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In January 406, Paulinus of Nola devotes his twelfth Natalicium, or birthday poem, in honor of St. Felix’s festival day (Carm. 20), to three miracle stories about local farmers and devotees of the saint.1 Each one vows to bring a fattened animal – two pigs and a calf, respectively – to the shrine of Felix as a devotional offering. After much misadventure, and thanks only to Felix’s intervention, each one successfully performs his vow. The first “cuts the throat of the fat beast he had vowed, as men bound by a promise do.” The second brings a pig who “demands the tardy knife with its throat.” The third offers an unruly calf who “joyfully poured out its blood to fulfill its masters’ vow.” These animals take center stage in the narrative as willing sacrificial victims, slaughtered on site at a Christian martyr shrine. The only authorial criticism is directed at the human devotees who initially fail in their attempts to perform their offerings correctly.


Originally published by Cambridge University Press. 2020. Chapter 6 of Food, Virtue, and the Shaping of Early Christianity. Pages 179-221.