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E00052: Gregory of Tours, in his Life of *Gregory (bishop of Langres, ob. 539/540, S00038), recounts how, secretly by night, the saint visited the baptistery in Dijon (eastern Gaul), where there were many relics of saints. From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594.

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posted on 2014-09-19, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers 7.2

[...] Nam cum [Gregorius] apud Divionensim castrum moraretur assiduae, et domus eius baptisterio adhaereret, in quo multorum sanctorum reliquiae tenebantur, nocte de stratu suo, nullo sentiente, consurgens, ad orationem, Deo tantum teste, pergebat, ostio divinitus reserato, adtente psallebat in baptisterio. Sed cum hoc multi temporis spatio ageret, tandem ab uno diacono res cognita atque manifestata est. Idem cum cognovisset haec agi, a longe, ne eum vir beatus sentire possit, prosequebatur et quid ageret expectabat. Agebat enim diaconus, quod veniens sanctus Dei ad ostium baptisterii, pulsans manu propria, ostium, nemine conparente, aperiebatur, illoque ingrediente, diutissime silentium erat. Postea psallentium tamquam multarum vocum per trium horarum et fere amplius spatio audiebatur. Credo ego, quod, cum magnorum sanctorum in eodem loco haberentur reliquiae, ipsi se beato viro revelantes, psallentium Domino in commune reddebant. Nam impleto cursu revertens ad lectulum, ita se caute super stratum deponebat, ut prorsus nemo sentiret; observatores vero ostium baptisterii obseratum invenientes, clave sua solite aperiebant, commotoque signo, sanctus Dei, sicut reliqui, novus ad officium dominicum consurgebat.

'[...] He [Gregory, bishop of Langres] usually lived at the town of Dijon, and, as his house was next to the baptistery where the relics of a great number of saints were kept, he used to rise from his bed in the night, without anyone seeing him, God alone being his witness, to say prayers in the baptistery; its door used to open by divine power, and he could sing psalms there in peace. He did that for a long time, but in the end was seen by a deacon, who followed him at a distance to see what he was doing, without the knowledge of the holy man. And the deacon used to tell how the man of God came to the door of the baptistery, and when he knocked at it with his hand it opened although nobody was there, and when he had entered there was a long silence, but then many voices could be heard singing together for three hours and more. I believe that, since the relics of great saints were there, these saints had revealed themselves to this holy man and sang with him the praises of the Lord. And when he had finished, he went back to his bed and got in it very carefully so that no one would hear him. And the following day the guardians of the baptistery found it shut and, opening it with the key as usual, they gave the signal, and the man of God rose again for the divine office along with the others.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 237-238. Translation: James 1991, 44.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Saints, unnamed or name lost : S00518

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

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Places

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

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Power over objects Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy

Cult Activities - Relics

Collections of multiple relics Unspecified relic


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 Gregory, see E00049. Gregory was Gregory of Tours' great-grandfather, through his mother Armentaria. This story fits well with the picture of Gregory of Langres that is presented by his great-grandson: he was a man who kept his sanctity quiet to avoid vainglory; events in the baptistery immediately follow an account of how he ate and drank austerely, but hid this from his fellow diners. The singing of many voices heard from the baptistery was, we must assume, that of Gregory accompanied by the voices of the saints whose relics were kept there.


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 1976, 110-112.

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