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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

There are two saints Felix of Nola: a third- or early fourth-century priest, celebrated today, and a later fifth-century bishop, celebrated on 15. November.  Our information concerning the life of today's Felix comes from the writings of that later fourth- and early fifth-century Burdigalan retiree in Campania, Pontius Meropius Paulinus (a.k.a. St. Paulinus of Nola).  As governor of Campania, Paulinus had taken part in local veneration of this saint in 381.  In 394 he left government service and was ordained priest at Barcelona; in the following year he and his wife Therasia returned to their estates in Campania, where they established a monastery at today's Cimitile on the outskirts of Nola and, as Catherine Conybeare puts it, "more or less reinvent[ed] the cult of Saint Felix" (_Paulinus Noster: Self and Symbols in the Letters of Paulinus of Nola_ [Oxford University Press, 2001], p. 5).

Paulinus' promotion of Felix entailed both the erection of a small basilica over the saint's tomb at Cimitile and his own annual writing and public reading of a poem in Felix' honor on the latter's _dies natalis_.  We have fourteen of these _carmina natalicia_ ("birthday poems") for Felix from Paulinus' pen.  They tell us that Felix was the son of a wealthy Syrian immigrant, that he became a priest at Nola, that he suffered during a persecution when he was acting in place of the bishop of Nola, that having survived these travails he declined election to that post after the incumbent's death, and that he spent his final years in poverty and toil.  Guesses vary as to whether the persecution were that of Decius or of Diocletian.  Because of his suffering, Felix was considered a martyr.  Lacking a proper Passio for Felix, St. Gregory of Tours composed a prose account of this saint (_In gloria martyrum_, 103) derived from his reading of Paulinus.

In Campania today's Felix is the patron saint of Cimitile (an important late antique and early medieval pilgrimage destination), of nearby Pomigliano d'Arco (NA), of Rocca San Felice (AV), and of San Felice a Cancello (CE).  His cult spread elsewhere via a church in Rome "in Pincis" (presumably on the Pincian) said to have been ruinous when it was rebuilt by pope Hadrian I (772-795).  One instance of this is at today's Borgo San Felice in Castelnuovo Berardenga (SI) in Tuscany, where the cult is first documented with certainty from the late tenth century for a church already dedicated to a Felix before 714.  In the later ninth century today's Felix had begun to appear in calendars and the like as _Felix in Pincis_ (e.g. he is so entered the Old English Martyrology).  Following the (pseudo-)Hieronymian Martyrology, the ninth-century martyrologies of St. Ado of Vienne and Usuard of Saint-Germain still identify him as Felix of Nola, though in the second edition of his martyrology Usuard adds under this date a second Felix, apparently the same saint slightly differently conceived.

The suffix _in Pincis_ was widely applied to today's Felix in calendars of the central and later Middle Ages; it occurs as well in later manuscripts of the (ps.-)HM.  Uncertainty over its meaning led to two possible explanations, as evidenced in the thirteenth-century accounts of Felix by the Dominicans Bartolomeo da Trento (Bartholomew of Trent) and Bl. Jacopo da Varazze.  In Bartolomeo's _Liber epilogorum in gesta sanctorum_, where the treatment of Felix of 14. January is at cap. 31, _De sancto Felice_, there are said to be two sainted brothers named Felix, both called _in pincis_, the one because he is said to have been put to death with _pincae_ (Bartolomeo gives the supposed explanation _pinca_ = _subula_, "awl") and the other (who in this account had been sentenced to hard labor but after a healing miracle had been freed and brought to Nola, where he died) because he reposes at a place called _in pincis_.  Bartolomeo devotes most of his brief chapter to the Felix who died at Nola.  At the outset he calls both Felixes priests; in his telling both brothers resided at Rome.  The Felix killed at Rome had caused an idol to shatter; the Felix who died at Nola had threatened to do the same thing.  Bl. Jacopo's account (_Legenda aurea_, ed. Graesse, cap. 19) is similar but adds that the Felix killed with awls was a schoolmaster put to death by his pagan students (an evident borrowing from Prudentius' well known account of St. Cassian of Imola).

Views of the ancient parts of Cimitile's basilica di San Felice in Pincis showing some of the surrounding structure (most of these also show Felix' tomb):
http://tinyurl.com/h7nqhml
http://tinyurl.com/yd37sq8
http://tinyurl.com/hyfxg6e [click on the photo for much higher resolution]
http://www.napoligold.com/coast/napolisud/soggetto/de24067.jpg
http://www.storia-riferimenti.org/medioevo/fotomedioevo/cimitile/felice3.jpg


Some period-pertinent images of St. Felix of Nola / _in Pincis_:

a) as depicted (at right, being stabbed to death by students; at center, an unsteady idol) in a late thirteenth-century copy of French origin of the _Legenda aurea_ (San Marino, CA, Huntington Library, ms. HM 3027, fol. 22v): 
http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/ds/huntington/images//000970A.jpg

b) as depicted (being stabbed to death by students) in a mid-fourteenth-century copy, from the workshop of Richard and Jeanne de Montbaston, of the _Legenda aurea_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (1348; Paris, BnF, ms. Français 241, fol. 40r):
http://tinyurl.com/z6eww9m

c) as depicted (curing a demoniac) in the later fourteenth-century Breviary of Charles V (ca. 1364-1370; Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 1052, fol. 317v):
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b84525491/f644.item.zoom

d) as depicted in a later fourteenth-century missal of north Italian origin (ca. 1370; Avignon, Bibliothèque-Médiathèque Municipale Ceccano, ms. 136, fol. 223v):
http://www.enluminures.culture.fr/Wave/savimage/enlumine/irht2/IRHT_055276-p.jpg

e) as depicted (causing the fall of an idol) in an early fifteenth-century copy of the _Legenda aurea_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 242, fol. 34r):
http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8426005j/f83.item.zoom

f) as depicted (being whipped and stabbed to death by students) in an early fifteenth-century copy of the _Elsässische Legenda aurea_ (1419; Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek, Cod. Pal. germ. 144, fol. 288r): 
http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/cpg144/0599?sid=b91bf6e0b25747f47c23ca41755991b5

g) as depicted (being stabbed to death by students) by the court workshop of Frederick III in a mid-fifteenth-century copy of the _Legenda aurea_ (1446-1447; Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, cod. 326, fol. 33v):
http://tarvos.imareal.oeaw.ac.at/server/images/7006827.JPG

h) as depicted twice (in the lower register, being beaten with rods; in the upper register, being concealed by a spider's web) in a later fifteenth-century copy of Vincent of Beauvais' _Speculum historiale_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (1463; Paris, BnF, ms. Français 51, fol. 303v):
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cb/Felix_of_Nola-1.jpg

Best,
John Dillon
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