St. Privatus: The Iconography

In Gévaudan, St. Privatus, Bishop and Martyr. He suffered death during the persecutions of Valerian and Gallienus. – Roman Martyrology for August 21

St. Privatus was a bishop in Mende, in southern Gaul. According to a number of sources from the 6th through the 13th centuries he was martyred by a King Chroc during the Alamannic irruptions into the area around 260.1 However, a chronicle from the 8th century puts Chroc's invasion in the 5th century, so it is not certain when the saint lived.2 The sources speak of the people of Mende as if they were all Christians and looked to Privatus as both their spiritual and secular leader, a situation far more likely in the 5th century than in the 3rd.

In any case, the legends continue that the people of Mende fled before the Alamanni and took refuge in a redoubt on a mountain called Gredona. Privatus took up residence in a nearby cave and ministered to the people from there. But he was finally captured and killed – with cudgels according to some sources or with whips and fire according to others.

In the third picture at right the saint being cudgeled is probably Privatus and the mountain redoubt in the background is probably Gredona. (See this page for a discussion.) The first two pictures do not present Privatus with the martyr's traditional palm branch, and indeed the second one accompanies a prayer that refers to him as a "confessor" – a saint who is specifically not a martyr. Perhaps the artists omitted symbols of martyrdom because Privatus was renowned mostly as a thaumaturge. At the end of the 13th century, in the midst of a controversy with the King of France, the Bishop of Mende had a number of texts collected that focused on the saint's numerous miracles, quite a few of which involved his punishing authority figures who messed with the cathedral and its privileges. In 1765 the people around Mende turned out in large numbers to pray to St. Privatus for relief from a great beast (perhaps an especially large wolf) that had been besetting the region.3

Prepared in 2015 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2016-11-14.

HOME PAGE


Detail from St. Privatus Presents Guill­aume Du­rand to the Ma­don­na and Child and St. Do­mi­nic, 1296 (See de­scrip­tion page)


Fol. 126r, The Croÿ Hours: On 126v is a prayer for St. Pri­va­tus's Day that refers to him as a "con­fess­or and bishop." (See the de­scrip­tion page for the text and other de­tails.)


This fresco in Croatia may be of the cudgel­ing of St. Pri­va­tus. Note the mount­ain re­doubt in the back­ground. (Follow this link for a dis­cussion of the evi­dence.)

DATES

  • Feast day: August 21

HAGIOGRAPHY

NOTES

1 Gregory of Tours has a brief paragraph on St. Privatus in his Historia Francorum (I, 34). The Acta Sanctorum quotes a number of other early martyrologies recording his martyrdom at the hands of the Alamanni, as well as a vita in Vincent of Beauvais's 13th-century Speculum Historiale. The 1956 Roman Martyrology still has Privatus as a bishop and martyr for August 21.

2 Brunel, xvi-xvii.
Acta Sanctorum, August vol. 4, 435.

3 Brunel, i-ii.
An account of the 1765 events is in the online introduction to the Bibliothèque de l'Assemblée Nationale's copy of the Croÿ Hours.