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E00022: Gregory of Tours, in his Life of *Illidius (bishop of Clermont, ob. 384/5, S00022), tells how the body of the saint was first buried in a crypt in Clermont (central Gaul), but, in the 570s or 580s, raised and placed in a sarcophagus in a newly-built apse. From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594.

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posted on 2014-08-31, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers 2.1 and 4

After telling of Illidius' successful curing of the emperor's possessed daughter in Trier, Gregory continues:

§1: ... Sanctus vero, ut aiunt, impleto vitae praesentis tempore, in ipso iteneris curriculo migravit ad Christum, a suisque delatus, in urbe sua sepultus est.

§4: ... Huius confessoris beatum corpus ab antiquis in cripta sepultum fuit, sed quia artum erat aedificium ac difficilem habebat ingressum, sanctus Avitus pontifex urbis, constructa in circuitu miro opere absida, beatos inquisivit artus repperitque in capsa tabulis formata ligneis. Quos assumens, involvit dignis linteis et iuxta morem sarcofago clausit; oppletamque criptam altius collocavit. In hoc loco et meritis et nomine Iustus requiescit, qui fuisse huius gloriosi pontificis fertur archidiaconus.

'§1: ... The saint fulfilled the time of his earthly life, and left on that speedy journey towards Christ; his body was carried by his own people and buried in his town [Clermont].

§4: ... The blessed body of the confessor had initially been buried in a crypt, but, as the building was narrow and difficult to access, holy Avitus, bishop of the town, had built around it an apse of admirable workmanship, and sought for the blessed bones, finding them in a coffin made of wooden planks. He took them up, wrapped them up in a suitable linen cloth, and, as is the custom, enclosed them in a sarcophagus; he filled and raised the level of the crypt. In this place also Justus lies, a man just in both name and deed, who is said to have been the archdeacon of this glorious pontiff.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 219, 221. Translation: James 1991, 13, 16, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Illidius, bishop of Clermont (Gaul), d. 384/5 : S00022

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Gaul and Frankish kingdoms

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Tours Tours Tours Toronica urbs Prisciniacensim vicus Pressigny Turonorum civitas Ceratensis vicus Céré

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Tours

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Burial ad sanctos

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Raising of relics


Gregory, bishop of Tours from 573 until his death (probably in 594), was the most prolific hagiographer of all Late Antiquity. He wrote four books on the miracles of Martin of Tours, one on those of Julian of Brioude, and two on the miracles of other saints (the Glory of the Martyrs and Glory of the Confessors), as well as a collection of twenty short Lives of sixth-century Gallic saints (the Life of the Fathers). He also included a mass of material on saints in his long and detailed Histories, and produced two independent short works: a Latin version of the Acts of Andrew and a Latin translation of the story of The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. The Life of the Fathers by Gregory of Tours is different from his other hagiographical works (Miracles of Julian, Miracles of Martin, Glory of the Confessors and Glory of the Martyrs), which all concentrate on posthumous miracles of the saints. The Life of the Fathers, by contrast, describes the exemplary behaviour in life of twenty Gallic saints (for a list of the Lives, see $E05870). Gregory himself draws this contrast in the opening words of his preface: 'I had decided to write only about what has been achieved with divine help at the tombs of the blessed martyrs and confessors; but I have recently discovered information about those who have been raised to heaven by the merit of their blessed conduct here below, and I thought that their way of life, which is known to us through reliable sources, could strengthen the Church' (trans. James 1991, 1). In this preface Gregory also explains why he chose to call the book Life of the Fathers, not Lives of the Fathers: because they all lived the same bodily life. The nineteen Lives of men, and the single Life of a woman (Life 19), all relate to holy people of Gaul, the majority living in the mid to later sixth century. Although this agenda is unspoken, there can be little doubt that Gregory wrote these Lives partly to show that holiness, and the miraculous, were not just things of the past, but very much present within the Gaul of his day (a message that he expressed explicitly in his Histories). Almost all the saints he describes were active within one or other of the two dioceses with which Gregory was most familiar (his native Clermont, and Tours, the city of his episcopate), or indeed were his relatives (all bishops - Life 6 is of an uncle, Life 7 of a great-grandfather, and Life 8 of a great-uncle). Although Gregory says in his preface that they all shared one bodily life, in reality his saints fall into one of two distinct categories: holy bishops who are effective leaders of their flocks but only moderately ascetic (Lives 2, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 17), and holy ascetics who have withdrawn from the world and sometimes engage in extreme mortification of the body (Lives 1, 3, 5, 9-16, and 18-20). Gregory's work was unquestionably didactic in purpose - teaching the correct way to lead a good Christian life, and it is notable, for instance, how, in this work written by a bishop, his ascetics accept episcopal correction when necessary (Lives 15.2 and 20.3, in both cases from Gregory himself), and might even delay their death to suit the timetable of a bishop (Life 10.4). Because the focus is on the lives of these holy people, there is much less emphasis on their cult after death than in Gregory's other hagiographical works; however, all the Lives close with an account of the burial of the saint, and in almost all cases with reference to posthumous miracles recorded there (the exceptions are Lives 10, 11 and 20, which have no reference to miracles at the tomb). Gregory probably collected material for the Life of the Fathers (and perhaps wrote individual Lives) over a long period of time. However, from the words of his preface (quoted above) and from other references within the text, it is evident that he assembled his material into the polished work we have today only towards the very end of his life, after he had already written much of his extensive hagiography recording the miracles of saints lying in their graves. Because Gregory's views on saints do not seem to have changed during his writing life, we have not here expended energy in exploring the possible dating of individual lives, merely recording them all as written some time between 573 and 594. For more on the text, and on its dating: James 1991, xiii-xix; Shaw 2015, particularly 117-120.


For an overview of the Life of Illidius, see E00024. On his death the saint's body was transported to 'his city', i.e. Clermont, where Illidius had been bishop and where in Gregory's time his church and grave were located (on miracles at Illidius' grave see E00024). Information found here and elsewhere in Gregory's writings allow us to date Illidius' death to 384/385 (Prosopographie chrétienne du Bas-Empire 4, 'Illidius'). There is no earlier evidence of the church in Clermont in which Illidius was buried (the later St-Allyre). The building of the new apse by bishop Avitus can be dated to the 570s or 580s. The church survived until 761 when it was burnt by Pippin (James 1991, 13, n. 5). The place where the church stood is known, and some remains are still extant (Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, no. 75). Gregory informs us of an abbot somehow affiliated to the church (E00024), which may suggest that it was connected to a monastery. The series of events, starting with the arrival of the saint's body in Clermont, its burial in a crypt, a later refurbishing of the cult building connected with an elevation of the relics, seems to be a typical one; and indeed Gregory describes the putting of the saint's relics into a sarcophagus as a customary operation. The person of Justus, archdeacon and Illidius' companion, plays an intriguing role in the passage. In his Histories 1.45 Gregory says that he was buried not just close to Illidius, but in the same tomb (Histories 1.45; E01794). Gregory clearly knows little about Justus, but feels his common burial with Illidius must have been merited by his own sanctity.


Edition: Krusch, B., Gregorii Turonensis Opera. 2: Miracula et opera minora (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum I.2; 2nd ed.; Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1969). Translation: James, E., Gregory of Tours. Life of the Fathers (Translated Texts for Historians 1; 2nd ed.; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1991). de Nie, G., Gregory of Tours, Lives and Miracles (Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 39; Cambridge MA, 2015). Further reading: Shaw, R., "Chronology, Composition, and Authorial Conception in the Miracula", in: A.C. Murray (ed.), A Companion to Gregory of Tours (Leiden-Boston 2015), 102-140. Vieillard-Troiekouroff, M., Les monuments religieux de la Gaule d'après les œuvres de Grégoire de Tours (Paris: H. Champion, 1976).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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