reason for supposing that to be the origin of the present Custom.”

This little story is quoted from Kemmish’s Annual for 1797, and is reputed to come from “a very old book”, but a moment’s reflection is sufficient to suggest this pretty little anecdote to be only fiction. It is perhaps unfortunate that the story is perpetuated by being related to schoolchildren and is sometimes quoted by greetings cards manufacturers. In this way, fiction and legend can so often be represented as fact.[1]

A simple Google search on “From that time the Girl became enamoured of him” instantly produced two results, which are really the same result.  It is not Kemmish’s Annual.  In fact it is a predecessor of the modern academic journal, “The Ladies’ Diary: or Woman’s Almanack… being the second after bisextile, or leap-year” 91 (1794), page 25 (here).  The journal was very interested in the study of mathematics, so this is by no means a trivial publication, at least in part.

The Ladies Diary, vol. 91 (1794). Cover.

The actual passage is this:

The Ladies’ Diary, vol. 91 (1794), p.25

I was unable to find the “Query II”, but plainly it asked what was the origin of “valentines”.  Three answers were printed, but only the first is of interest to us:

QUERY II.  answered by Mrs Diana Mason
I have by me a very old book which has the following account of Valentine being confined at Rome on account of his religion, and committed to the care of a man whose daughter was blind, whom Valentine restored to sight and from that time the girl became enamoured of him, nor did he treat her affection with contempt. But after a long imprisonment, he was ordered for public execution on the 14th of February. While in prison, being deprived of books, he used to amuse himself with cutting curious devices in paper, on one of which he wrote some pious exhortations and assurances of love, and sent to his keeper’s daughter the morning of his execution; and being concluded in the words “Your Valentine,” there is great reason for supposing that to be the origin of the present custom.

This is clearly the same story as that used by Staff, and is probably word for word identical with it.

But there is still a mystery here.  For the capitalisation and spelling in the Ladies’ Diary is modern, while that given by Staff is not – “Publick Execution”, for instance.  This spelling would tend to put the story back, from this witness at the end of the eighteenth century to the early part of it.

It is a blessing to have Google Books, and to be able to find material in this way.  It is unfortunate that earlier books are not so available upon it.  But we must be grateful for this relic of days when Google was indeed a public benison.

  1. [1]The John W. Hales, “St. Valentine’s Day”, The Antiquary 5 (1882), 41-50, is online here, but is merely concerned with English valentine customs.

The earliest mentions of St Valentine

Databases are handy things.  The truly wonderful Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity database at Oxford University allows you to search and see just what the earliest mentions are of the cultus of any particular saint.  Even better, it is open-access.

Today I did a simple search on St Valentine, Valentinus, and the results can be found at that site by this link here.  The sources identify two St Valentine’s, of Rome and of Terni, although both are celebrated on 14 February and they may well be the same saint.

The search is useful because every Valentine’s Day we hear the claim that the feast was just a rebranding of Lupercalia by Pope Gelasius I in 496.  No ancient source is ever produced for the claim, but this does not stop our mass media repeating it.

So let us look and see just what ancient evidence there is for St Valentine.  Let’s use what the Cult of Saints database tells us, with whatever else we can find.  I’ll highlight mentions of 14 February.  But these are very thin indeed.  Most of it is about the shrine of St Valentine, a mile along the Via Flaminia.

  • 354 AD – the Chronography of 354, in part 13, the Liberian Catalogue (here), records Pope Julius I building St Valentine’s Church.  Excavations at the site, which is one mile outside the gate on the Flaminian Way, have revealed a mid-fourth-century basilica, centred on an early fourth century memorial of some sort – presumably a grave.[1]
  • 366 / 384 – fragments of a marble tablet in Philocalian lettering, most likely by Pope Damasus, from the St Valentine church complex: also three other fragments from the same area, discovered in 1888.[2]
  • No later than 600 AD – the Martyrdom of Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abacuc of Persia (BHL 8465) is composed, with the Life of St Valentine of Rome embedded in it.  (English of the Valentine bits here)
  • Around 600? or 900? – the Martyrologium Hieronymianum (original material 430-450, but preserved only in a massively rewritten version from Gaul in 592) states in the entry for 14 February: “At Terni, at the sixty-fourth mile of the Via Flaminia, the death of St Valentine.”[3] (But see this post).
  • 625-638 AD – the Notitia Ecclesiarum Urbis Romae, a guide to the graves of saints around Rome, states that “St Valentine the martyr rests on the Via Flaminia, in a large basilica which Honorius restored.”[4]
  • 635-645 AD – the De locis sanctis martyrum states “near to the Via Flaminia appears the wonderfully decorated church of St. Valentine the martyr.”[5]
  • Soon after 649 AD – the Liber Pontificalis for Pope Theodorus mentions the building (or rebuilding?) of a church on the via Flaminia dedicated to Valentinus. (See below)
  • Soon after 685 AD – the Liber Pontificalis for Pope Benedict II mentions repairs to the church of Valentine, offerings there, and “in February after St Valentine’s day”. (See below)
  • 642-683 AD – the Itinerarium Malmesburiense records the church of St Valentine, and the renaming of the Flaminian Gate of Rome to Saint Valentine Gate. (See below)
  • 650 AD – the Gelasian Sacramentary (about which I wrote here) gives three prayers for the “natalis” (anniversary) of Saints Valentine, Vitalis, and Felicula.  (See below)
  • Before 700 AD – the Passio of Valentinus of Terni (BHL 8460) is composed.  (English translation via here)
  • 703 / 710 AD – the Calendar of Willibrod.  Various saints days in February including Valentine on 14 February.  (Latin and English at the database here).
  • 725 / 731 AD – the Venerable Bede in his Martyrology records the feasts of both Valentinus on 14 February.  (See below)

From this we learn that the earliest reference to 14 February for the commemoration of St Valentine is not before 600 AD, although no doubt the date was assigned earlier.

    *    *    *    *

I thought it would be useful to quote the shorter sources not otherwise linked.  Here they are:

Chronography of 354, part 13 – the Liberian Catalogue for Pope Julius I:

hic multas fabricas fecit: basilicam in via Portese miliario III; basilicam in via Flaminia mil. II quae appellatur Valentini;

This one made much building work: a basilica in the via Portese at the 3rd milestone; a basilica in the Flaminian Way at the 2nd milestone, which is called the Valentinian;

Itinerarium Malmesburiense:[6]

Secunda porta Flamminia, quae modo appellatur sancti Valentini, et via Flamminia; et cum ad pontem Molbium peruenit, uocatur via Rauennana, quia ad Rauennam ducit. Ibi in primo miliario foris sanctus Valentinus in sua aecclesia requiescit.

The second gate, the Flaminia, which is now called saint Valentinus’ gate, and the via Flaminia; and when it reaches the Milvian bridge, it is called the via Ravennana, because it leads to Ravenna. There, at the first milestone outside the walls, rests saint Valentinus in his own church.

Liber Pontificalis 75 (Theodore)[7]

Fecit et ecclesiam beato Valentino via Flamminea, iuxta pontem Molbium a solo, quam et ipse dedicavit et dona multa optulit.

5. He also built from the ground up the church to St Valentine on the Via Flaminia near the Milvian Bridge; he dedicated it and presented many gifts.

Liber Pontificalis 83 (Benedict II)[8]

Hic ecclesiam beati Petri apostoli sed et beati Laurenti martyris qui appellatur Lucinae restauravit itemque in ecclesia beati Valentini via Flamminea fecit coopertorium super altare cum clavos in fistellis et in circuitu palergium chrisoclavum pretiosissimum. Similiter in ecclesia beate Mariae ad martyres alium coopertorium porphyrum cum cruce et gammulas et clavos IIII auroclavos et in circuitu palergium de olosiricum pulcherrimum; necnon et in titulo suprascripto Lucine alium coopertorium ornatum de olosiricum. Fecit autem et calices aureos ministeriales II, pensantes singuli libras singulas.

2. He restored St Peter’s, and the church of the martyr St Laurence called that of Lucina. Also at St Valentine’s on the Via Flaminia he provided over the altar an altarcloth with studs and thin bands, with a very precious border around it, adorned with gold buttons; similarly at St Mary’s ad martyres another altarcloth of purple with a cross and chevrons and four gold-buttoned studs, with a very beautiful border all of silk; also at the above titulus of Lucina, another decorated altarcloth all of silk. He also provided 2 gold service chalices each weighing 1 lb. …

Huius temporibus apparuit stella noctu, iuxta vigilias, per dies, caelum serenum inter Domini et Theophania omnimodo obumbrata veluti luna sub nube. Itemque mense Februario, post natale sancti Valentini, in die, ab occasu exiit stella meridie et in partes Orientis declinavit.

4. In his time there appeared a star in the clear night sky, at about vigils, for some days between Christmas and Epiphany; it was totally overshadowed, like the moon beneath a cloud. Again in February after the feast of saint Valentinus, the star rose in daytime at midday in the west and sank in the eastern parts.

Sacramentarium Gelasianum:[9]

Orat. in Natali Valentini, Vitalis, et Feliculae. xvi Kal. Martias.

Tuorum nos, Domine, quaesumus, precibus tuere sanctorum: ut festa martyrum tuorum Valentini, Vitalis, et Feliculae sine cessatione venerantes, et fideli muniamur auxilio, et magnifico proficiamus exemplo. Per Dominum.

Secreta. Ad martyrum tuorum Valentini, Vitalis, et Feliculae, Domine, festa venientes, cum muneribus nomini tuo dicatis occurrimus: ut illis reverentiam deferentes nobis veniam impetremus. Per Dominum.

Postcommun. Protege, Domine, plebem tuam, et festivitate martyrum tuorum Valentini, Vitalis, et Feliculae, quam nobis tradis, assidue debita tibi persolvi precibus concede sanctorum. Per Dominum.

Prayers on the Commemoration of Valentine, Vitalis and Felicula. 14 February.

Protect us, we beseech thee, O Lord, by the prayers of your saints, that the feasts of your martyrs Valentine, Vitalis and Felicula may be venerated without ceasing and that we may be protected by the aid of the faithful, and that we may go forward by your magnificent example.  In the Lord’s name.

Sec. We come to the feasts of your martyrs Valentine, Vitalis and Felicula, O Lord, we meet in your name with holy offerings: so that, showing respect by these, we may obtain forgiveness.  In the Lord’s name.

Postc. Protect, O Lord, your people, and on the feast of your martyrs Valentine, Vitalis and Felicula, which you give to us, grant that our sins may be held paid by the prayers of the saints.  In the Lord’s name.

Venerable Bede, Martyrology – Valentinus of Rome:[10]

XVI. Kal. Mar. Natale sancti Valentini presbyteri, Romae: qui post multa sanitatum et doctrinae insignia, fustibus caesus, et sic decollatus est, sub Claudio Caesare.

14 February. At Rome, the feast of St Valentinus, priest: who after many public signs of healing and erudition, having been beaten with clubs, was also in this way beheaded, under Claudius Caesar.

Venerable Bede, Martyrology – Valentinus of Terni:[11]

XVI. Kal. Mar. Natale sancti Valentini Interamnensis episcopi: qui tentus a paganis ac vergis caesus, et post diuturnam caedam custodiae mancipatus, cum superari non posset, mediae noctis silentio eiectus de carcere decollatus est, iussu Furiosi Placidi, Urbis praefecti. Tunc Proculus, Efybus et Apollonius discipuli eius transferentes corpus ad suam ecclesiam Interamnanae urbis noctu, sepelierunt: ubi cum quotidianis vigiliis incubarent, tenti a gentilibus custodiae sunt traditi consulari Leontio: quos ille iussit medio noctis suis tribunalibus praesentari: et cum a fide revocari nec blandimentis nec minis possent, iussit capite caedi: qui non longe sunt a corpore sancti Valentini sepulti.

14 February. The feast of St Valentinus bishop of Terni: who, detained by the pagans and beaten with rods and, after having been subjected to the long, slow slaughter of imprisonment, when he could not be vanquished, was tossed out of prison in the silence of the middle of the night and beheaded at the command of Furiosus Placidus, prefect of the city. Then Proclus, Efybus and Apollonius, his disciples, transferring his body by night to their church in the city of Terni, buried him: when they were abiding there with daily vigils, having been detained by the Gentiles, they were given over for guarding to the emperor’s governing legate, Leontius: he ordered them to be presented before his tribunal in the middle of the night: and when they could not be called away from the faith either by allurements or by threats, he ordered them to have their heads cut off: they were buried not far from the body of St Valentinus.

None of this, of course, has anything to do with what is today called St Valentine’s Day.


  1. [1]Via Michael Lapidge, The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (2017), p.423.  Preview.
  2. [2]A. Ferrua, Epigrammata Damasiana, (1942) p.197-200; Trout, Damasus of Rome, 176-7.  I was only able to access p.176 in Google Books preview, which showed that the text is pretty unreadable.
  3. [3]Translated by Lapidge, appendix III, p.651.
  4. [4]Translated by Lapidge, in appendix IV (a) [§1], p.660.
  5. [5]Lapidge, in appendix IV (a) [§13], p.664.
  6. [6]Bryan Ward-Perkins, Cult of Saints, E07885 –
  7. [7]Latin: Duchesne vol 1, p.332-3; English: Davis, The Book of Pontiffs, TTH 6, p.66.
  8. [8]Latin: Duchesne vol 1, p.363; English: Davis, The Book of Pontiffs, TTH 6, p.77.  Robert Wiśniewski, Cult of Saints, E01698 –
  9. [9]Latin from the Wilson edition, p.167 – Google Books, English by me.
  10. [10]Benjamin Savill, Cult of Saints, E05525 –
  11. [11]Benjamin Savill, Cult of Saints, E05526 –

Sacramentarium Gelasianum – The Gelasian Sacramentary

Ancient and medieval church service books, or liturgical manuscripts, are a subject of their own, about which I know nothing.  Today I had occasion to find out something about the Sacramentarium Gelasianum, or Gelasian Sacramentary, so I thought that I would share it with you.

There are three ancient service books which have survived to our own times.  One of these is known as the Sacramentarium Gelasianum Vetus – The Old Gelasian Sacramentary (= CPL 1899).  It exists in a single manuscript, today preserved under the shelfmark MS. Vatican. reg. lat. 316 (online here; f.136v shows the material for Valentinus, for instance).  This was written in a Frankish monastery at Chelles around 750 AD.

MS. Vatican, fol. 136v – beginning of prayers for the commemoration (natalis) of St. Valentine and others.

The text can be found in PL74, col. 1059.  A critical edition of the Latin text by H. A. Wilson (1894) is freely available online here. I believe that a modern edition by Mohlberg also exists.[1]  Other manuscripts, listed by Wilson, preserve a revised “Gelasian” type of sacramentary – the Eighth Century Gelasian or Frankish Gelasian – which does not concern us here.[2]

The book itself is simply titled “Liber sacramentorum Romanae Ecclesiae”. The false attribution to Pope Gelasius (492-496)  in older accounts[3] probably arises from the statement in the Liber Pontificalis that Gelasius “fecit sacramentorum praefationes et orationes cauto sermone” (“he composed a sacramentary with carefully worded prefaces and orations”).

The sacramentary is designed for a presbyterial type liturgy because it contains only material needed for a priest in charge of a “titular” church or a parish church, and nothing more.  It was most likely composed around the middle of the seventh century, say around 650 AD, because it contains modifications to the canon of the mass introduced by Gregory the Great (d. 604) but none of the changes of Sergius I (687-701) or Gregory II (715-731).

  1. [1]L. Mohlberg, Liber Sacramentorum Romanae Ecclesiae Ordinis Anni Circuli, Rome (1968) = Rerum Ecclesiasticarum Documenta, Series Maior, Fontes IV.  These details via here.
  2. [2]The most thorough account that I could find of the Gelasian Sacramentary is Eric Palazzo, A History of Liturgical Books from the Beginning to the Thirteenth Century, (1998) p.44f., from whom I take much of what is said here.
  3. [3]E.g. J. W. Richard, Christian Worship: Its Principles and Forms, (1892) p.110.

An account of St Valentine of Rome from 1730

It is Valentine’s Day, and I have been looking at a particular modern legend and trying to deduce its real origin.  In the process I came across a volume of Saints’ Lives, compiled in Spanish by Pedro de Ribadeneyra, and translated into English in 1730 under the title, “The Lives of the Saints: With Other Feasts of the Year”, p.185-6 (Google Books).

The entry for St Valentine seems to derive from that for Valentine of Rome, which I discussed here.  I thought that it would be pleasant to scan it, modernising the spelling a little, and paragraphing, and post it.  Here it is:

The Life of St. Valentine Priest, and Martyr.

Among the glorious Martyrs, that under Claudius the second Emperor, gave testimony of the true Faith, and shed their Blood for Jesus Christ, one was Valentine a Priest, venerable for sanctity and learning. Who being apprehended, was loaded with irons, and after two days brought into the emperor’s presence.

When Claudius saw him, he said mildly unto him, Valentine, Why dost thou refuse our friendship, and art a furtherer and maintainer of our enemies? I hear thee commended for a sober and prudent man; and I find thee on the contrary to be vain and superstitious. St. Valentine made answer; O Emperor, if you did well understand the Gift of God, you and your Empire should be happy. You would reject the devils and those statues which you adore, and you would acknowledge him to be the true and only God, who created Heaven and Earth, and his only Son Jesus Christ.

There was standing by the Emperor a learned man who spoke aloud to Valentine, so that all might hear, him; “What do you think then of our Gods, Jupiter and Mercury?” “That they were miserable Men,” said Valentine, “wicked, and that they passed their whole life in dishonest and filthy pleasures of the Body.” The man could not hold from exclaiming aloud: “He hath blasphemed the Gods and the rulers of our common wealth.” And as the Saint desired the Emperor to hear him with attention, and exhorted him to do penance for so much Christian Blood unjustly shed, to believe in Christ, and to be baptized, for this was the only Means to save himself, and enlarge his Empire, and even to get great victories over his enemies, the Emperor seemed to like the discourse, and willingly to give ear unto it; which Calphurnius observing, who was governor of the City, cried out before the people, “Do you see how this man is deluding our prince? Is it possible that we shall now forsake that religion, which we have been born and bred up in, and received from our fathers and grandfathers?” Claudius hearing this; and fearing a tumult and uproar of the People; bid the governor himself examine Valentine; and if he gave not a good account of his life and doctrine, to punish him as a sacrilegious person; otherwise not to condemn him.

The governor committed the case to his lieutenant, Asterius; who took the martyr to his house; who begged of our Lord to enlighten those that were blinded with the dark mist of idolatry, and grant them the knowledge of Jesus Christ, who is the true Light of the World. Asterius heard him praying, and said unto him: “I have always admired you for your singular Prudence, and yet I hear you say that Christ is the true Light.” St. Valentine reply’d, “He is not only the true Light, but also the only Light, that enlighteneth all Men, that come into the World.” “If this be so, I will make trial of it presently,” saith Asterius, “here is a little girl, whom I have adopted for my daughter, who hath been blind these two years: If you can make her see, and restore her the Light, I will believe that Jesus Christ is the Light, and God, and I will do whatsoever you shall appoint me.”

And with this called for the girl, to bring her before the Saint, who laying his hands upon her eyes made this prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, who art the true Light, enlighten thy Servant.” And at the very instant the child recovered her sight. And Asterius with his wife fell down at St. Valentine’s Feet, and besought him, that since by his means they were come to know Christ to be the true light; he would instruct them, what they were to do to be saved.

The Saint enjoined them to break in pieces all the idols they had, to fast three days, and to pardon all those who had done them any wrong; and then to be baptized; which if they did, they should be saved. Asterius fulfilled all that was commanded, and let at liberty all the Christians which he had in hold, and together with his whole family, in number forty six persons, was baptized.

When this came to the Emperor’s knowledge, fearing some great tumult might arise upon it, for reasons of state, he commanded them all to be apprehended, and put to death by different torments. And the father and master of them all St. Valentine, after a long and straight imprisonment, was cruelly beaten and bruised with knotty cudgels; and at length beheaded in the Way Flaminia; where afterwards Pope Theodore dedicated a church to God in his honour. St. Gregory maketh mention of this saint. He was martyred in the Year CCLXXI, in the Reign of Claudius II. upon the fourteenth of February, when his feast is kept.


“De solstitiis et aequinoctiis” (CPL 2277) – now online in English!

I’ve written before about this interesting 4th century text, De solstitiis et aequinoctiis (On the solstices and equinoxes), here and on posts linked here, including creating an electronic text.  The author is unknown, but the work is one of the few ancient texts that labels the 25 December as the “birthday of the sun”.  It also explains why Christmas is on the 25 December – it demonstrates from a calculation that the solstices and equinoxes are the days of the birth and death of John the Baptist and Jesus.  It is the fundamental text for the “calculation theory” of why 25 December is the birthday of Christ.  But for all that it has never really been edited properly – Botte did print a text as an appendix -, and it has never been translated into any modern language.

Last year Dr Isabella Image came across my posts and very kindly offered to translate the text into English.  This she has now done, and here it is!  She has also kindly made the result public domain, so please copy it freely and use it for any purpose.

These are also accessible at here.

It is wonderful to have this online!  Thank you, Dr Image, for generously doing this for us all!


A Roman bog body found on Grewelthorpe Moor in 1850

Here’s a fascinating post on Twitter here, by Emily Tilley:

In 1850 two brothers digging peat on Grewelthorpe Moor found a Roman bog body wearing a green toga, scarlet robe, & yellow stockings. A policeman prevented the destruction of the remains & saved this hobnailed shoe sole, insole, & stocking fragment.

For more information I was referred to R. C. Turner, M. Rhodes and J. P. Wild, “The Roman Body Found on Grewelthorpe Moor in 1850: A Reappraisal”, Britannia 22 (1991) pp. 191-201. (JSTOR)  From this I learn that the shoe is indeed Roman, although it could belong to any period during the Roman occupation.  The second item is a woolen insole, intended to pad the shoe which was old and had been repaired before its loss.

Primary sources are very thin. Turner writes in 1991:

The body was found in 1850 by two brothers, Edwin and John Grainge, of Castiles Farm, Kirkby Malzeard, whilst digging for peat. No exactly contemporary accounts of the discovery are known; the two local newspapers were not founded until around 1855. Our knowledge of the find is based on two somewhat later descriptions.

He then mentions “T. Heslington, On Roman Camps in the Neighbourhood of Ripon, Ripon: Johnson and co (1867)”, but had no access to this and seem to have doubted that it existed.  We who live in the age of the internet can quickly discover a number of copies accessible in UK libraries, including at least one copy in the library at York Minster!  Turner was forced to rely on a quotation, which is as follows:

A few years ago some workmen digging for peat on a farm, on the moors near Kirkby Malzeard, made one of the most extraordinary discoveries, of its nature, ever disclosed.  This was the body of a man – evidently an ancient Roman – which the peat had tanned, dried and preserved in a remarkable manner, like (as the people say who saw it) an Egyptian Mummy. The robes were quite perfect and the material tough – having been tanned and preserved by some natural agency. The toga was of a green colour, and some of the dress of scarlet material; the stockings of a yellow cloth, and the sandals cut out in a beautiful shape – like those found in the Thames some years ago – and were likewise finely stitched. Unfortunately this marvellously preserved relic of the peat was nearly destroyed before the Kirkby Malzeard policeman arrived, but he managed to secure the stockings and sandals – perhaps the only mementoes now remaining of this strange discovery.

The other source is an account by W. Grainge – possibly related to the finders? – in the Ripon Millenary, part 2 (1892), preface, p.ix.  This is online here, but is brief:

The most remarkable discovery connected with this period was made in the spring of 1850, by Edwin and John Grainge, while digging peat on Grewelthorpe Moor, when they came upon the body of a man, in an almost complete state of preservation, and from his dress evidently a Roman, which the peat had tanned and dried, in a remarkable manner, somewhat like an Egyptian mummy. The robes were quite perfect when found, the toga of a green colour, while some portions of the dress were of a scarlet hue; the stockings were of yellow cloth, and the sandals of a finely artistic shape, one of which was preserved, and we believe is now in the museum of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society. The flesh was tanned into a kind of white fatty substance, and had a very offensive smell. No coins or weapons were found about the body. He was probably some wanderer who had lost his way and perished in the bog, in which he had no doubt reposed for 1400 years. The remains were finally interred in the churchyard of Kirkby Malzeard.

Turner states that no such grave is now identifiable in the churchyard.  Possibly an enquiry in church records might reveal more.  The shoe and clothing fragments are grouped together under Yorkshire Museum Accession Number H 2053.

The article itself is very dry, but a few points stand out.

The diamond arrangement of the thong-slots constitutes the most diagnostic feature of the Grewelthorpe shoe. Shoes with diamond thong-slot patterns are unknown on the continent. With the exception of Caernarfon, they are also absent on sites in the south of Britain…

On present evidence, therefore, the diamond arrangement of thong-slots might occur on shoes of any date between the late first and mid third centuries. The terminal date in particular must remain open due to the paucity of evidence of late Roman shoes.

What we know of Roman fashion in Britain suggests that the ‘toga’ should be construed as a rectangular cloak. That ‘some of the dress was of scarlet material’ may mean that he was wearing a tunic with two purple stripes (clavi) down the front in Roman style. The stockings, while practical, were distinctly rustic in tone. It can only be regretted that the Kirkby Malzeard policeman did not arrive earlier to save more of the clothing of this remarkable find.

Despite being found 140 years ago, the chance survival of an associated shoe-sole confirms that Grewelthorpe Man died during the period of Roman occupation. …

From the circumstances surrounding the other bodies from British upland bogs, particularly those from historic times, it seems unlikely that Grewelthorpe Man was the victim of a ritual sacrifice. He probably died through exposure or other natural causes and was buried by chance in the bog. This led to the survival of his clothing, which appeared to retain its full range of colours. The description of his rather rustic garb and his badly repaired and uncomfortable shoe in balance suggest that he was a civilian rather than a soldier.

I had never heard of the Grewelthorpe body.  What a marvellous find!  What a pity that no photograph was taken!


How to find a specific manuscript by shelfmark at the Bibliothèque Nationale Français website

The French National Library has a great mass of medieval manuscripts online at its Gallica site.  Finding them, however, can be very tricky.

Some time back, a genius drew a chart of how to do this.  It does work – my rather Covid-addled memory tells me only that I did work through it. I probably wrote something about it here, but I can no longer locate it.

Today I found a copy of the picture on my desktop.  Unfortunately I don’t know who drew this (if you do, please shout!) and I thought I’d pass it on.  Magic.

How to find a specific manuscript call number BNF.

Update: Nov. 2022.  The step 2 doesn’t work but the department de manuscrits page is here.

Update: August 2023:  The diagram comes from here and was made by “profdiberjones”, @diber.