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St Fortunatus (14th October)

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Detail of Madonna and Child in glory with saints (1608)

by Andrea Polinori

Pinacoteca Communale

An entry in the Roman Martyrology under 14th October records: “At Todi in Umbria, St Fortunatus, bishop, who, as is mentioned by blessed Gregory, was endowed with an extraordinary gift for casting out unclean spirits”. 

According to the Dialogues of Pope Gregory I, Bishop Fortunatus of Todi “had a most singular grace in casting out of devils”.  the source for the information about him had been the recently-deceased Julianus, “who had an office here in our church” in Rome.  The most important episode in this account involved "certain Goths ... travelling not far from the city of Todi, on a journey to Ravenna, [who] carried away with them two little boys from a place which belonged to the said city”.  This was probably in 556, as Totila marched from Rome towards Gualdo Tadino to confront the Byzantine general Narses, taking some 300 children as hostages from the richest families of the towns and cities through which he passed.  The officer in charge of the Goths refused the plea of St Fortunatus that the boys should be released in return for a ransom.  However, he was badly injured the next day when hell from his horse outside a church dedicated to St Peter (which was probably on the present site of the Duomo).  He believed that St Fortunatus had brought down this punishment, and sought to placate him by releasing the boys.  St Fortunatus then sent holy water that healed his broken bones. 

The Dialogues do not give a date for the death of St Fortunatus.  The earliest source is the Martyrology of Usuard, which gives the feast as 14th October, perhaps erroneously mixing him up with St Fortunata, who was martyred in Palestine on this date.  This is the date in the Roman Martyrology (above).  However, the legend of St Fortunatus (BHL 3088) appears in older lectionaries (including the Leggendari del Duomo di Spoleto) under 30th June.  This date also appears in other sources, including the city statutes of 1327.  It subsequently lost favour, and the feast of St Fortunatus is now celebrated in Todi on 14th October.


The Dialogues say that miracles soon occurred at the grave of St Fortunatus, but they do not specify where this was.   According to BHL 3088, he was buried within the walls of the city in a place called Apentino, in a church dedicated to St Cassian.  The 13th century chronicle entitled “Historia Tudertine Civitatis” referred to a church dedicated to both St Cassian and St Callistus, in a place called Apeantina.

As set out in the page on the Five Patron Saints of Todi, this church was traditionally identified as the so-called Carcere di San Cassiano.  However, it is more likely to have been an ancient church on the site of what is now the Cappella Gregoriana of San Fortunato, which may well have been dedicated to St Cassian of Imola.  (The arguments are set out by Enrico Menestò and Emore Paoli, referenced below). 

A lead plaque discovered during a recognition of the relics in San Fortunato 1580 was inscribed:

Hec sunt reliquie beatissimi Fortunati episcopi et confessoris DCCVIII

These are the relics of St Fortunatus, bishop and confessor, 708

This plaque presumably recorded a formal recognition of the relics in 708.  It seems likely that this recognition occurred in the church that stood on the site of the Cappella Gregoriana. 

Some of the relics seem to have been stolen by Bishop Theodoric of Metz in 970: in his ‘Vita Deoderici, Mettensis Episcopi Sigebert of Gembloux, who was presumably working from a list of relics at Metz, recorded their arrival there on 2nd July (presumably in 971).   However, he complained that he could find no trace of them at Metz (unlike almost all of the other relics purloined at this time).  

The church on the site of Cappella Gregoriana was partly demolished in 1296 to make way for the construction of the present church of San Fortunato.  In the following year, Pope Boniface VIII consented to the translation of the relics of SS Fortunatus, Cassian and Callistus from the old church to what became the sacristy of the new one.  He granted indulgences to those attending the subsequent translation of these relics, presumably in order to help finance the construction of the new church.

For the subsequent history of the relics of St Fortunatus, see the page on the Five Patron Saints of Todi.

Read more: 

M. Castrichini et al. (eds), “Il Tempio del Santo Patrono: Riflessi Storico-Artistici del Culto di San Fortunato a Todi”, (1988) Todi contains two particularly relevant articles:

  1. E. Menestò, “ ‘Nec Fortunati Tudertini Acta Silenda’: Appunti tra Storia e Agiografia”, pp 7-34

  2. E. Paoli, “ ‘Nobile Depositum Tuderti’: Il Culto e il Tempio di San Fortunato nella Vita Religiose di Todi”, pp 35-66

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