Paulinus of Nola

Saint Paulinus of Nola
Bishop of Nola, Italy
Born 354 AD
Bordeaux, France
Died June 22 431
Sicily, near Sutera, Caltanisetta, Italy
Honored in Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholicism
Feast June 22

Saint Paulinus (Paolino) of Nola, also known as Pontificus Meropius Anicius Paulinus[1] (Bordeaux, 354 – June 22 431 in Nola, outside Naples) was a Roman senator who converted to a severe monasticism in 394. He eventually became Bishop of Nola, helped to resolve the disputed election of Pope Boniface I, and was canonized as a saint.



Paulinus was from a notable senatorial family with possessions in Aquitaine, northern Spain, and southern Italy. He was educated in Bordeaux, where his teacher, the poet Ausonius, also became his friend. His normal career as a young member of the senatorial class did not last long—he served as governor of the southern Italian province of Campagna, but returned to Bordeaux where he became a serious Christian. Paulinus married a Spanish Christian woman named Therasia. After visiting the shrine of Saint Felix in Nola, Paulinus converted to Christianity and was baptized in 389 by Delphinus, Bishop of Bordeaux. Paulinus and Therasia lost their first child, a boy, only eight days after birth. Paulinus and Therasia after in 390 decided to live a secluded religious life on their estates in Spain. In 393 or 394, after some resistance from Paulinus, he was ordained a priest on Christmas day by Lampius, Bishop of Barcelona.[2] This was very similar to what happened with Saint Augustine of Hippo, who had been ordained against his will in the year 391 by a crowd cooperating with Bishop Valerius in the north African city of Hippo Regius. However, there is some debate as to whether the ordination was canonical since he received ordination per saltum without receiving minor orders.[3]

Paulinus refused to remain in Barcelona, though, and in late spring of the following year he and his wife moved from Spain to Nola in Campagna since Nola was better suited to monasticism than Barcelona. Moreover, Paulinus credited his conversion to Saint Felix who was buried in Nola. During this time, he engaged in considerable epistolary dialogue about this with Saint Jerome among others about monastic topics.


Already during his governorship Paulinus had developed a fondness for the 3rd century martyr Saint Felix of Nola.[2] Felix was a minor saint of local importance and patronage whose tomb had been built within the local necropolis at Cimitile, just outside the town of Nola. As governor, Paulinus had widened the road to Cimitile and built a residence for travelers; it was at this site that Paulinus and Therasia took up residence. Nearby were a number of small chapels and at least one old basilica. Paulinus rebuilt the complex, constructing a brand new basilica to Felix and gathering to him a small monastic community. Paulinus wrote an annual hymn (natalicium) in honor of St. Felix for the feast day when processions of pilgrims were at their peak. In these hymns we can understand the personal relationship Paulinus felt between himself and Felix, his advocate in heaven. His poetry shares with much of the work of the early 5th century, an ornateness of style that classicists of the 18th and 19th century found cloying and dismissed as decadent—though Paulinus' poems were highly regarded at the time and used as educational models.

Many of Paulinus's letters to his contemporaries, including Ausonius and Sulpicius Severus in southern Gaul, Victricius of Rouen in northern Gaul, and Augustine in Africa are preserved. At least one of the letters to Ausonius has led to speculation that Paulinus may have been homosexual,[4] although this interpretation has not been supported by other biographers.[citation needed]

Paulinus may have been indirectly responsible for Augustine's Confessions: Paulinus wrote to Alypius, Bishop of Thagaste and a close friend of Saint Augustine, asking about his conversion and taking up of the ascetic life. Alypius's autobiographical response does not survive; St Augustine's ostensible answer to that query is the "Confessions."

Around 410 Paulinus was chosen Bishop of Nola. Like a growing number of aristocrats in the late 4th and early 5th centuries who were entering the clergy rather than taking up the more usual administrative careers in the imperial service, Paulinus spent a great deal of his money on his chosen church and city.

We know about his buildings in honor of St Felix from literary and archaeological evidence, especially from his long letter to Sulpicius Severus describing the arrangement of the building and its decoration. He includes a detailed description of the apse mosaic over the main altar and gives the text for a long inscription he has written to be put on the wall under the image. By explaining how he intended the visitors to understand the image over the altar, Paulinus provided rare insight into the intentions of a patron of art in the later Empire.

In later life Paulinus, by then a highly respected church authority, participated in multiple church synods investigating various ecclesiastical controversies of the time, including Pelagianism. St Paulinus died on June 22, 431, at Nola.


About 800, a Lombard prince of Benevento removed Paulinus's bones as relics. From the eleventh century, they rested at the church of Saint Adalbert, now Saint Bartholomew, on the island in the Tiber in Rome; in 1908 Pope Pius X permitted them to be translated to the new Cathedral at Nola, where they were reinterred on May 15, 1909.[5] The bones are now found in the small Sicilian city of Sutera where they dedicate a feast day, and conduct a procession for the Saint at Easter each year.

Modern Devotion to St. Paulinus

The people of modern day Nola and the surrounding regions remain devoted to St. Paulinus. His feast day is celebrated annually in Nola during "La Festa dei Gigli" (the Feast of the Lilies), in which Gigli, several large statues in honor of the saint, placed on towers, are carried upon the shoulders of the faithful around the city. In the United States, the descendants of Italian immigrants from Nola and Brusciano continue the tradition in Brooklyn[6] and elsewhere.


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed (1913). "St. Paulinus, Bishop of Nola". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. 

  1. ^ Löffler, K. (1911). "St. Paulinus, Bishop of Nola". The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. ^ a b Bardenhewer, Otto. Translated by Thomas J. Shahan (2006). Patrology: The Lives and Works of the Fathers of the Church. Kessinger Publishing. p.447.
  3. ^ "Paulinus of Nola". Catholic Encyclopedia. 
  4. ^ Norton, Rictor (editor; 1998). - My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries.
  5. ^ Trout, Dennis E. (1999). Paulinus of Nola: Life, Letters, and Poems. Berkeley: University of California Press. p.267.
  6. ^ Posen, I. Sheldon; Joseph Sciorra; David M Kahn (1989). The Giglio: Brooklyn's Dancing Tower. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Brooklyn Historical Society. OCLC 22905350. 


  • Trout, Dennis E (1999). Paulinus of Nola. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-21709-6. 
  • Gardner, Edmund G. (editor) (1911. Reprinted 2010). The Dialogues of Saint Gregory the Great. Merchantville, NJ: Evolution Publishing. ISBN 9781889758947.  -- Chapter III of the Dialogues contains a long anecdote about Paulinus.
  • Joseph Morelli, De S. Paulini Nolani Doctrina Christologica, Theology Doctorate dissertation, Pontificia Facultas Theologica Neapolitana apud Majus Seminarium, ex Typographica Officina Forense, Neapoli, MCMXLV
  • Joseph T. Lienhard, "Paulinus of Nola and Early Western Monasticism, with a study of the Chronology of His Work and an Annotated Bibliography," 1879-1976 (Theophaneia 28), Köln-Bonn 1977, pp. 192–204; Cesare Magazzù, "Dieci anni di studi su Paolino di Nola" (1977–1987), in Bollettino di studi latini 18 (1988), pp. 84–103; Carmine Iannicelli, "Rassegna di studi paoliniani" (1980–1997), in Impegno e Dialogo 11 (1994–1996) [pubblic.1997], pp. 279–321 Rassegna Iannicelli

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