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E00027: Gregory of Tours, in his Life of *Illidius (bishop of Clermont, ob. 384/5, S00022), recounts how he placed relics of the saint in the altar of a newly established oratory in the bishop's residence at Tours (north-west Gaul), dedicated in 573/574, and how later, when the relics needed to be dried out, the woollen string wrapping them was not touched by fire. From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594.

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posted on 2014-09-01, 00:00 authored by CSLA Admin
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers 2.3

(3) De reliquiis vero eius haec ipse praefatus scriptor, ut actum est, propria contemplatione prospexit. Dedicaverat igitur oratorium infra domum eclesiasticam urbis Toronicae in primo sacerdotii sui anno, in quo cum reliquorum sanctorum pignora huius antestitis reliquias collocavit. Post multos vero dedicationis dies admonitus est ab abbate, ut reliquias, quas in altari ipso locaverat, visitaret, ne ab humore novi aedificii umectatae, aliquid in his putredinis insederet. Quas cum requirens repperisset infectas, ablatas ex altari contra ignem siccare coepit. Verum ubi ligaturas illas singillatim conposuit, ventum est ad reliquias beati Illidii episcopi. Denique tenens easdem contra ignem, filum quo ligatae erant, quia erat valde prolixum, super ardentes decidit prunas et tamquam aeneum aut ferreum ab ardore ignis incanduit. Illo quoque parvi pendente, quid filum fieret, tantum sanctae reliquiae siccarentur, aestimans autem, eum iam in favilla fuisse resolutum, dehinc sequitur et filum inlaesum. Haec videns attonitus, valde beati antistitis virtutem admiratur. Qui non sine grandi metu unde haec abstulerat referens, gloriam eius omnibus revelavit. Filum autem illud erat ex lana.

'(3) As for what has happened with his [Illidius'] relics, this is what the writer has seen with his own eyes. He had dedicated an oratory in the bishop's house at Tours, in the first year of his episcopate, in which he put the relics of this holy bishop with those of other saints. A long time after the dedication he was warned by the abbot to check the relics which he had placed in the altar, for fear that the humidity of the new building had caused them to moulder. He did indeed find them to be damp, and so he took them from the altar and began to dry them at a fire. And he wrapped them each up in turn, and then came to the relics of the blessed bishop Illidius and held them to the fire. The string which bound them was too long, and fell onto the burning coals: like copper or iron it began to redden in the heart of the fire. Not worrying much about the string as long as the sacred relics were dried properly, he thought that it would have been burnt up in the flames; nevertheless when he draws it out the string is unharmed. Seeing this he is astonished, and marvels at the power of this truly blessed bishop. And it was not without great fear that he brought away news of this deed, and revealed his [Illidius'] glory to all. The string in question was made of wool.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 220-221. Translation: James 1991, 14-15.


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 - Liturgical Activity

  • Ceremony of dedication

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miraculous behaviour of relics/images

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - abbots

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Contact relic - other Collections of multiple relics Other activities with 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. As stated in this passage, Gregory placed these relics in a newly created oratory in the bishop's house in Tours in the first year of his episcopate, so in 573/574. The list of relics deposited in the altar of the oratory is specified in an account of this deposition in Gregory's Glory of the Confessors 20 (E02564): relics of Saturninus (bishop and martyr of Toulouse, S00289), Julian (martyr of Brioude, S00035), Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050), and Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030). The circumstances of the miracle reveal many interesting details about the veneration of relics in the times of Gregory. We learn that important collections of relics could be deposited in the semi-private zone of the oratory of the bishop's house. We can also see that the relics deposited in the altar were wrapped separately and at least one was tied up with a woollen string - presumably, though Gregory does not tell us this, they were also labelled (as documented in the slightly later surviving collections of relics). Gregory's worry about the relics being affected by damp shows that the presence of the relics in the altar did not fall into oblivion, rather that they required careful curation. The miracle of the woollen string shows that the status of a contact relic was very flexible and could be, if necessary, granted to objects having only very indirect contact with the saint or his/her relic. The miraculous preservation of relics in contact with fire was for Gregory a clear sign of their holiness (see also E00473).


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.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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