Pavia: religion

Religious Life in Pavia from 350-1050 

Religious life in Pavia began with the city’s immediate and miraculous conversion to Christianity. The piety and faith exemplified by the city’s bishops, saints, and kings throughout its long history has been recorded by primary sources such as Ennodius, who wrote the Life of Saint Epiphanius in the 500s, Paul the Deacon, who wrote the History of the Langobards in the 700s, and Opicinus de Canistris, who wrote the Book in Praise of Pavia in the 1300s. These sources detail saintly acts, the influence of bishops on the secular world, construction of churches, and customs of the laity that characterize Pavia as a devout city.

Foundation of Christianity in Pavia 

The city of Pavia was founded by Romans around 89 BC and was named Ticinum. This city was the sight of an unusual miracle in that “even before hearing the preaching of such great fathers, the people were converted to the faith as if by sudden inspiration” due to how news of miracles performed by holy men had reached them (Opicino 1903, 1). This city is unique in that during the early founding of Christianity, despite the anger of the Roman princes, no one was killed as a martyr.

Lombard Conversion to Catholicism

The Lombards came from Germany and were originally pagan before they reached Italy, in 500, the leaders and some people converted to Arian Christianity. When the Lombards entered Italy they sacked and destroyed Catholic churches (Hallenbeck 1982, 13). Pressure from the surrounding Catholic Romans caused the shift to Catholicism. St. Columbanus, who was an Irish missionary, founded monastery Bobbio near Pavia and used it as a center for conversion and helped spread Christianity throughout the region (Hallenbeck 1982, 14). There was religious turmoil starting in the 620s, which ended in Catholicism making small advances such as converting Arian bishops in Pavia (Hallenbeck 1982, 15).

Piety of Lombardic Kings

In the early 660s, Grimuald seized control of the kingdom of the Lombards and ruled from Pavia (Paul the Deacon 1907, 210). His piety and the strength of his faith was respected even by his rivals. In his time as King, Grimuald built the church of Ambrose the Confessor where his body was later buried at the time of his death (Paul the Deacon 1907, 236). Similarly, King Liutprand (ca. 712-744) was known for building many church across all the territory that he ruled. While in Pavia, he established the monastery of St. Peter just outside the walls of the city. He appointed churchmen to perform for him daily divine services, which is something that other had not done (Paul the Deacon 1907, 304). He was remembered for his construction of many churches and monasteries.

Influential Churches 

In 476 few churches existed in Pavia, however, by 924 there were at least 44 churches in Pavia (Bullough 1966, 99). Church building in Pavia began to occur at a rapid rate in the middle of the seventh century with noble men and kings founding their own monasteries and churches (Bullough 1966, 100). Pavia had a winter cathedral and a summer cathedral, Santo Stefano and Santa Maria del Popolo. The foundation of Santo Stefano predates the lombards conversion to Catholicism and was originally not built as a cathedral (Bullough 1966, 101).

Another influential church was the Church of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro which was “exapanded and endowed” by Liutprand, king of the Lombards (Opicino 1903, 17). It contains the body of Augustine, bishop of Hippo, whose remains constitute very important saintly relics. It is recorded that throughout the year on Mondays in this church almost the entire city assembles in this church (Opicino 1903, 66). Containing the bodies of important saints made churches such as these pilgrimage stops and traffic centers for devout Christians seeking miracles or guidance.

Church of San Pietro in Ciel D’Oro

Bishops of Pavia

Ennodius was bishop of pavia from 513-521. He was well liked by people and has many surviving works including a Hagiography on an earlier bishop of Pavia, St. Epiphanius, and a set of letters written from 501-504 (Pontius et al,  1952, 301). During his rule Pavia was continually overrun by barbarian, and he attempted to negotiate peace between warring leaders. Epiphanius was bishop from 466-496 (Pontius et al,  1952, 302).  After his predecessor’s death Epiphanius was confirmed to be bishop by the prominent citizens in Pavia (Ennodius ~502, 312). During this time Bishops played a more secular role than in previous periods, due to the number of times barbarians attacked Pavia. Epiphanius instead of being remembered for his miracles, was known for being a negotiator and meet with various barbarian kings and Roman leader during his time as a bishop (Ennodius ~502, 303-351). 

Relationship to Rome

Pavia was known to have a strong relationship with Rome for much of his history. In the 700s the remains of St. Sebastian were delivered to Pavia from Rome in order to end a pestilence which had depleted the population of the city (Paul the Deacon 1907, 255). Relics located in Pavia made it a pilgrimage stop on the way to Rome. In order to facilitate the passage of these pilgrims, policies were in place to ensure that they did not have to pay any tax to go into the city and officials had specific orders not to hinder them in any way (Raymond 1969, 57).

Coins in Graves

The origins for putting coins in graves comes from the Greek and Roman Charon myth where the coins acted as a fee for the ferryman Charon who carries souls across the river Styx (Travaini 204, 160). Despite the pagan symbolism coins were found in the graves of Catholics and even saints (Travaini 204, 161). During the eighth century grave goods became less common, however some people were still buried with coins (Travaini 204, 162). One explanation for the presence of coins in graves of saints is that they were memory tokens, a practice still used today (Travaini 204, 165). Despite the presences of coins in graves, there was literature which was opposed to the practice. It was stated that if you were buried with money you were being selfish, and there are stories where the devil was seen in the graves of men who buried themselves with money (Travaini 204, 177-178).



Balzaretti, Ross. “Fatherhood in Late Lombard Italy.” In Gender and Historiography: Studies in the Earlier Middle Ages in Honour of Pauline Stafford, edited by Nelson Janet L., Reynolds Susan, and Johns Susan M., 9-20. London: School of Advanced Study, University of London, 2012.
Bullough, D. A. “Urban Change in Early Medieval Italy: The Example of Pavia.” Papers of the British School at Rome 34 (1966): 82-130.
ENNODIUS. “LIFE OF ST. EPIPHANIUS.” In Early Christian Biographies, edited by DEFERRARI ROY J., by SISTER GENEVIEVE MARIE COOK, Pontius, Paulinus, Possidius, St. Athanasius, St. Jerome, Ennodius, St. Hilary, Deferrari Roy J., Lacy John A., Sister Mary Magdeleine Müller, Sister Mary Emily Keenan, Sister Marie Liguori Ewald, and Sister Genevieve Marie Cook, 301-52. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1952.
Hallenbeck, Jan T. “Pavia and Rome: The Lombard Monarchy and the Papacy in the Eighth Century.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 72, no. 4 (1982): 1-186. doi:10.2307/1006429
Medieval Trade in the Mediterranean World (edited with Irving W. Raymond) (1955; 2nd ed. 1969)

Opicino de Canistris, Book of Praises for the City of Pavia, trans. W. North & V Morse from the edition Opicino de Canistris, Liber de laudibus ticinensis, ed. R. Maiocchi e F. Quintavalle (Citta di Castello, 1903).

Paul the Deacon. History of the Langobards. Trans. William Dudley Foulke, University of Pennsylvania, 1907.

TRAVAINI, LUCIA. “Saints and Sinners: Coins in Medieval Italian Graves.” The Numismatic Chronicle (1966-) 164 (2004): 159-81.



  1. johnsonl2

    Hello Owen,

    I was unable to make it to the common time meeting with Bill and I was hoping that you could catch me up on what I missed. I have some questions for you like what did you guys talk about, what sources should we be focusing on, and where should we begin our research. If you didn’t discuss these things with Bill I think they are still things we should talk about so that we both have an idea for where to go with the project. I’ve done some background research through Wikipedia to get an idea of some key terms and people we could look into and I was hoping that we could find time to meet to discuss these things.

    Please let me know if you are available to meet sometime this weekend/early next week to talk about sources, topics, and distribute work.


  2. johnsonl2


    Here is some initial research that I’ve done, some sources, and some key people/places we might want to look into:

    – During Theoderic’s reign the Christian philosopher Boethius was imprisoned in one Pavia’s churches from 522-525.
    – Arian/Catholic conflicts in Lombard Pavia.
    – Building monasteries was a status symbol for the very wealthy.
    -Guy named Grimoald (662-671) built an important monastery, San Ambrogio –> maybe we could look into who he was and what the significance of this monastery was.
    – King Liutprand (712-744) built San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro church (Boethius is buried here) –> maybe we can look into who King Liutprand was and what he did for religious life. This church also holds the remains of St. Augustine of Hippo. It might be interesting to look into what remains Pavia had and maybe the significance of that.

    Some sources that might be useful to use:
    – Neil Christie: The Lombards
    – Paul the Deacon: History of the Lombards (Primary Source)
    – John Moorhead: Theoderic
    – Girolamo Arnaldi: Italy and Its Invaders

    I’m thinking that we might both want to conduct some research independently and post it onto the page as we go. That way we can build off what we are both researching/finding.


  3. barnetto

    Hello Leah,

    In preparation for our meeting tomorrow I found some sources, I went to most of the session with Bill and Austin and used JSTOR, one of the databases to find the sources. Here they are:

    -LIFE OF ST. EPIPHANIUS: A hagiography about a saint from pavia.
    -Fatherhood in late Lombard Italy: A secondary source with information about life in Lombard.
    -Saints and Sinners: Coins in Medieval Italian Graves: A secondary source which discuses religion though coins found in graves.
    -Urban Change in Early Medieval Italy: The Example of Pavia: A secondary source with information about pavia.


  4. barnetto


    As a follow up to our meeting today here is the article with information about the lombards conversion to Christianity,

    Pavia and Rome: The Lombard Monarchy and the Papacy in the Eighth Century,

    Pages 13-15 are about the conversion.


  5. johnsonl2

    Hello Owen,

    I met with Austin today real quick in the library because I was in the neighborhood and this is what we discussed:

    I asked about the writing style we should be using and he said that we are going for informative, similar to a wikipedia article or an encyclopedia entry. He also stressed that we are aiming for a very high level approach, not a lot of specific detail. The goal is to be concise, which means we need to sift through a lot of information from primary and secondary sources and determine the few things that we thing are the MOST IMPORTANT to understanding religious life in Pavia in the time period of 350-1050. We need to synthesize information from a variety of sources with the goal of being informative. We said we are not necessarily constructing a chronological narrative. He said that even though we are 90% of the time trying to stay at a very high level (general info), it is ok to dive into specific if we deem it very important to understanding religious life in Pavia.

    I also asked some logistical questions. He said that one way to deal with having a lot of information but a low word count is to say something briefly on a person/place/thing and then link to a webpage about it if the reader is interested in learning more. The webpage could be a wikipedia article or something like that. He also suggested that we add pictures that are pertinent because they add richness to the page. We need to explain what the picture is though and make sure we connect it to what we are talking about. He also recommended that we add explanations of sources in an introductory paragraph. This introductory paragraph should include the very big picture information as well as information about sources on the period. In terms of citing sources, we should use parenthetical Chicago, but only information that is not found in multiple sources (or is the opinion/argument of a secondary source) should be cited.

    So from this discussion, here are a few things I think we should explore:
    – High level information about changes in city control (Romans, Lombards, Ostrogoths, etc).
    – Key people like Paul the Deacon, King Grimuald, King Liutprand, Ennodius, and Epiphanius
    – Key churches and why they are important (what relics they contain)
    – I think we should also, if possible, try to find out information about the Arian-Cathololic conflicts but if we don’t find anything that’s fine.

    Austin cautioned me that using primary sources only will lead to getting too focused in on the details, not the big picture. I’m going to go through a edit the work that I did above to make sure we only have the essentials.

    I think that you found some good secondary sources so Austin definitely recommended going through those closely. I’m going to continue with the Paul the Deacon source and the Opicino source, however, but I’m going to be keeping in mind big picture information as I’m reading.

    Overall, I think that Austin largely agreed with what we had already realized: we need to gather a bunch of information, then go through and make judgements as to what is most important. I think reading through the sources we have gathered so far is a good way to get what we need.

    I just wanted to pass this along so that we were both on the same page.



  6. johnsonl2


    So I’ve just been thinking a little about trying to capture the high-level picture and synthesizing the most important pieces of information. So far, here are some some things that I’ve seen either mentioned in a lot of sources or mentioned extensively in a source:
    – Pavia converted immediately to Christianity without anyone having to die as a martyr. This is recorded as being very unusual and a miracle in its own right.
    – People in Pavia are very devoted to the relics the city/churches contains. This makes Pavia a pilgrimage stop, which has political and economic side effects discussed in the Medieval Trade book. There is record of bishops and deacons intervening in political affairs/war.
    – Lombard kings who ruled from Pavia were very pious and built many churches. Particularly Grimuald and Liutprand built many churches and Liutprand hired priests to perform religious services for him on a daily basis.

    There are just three of the most important things that I’ve drawn from going through Bill’s Opicino reading, Paul the Deacon’s history of the lombards, and the Medieval trade book. Have your sources agreed with this? What do you think is the high-level story described in your sources?

    Also, in terms of images I’m thinking we could try to find an image of the church of San Pietro in Ciel D’Oro and perhaps Epiphanius.




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