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Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus
(530 - December 14, 609) Italy - France

Venantius Fortunatus

Saint, bishop - Feast-day December 14

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Venantius was a poet, born at Valdobbiadene or at Ceneda, near Treviso, Italy. He spent his time as court poet to the Merovingians. After visiting the tomb of St. Martin of Tours at St. Hilary at Poitiers, he decided to enter a monastery. He continued to write poetry, some of which have a permanent place in Catholic hymnody, for instance the Easter season hymns Vexilla Regis and the Pange Lingua (Sing, O my tongue, of the battle).

Three or four years before he died he was made bishop of Poitiers. As the following poem (dedicated to his friend Rucco, deacon in far-away Paris) shows, he is also a spiritual ancestor of same-sex lovers. He died in Poitiers.

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"Written on an Island off the Breton Coast"

You at God's altar stand, His minister
And Paris lies about you and the Seine:
Around this Breton isle the Ocean swells,
Deep water and one love between us twain.
Wild is the wind, but still thy name is spoken;
Rough is the sea: it sweeps not o'er they face.
Still runs my lover for shelter to its dwelling,
Hither, O heart, to thine abiding place.
Swift as the waves beneath an east wind breaking
Dark as beneath a winter sky the sea,
So to my heart crowd memories awaking,
So dark, O love, my spirit without thee.
(trans. Helen Waddell, in Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse)

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