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E00061: Gregory of Tours writes the Life of *Nicetius (bishop of Lyon, ob. 573, S00049): it presents the saint as a chaste man obedient to his mother, a righteous judge, and an intemperate miracle worker. From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594. Overview of Gregory's Life of Nicetius of Lyon.

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posted on 2014-09-29, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers, Book 8 (Life of Nicetius of Lyon)


Preface: Those who will be great in religion, are predestined for this, and often identified as such even before birth. Such was Nicetius. Gregory has a book of his miracles, but it says nothing of his birth and entry into the religious life, so Gregory will add what he knows [see E00059].

§ 1: Nicetius was born into a family of senatorial rank. His mother prevented his father from becoming bishop of Geneva, because she knew that the child in her womb would be one. He lived with his mother even after joining the church, and shared the work of the servants. As a boy, he was healed by *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, S00050) [see $E00063].

§ 2: Aged thirty he became a priest, but continued to work with the servants. He taught all the children of the household to read and sing the liturgy; he was scrupulously chaste. When Gregory was about seven, Nicetius once took him into his bed, but covered himself carefully with his garment to avoid any contact between the two of them.

§ 3: Sacerdos, bishop of Lyon and uncle of Nicetius, on his deathbed in Paris asked King Childebert to appoint Nicetius as his successor, which duly happened. As a bishop Nicetius was involved in a conflict over jurisdiction with the local count. He always pardoned offences, as Gregory himself witnessed.

§ 4: He forbade a deacon to sing in church, because he sensed in him a demon, which he then expelled.

§ 5: In the twenty-second year of his episcopate, Nicetius died. At his funeral, 'a blind man entreated to be placed under his bier' (caecus quidam se sub feretro flagitavit adduci) and was at once cured [this miracle is also recorded by Gregory in Glory of the Confessors 60; $E02673]. A priest who complained that Nicetius had left nothing to the church where he was buried, was visited at night by the saint, accompanied by *Justus (bishop of Lyon, ob. c.390, S02411) and *Eucherius (monk, and bishop of Lyon, ob. 449/451, S01995), and struck in the throat [see $E00064]. Bishop Priscus [Nicetius' successor], who was an opponent of his, gave Nicetius' cape (which ought to have been treated as a relic) to a deacon, who turned its hood into socks and was divinely punished by having his feet burned [see $E00062].

§ 6: Gregory deacon, Agiulf, on his return from Rome with relics of saints, visited Nicetius' grave, read a register of his miracles, and witnessed the many people seeking his help; he took some herbs from the grave and used them to cure fevers [see $E00065]. John, a priest of Tours, returning from Marseille, saw the pile of broken fetters around the grave [see $E00068], himself witnessed miraculous cures at the shrine, and told of miracles in Geneva when relics were processed through the city.

§ 7: A man who had killed his brother's murderer prayed to Nicetius from prison. The saint appeared to him in a vision, and freed him [see $E00068].

§ 8: Nicetius' bed is venerated and used to cure the sick. An oil-lamp burned by it for forty days without needing to be replenished. The bishop of Troyes came for relics of the saint, and, while transporting them, several people were cured. Gregory himself was given a face-cloth (facietergium) that Nicetius had on the day he died; Gregory used threads from this to consecrate an altar at Pernay in the Touraine, where a blind man was then cured. He has used such threads also for the altars of other churches [see $E00067].

§ 9: A poor man used a letter subscribed by Nicetius to help him in his begging. The man was robbed of six gold coins, but still had the letter. The thief was confronted and asked to swear his innocence while touching the saint's handwriting; when he approached to do this, he was miraculously struck down. On admitting his guilt and agreeing restitution, he was cured [see $E00098].

§ 10: The pile of broken fetters at his tomb testify to how many prisoners he has freed; Syagrius, bishop of Autun, testified that one night he freed prisoners in seven different cities [see $E00068]. Water mixed with dust from his grave cures the sick.

§ 11: Gregory tells how he placed relics of Nicetius [certainly part of the cloth mentioned in § 8] in the altar of a recently built church at Pressigny, in the Touraine. Three possessed women from Berry, on their way to the shrine of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050), entered this church; Nicetius drove out their devils. A certain Dado, returning from the expedition to St-Bertrand-de-Comminges [against the usurper Gundovald in 585], promised the saint part of his loot, because his life had been spared; when he offered only one of the two silver chalices he had promised, the saint appeared to him in a dream, and made him donate then both. A man who arranged to keep vigils to pray for Nicetius' support over the year, failed to attend them; he was struck with fever and died. Gregory could recount more miracles, but thinks he has written enough.

§ 12: The Life of Nicetius that Gregory mentioned in his Preface itself effected a miracle: a deacon of Autun with an eye disease wished to visit Nicetius' shrine; he was given a copy of the Life to confirm his view that the saint could work miracles; he placed this to his eyes, and was cured [see E00059].

Text: Krusch 1969, 240-252. Summary: Bryan Ward-Perkins


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Nicetius, bishop of Lyon (Gaul), ob. 573 : S00049 Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397 : S00050

Saint Name in Source

Nicetius Martinus

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 - other

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Exorcism Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future) Miracle after death Healing - disabilities

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Aristocrats Women Children Ecclesiastics - bishops Monarchs and their family

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


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.


Gregory's Life of Nicetius of Lyon is the eighth book (and so the eighth Life) included in his Life of the Fathers (for which, see above). Nicetius was Gregory's great-uncle and one of the family saints whose cult he promoted. We can assume that Gregory in his text combined information about Nicetius preserved in family tradition with the information he found in a written source he had at his disposal (on this written source see E00060). Yet, the Life by Gregory is not just an amalgam of facts, but presents a clear profile of the saint. The most telling episode from Nicetius' life is definitely his conflict with the local count, in which the jurisdiction of the bishop is presented as independent and indeed outranking the secular judicial power of the count (ch.3). This episode has its counterpart in the posthumous activity of Nicetius who performs basically two types of miracles: punishing miracles (E00062, E00064, E00098, E00156) and miracles involving the freeing of prisoners (E00068). This 'profile' of the saint is confirmed, at least in part, by another, independent Life, written by bishop Aetherius of Lyon (E00060, E00216).


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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