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E00062: Gregory of Tours, in his Life of *Nicetius (bishop of Lyon, ob. 573, S00049), recounts how Nicetius' successor, an opponent of the saint, gave Nicetius' cape to a deacon who misused it, and was miraculously punished; in Lyon (central Gaul), shortly after 573. 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 8.5

(Ch.5) Et quia novimus, Priscum episcopum huic sancto semper fuisse adversum, diacono cuidam huius casublam tribuit. Erat autem valida, eo quod et ipse vir Dei robusto fuisset corpore. Cappa autem huius indumenti ita dilatata erat atque consuta, ut solent in illis candidis fieri, quae per paschalia festa sacerdotum umeris inponuntur. Ibatque diaconus cum hoc vestimento discurrens, ac parvi pendens, de cuius usibus remansisset; hoc habens in lectulo, hoc utens in foro, de cuius fimbriis, si credulitas certa fuisset, reddi potuit salus infirmis. Cui ait quidam: "O diacone, si scires virtutem Dei, et quis fuit, cuius vestimentum uteris, cautius te cum eo vivere oportebat". Cui ille: "Vere", inquid, "dico tibi, quia et hanc casublam tergo utor et de cappa eius, parte prolixiore decisa, tegumen pedum aptabo". Fecit ilico miser quae pollicitus est, suscepturus protinus divini iudicii ultionem. Verum ubi, deciso cucullo, aptatis pedulibus, pedes operuit, extemplo arreptus a daemone, ruit in pavimento. Erat enim solus in domo, nec erat qui succurreret misero. Cumque spumas cruentas ore proiceret, extensis ad focum pedibus, pedes cum pedulibus ignis pariter devoravit. Actenus de ultionibus.

(Ch.5) 'Bishop Priscus, whom we know to have been a strong opponent of the holy man, gave to a certain deacon the cape (casubla) which Nicetius had worn. It was ample, for the man of God was large in body. The hood (cappa) of the garment was wide, and sewn, as was the custom, with the white bands which priests wear on the shoulder during the Easter festivities. The deacon went everywhere in this garment, and thought little about the use to which he had put it. He kept it on his bed, he wore it in the forum, never thinking that its fringes, if his faith had been firm enough, could have brought health to the sick. Someone said to him, "O deacon, if you knew the power of God, and that of him whose garment you wear, you would use it with more care." He replied, "I tell you in truth that I wear this cape to cover my back - and as the hood is too big for me, I shall make socks (tegumen pedum) out of it!" The wretched man did that straight away, and fell immediately to the vengeance of divine judgement. Indeed, as soon as he had cut the hood, made the socks and put them on his feet, the devil seized him and threw him to the ground. He was then left alone in the house, and there was no-one to help the wretched man. A bloody foam came from his mouth, and his feet were stretched towards the hearth; the fire devoured his feet, and the socks as well. This is all I have to say concerning vengeance.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 245-246. Translation: James 1991, 54-56. Summary: Marta Tycner.


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 - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Uncertainty/scepticism/rejection of a saint

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Punishing miracle

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - saint’s possession and clothes


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. Nicetius' cult is a very interesting case of a cult which was contested in its early stages, probably reflecting the interests of rival factions within the episcopal see of Lyon. Nicetius' immediate successor, Priscus, treated the memory of Nicetius, and his possessions, with disdain, but the next bishop, Aetherius, established a cult which Gregory (Nicetius' great-nephew!) fostered with enthusiasm. The story offers an example of Nicetius' fiery temper (Gregory quotes several other episodes with a similar characteristic of the saint). The deacon is punished for profaning an object (Nicetius' cape) which should have been treated as a relic.


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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