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E00059: Gregory of Tours, in his Life of *Nicetius (bishop of Lyon, ob. 573, S00049), records how he has an earlier Life of Nicetius, but wishes to add to it; and how this Life cured a deacon of Autun (central Gaul) of a disease of the eyes. From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594.

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posted on 2014-09-29, 00:00 authored by CSLA Admin
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers 8, preface and chapter 12

(Preface) De cuius vita retenetur quidem exinde libellus nobiscum, nescio quo conpositus, qui multas quidem virtutes eius pandit, non tamen vel exordium nativitatis conversionisque eius vel seriem virtutum declarat ad liquidum. Et licet nec nos omnes eius virtutes investigavimus, quas per eum Dominus vel occulte operari est dignatus vel publicae, tamen quae ad priorem auctorem non pervenerunt etsi rusticiori stilo pandere procuravimus.

(Preface) 'We possess a small book on his [Nicetius'] life, whose author I don't know, which tells us much about his many miracles, but which nevertheless does not tell us clearly either about his birth, nor his entry into religious life, nor the sequence of the miracles he worked; and so, although we have not found out about all the miracles which the Lord deigned to work through him, either secretly or in public, nevertheless we have decided to tell the things which had not come to knowledge of the earlier author, although in a more simple style.'

At the very end of his Life of Nicetius, Gregory returns to this book, recounting a miracle that it effected:

(ch.12) (...) unum adhuc admirandum de libro vitae eius, quem supra a quodam scriptum praefati sumus, memorabo miraculum, de quo virtus divina procedens, non reliquit inglorium, sed ad conprobandam virtutem dictorum patefecit esse plurimis gloriosum. Diaconus enim Agustidunensis gravi oculorum caecitate turbatus, audivit haec quae glorificator sanctorum suorum Deus ad sancti tumulum exercebat, dixitque suis: "Si eius adirem sepulchrum, aut aliquid de sanctis pignoribus sumerem, aut certe, si pallio quo sancti artus teguntur mererer attingere, fiebam sanus". Cumque haec et huiuscemodi cum suis verba conferret, adstetit repente clericus quidam, dicens: "Bene", inquid, "credis, sed, si de hisdem firmare mentem cupis virtutibus, en volumen carteum, quod de his habetur scriptum, ut facilius credas ea quae ad auditum tuarum aurium pervenerunt". At ille, priusquam legi apeteret, inspirante divinae pietatis respectu, ait: "Credo, quia potens est Deus egregia operari per famulos suos". Et statim posuit volumen super oculos suos. Extemplo autem fugato dolore, disrupta caligine, usum videndi recipere meruit voluminis a virtute, et in tantum claritate positus est, ut ipse propriis oculis legens virtutum gesta cognosceret. (...)

(ch.12) '(...) [W]e shall relate an admirable miracle relating to the book which has already been written about his life, which we have mentioned before. Divine power flowed from this book, and far from leaving Nicetius without glory, it showed to many people just how glorious he was, in proving the efficacy of the miracles told in it. A deacon of Autun, affected by a painful disease of the eyes, learnt what was done at the shrine of the saint by God, the glorifier of saints. He said to his family, "If I went to his tomb and took some relics of his, or better still, if I touched the cloth (pallium) that covers his remains, I should be cured." And as he repeated that and other similar things to his friends, a cleric suddenly came to his side and said "You are right to believe that, but to confirm your opinion of these miracles, here is a papyrus volume (volumen carteum) relating to them which will make you believe easily what your ears have heard". But even before he had tried to read the book he said by divine inspiration, "I believe that God has the power to work miracles by His servants." And as he said this he placed the volume over his eyes. Immediately the pain and the shadows dissipated, and by the power of this volume he recovered his sight, and with so much clarity that he could read the tales of miracles with his own eyes. (...)'

Text: Krusch 1969, 240-241, 251-252. Translation: James 1991, 49, 63-64, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Nicetius, bishop of Lyon (Gaul), ob. 573 : S00049

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

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Transmission, copying and reading saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Healing - disabilities

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - other Miraculous books about saints

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Cloth over/near the shrine


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 Nicetius of Lyon, see E00061. It is normally assumed that the book mentioned by Gregory is the Life of Nicetius composed by Aetherius, bishop of Lyon (586/9-602), which survives and was edited by Krusch (Krusch 1896; E00060); this does indeed say nothing of Nicetius' birth and entry into the church. However, there are reasons for doubting this: Aetherius' authorship is very clearly stated within his work (whereas Gregory does not know who wrote the book he had), and, as a more-or-less contemporary bishop and author, Gregory is anyway likely to have been aware of a work by Aetherius about his great-uncle. It is therefore possible that in late 6th-century Gaul there were three lives of Nicetius (and possibly a separate register of his miracles, see E00065), impressive evidence of the prominence of his cult and the rapidity of its development and diffusion. It is striking that Gregory treats the book first as a text to be read and then as a miraculous object. Gregory on the one hand examines its literary and historic value, on the other hand relates a miracle performed by the book (ch.12). Interestingly, both uses of the book reinforce each other: it can work miracles because it contains the text of the life and vice versa, the healing of the deacon proves the veracity of the stories recounted in it. It may even be that the book was particularly effective in the special case of an eye disease, as the act of reading is an act of seeing. Interestingly, in Gregory's Life of Nicetius there is a further example of a written text as powerful object: in chapter 9 (E00098) a letter signed by the saint effects a miracle.


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: Krusch, B. (ed.), Passiones vitaeque sanctorum aevi Merovingici et antiquiorum aliquot. 1 (Monumenta Germaniae historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum III; Hannover: Bibliopolium Hahnianum, 1896), 521-524. 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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