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E00064: Gregory of Tours, in his Life of *Nicetius (bishop of Lyon, ob. 573, S00049), recounts how Nicetius, in a vision and aided by *Justus and *Eucherius (earlier bishops of Lyon, S02411 and S01995), asserted the value of his dead body and punished a critical priest; in Lyon (central Gaul), 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 dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers 8.5

Post dies autem, quos lex Romana sanccivit, ut defuncti cuiuspiam voluntas publice relegatur, huius antestitis testamentum in foro delatum, turbis circumstantibus, a iudice reseratum recitatumque est. Presbiter quoque basilicae tumens felle, quod nihil loco ille in quo sepultus fuerat reliquisset, ait: "Agebant semper plerique, stolidum fuisse Nicetium; nunc ad liquidum verum esse patet, cum nihil basilicae in qua tumulatus est delegavit". Sequenti autem nocte apparuit presbitero cum duobus episcopis, id est Iusto atque Eucherio, in veste fulgenti, dicens ad eos: "Hic presbiter, sanctissimi fratres, blasphemiis me obruit, dicens, quia nihil facultatis scripserim templo huic quo requiesco; et nescit, quia quidquid pretiosius habui ibidem dereliqui, id est glebam corporis mei". At illi dixerunt: "Iniuste fecit, ut detraheret servo Dei". Conversusque sanctus ad presbiterum, pugnis palmisque guttur eius inlisit, dicens: "Peccator conterendae, desine stulte loqui!" Expergefactus autem presbiter, tumefactis faucibus, ita doloribus coartatur, ut ipsas quoque salivas oris cum labore possit maximo degluttire. Unde factum est, ut per dies 40 lectulo decubans graviter cruciaretur; sed invocato confessoris nomine, sanitati redditus, numquam ausus est ea verba quae prius praesumpserat garrulare.

'When the period fixed by Roman law before a dead person's will could be read out in public had come to an end, the testament of this pontiff [Nicetius] was brought to the forum where, before the crowds of people, it was opened and read out by the judge. Then a priest of the basilica swelled with rage because the saint had left nothing to that church in which he was buried, and he said "Many people used to say that Nicetius was insensitive; it can now clearly be seen, since he has left nothing to the church in which he was buried." But the following night he appeared in shining robes to the priest, accompanied by two bishops, Justus and Eucherius, to whom he said, "This priest, my very holy brothers, covered me with blasphemies when he said that I had left nothing to this temple in which I rest. He does not realise that I have left there the most precious thing I have, the dust of my body." And they replied, "It is indeed wicked to disparage a servant of God." The holy man turned to the priest and hit him on the throat with his fists and hands saying "Sinner you ought to be crushed underfoot; cease your stupid mutterings!" The priest woke up with a swollen throat, which was so painful that he could swallow his saliva only with great difficulty. He had to stay in bed for forty days in considerable pain, but having called on the name of the confessor he was restored to health, and never again dared to prate such words as he had earlier presumed to do.'

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


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Nicetius, bishop of Lyon (Gaul), ob. 573 : S00049 Iustus/Justus, bishop of Lyon, ob. c. 390 : S02411 Eucherius, monk, hermit, and bishop of Lyon, 5th ob. 449/451 : S01995

Saint Name in Source

Nicetius Iustus Eucherius

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

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Punishing miracle

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - bishops

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.


For an overview of the Life of Nicetius of Lyon, see E00061. This is a passage showing the inestimable value of relics; by leaving his body to the church Nicetius was giving it a gift far more valuable than gold. Also significant is Nicetius' appearance in a vision together with two of his predecessors as bishop, Justus and Eucherius. There is little evidence for any cult of Eucherius at Lyon, although he was well-known as an author; Justus, however, was one of its most celebrated saints. No doubt Gregory introduced them into his text as authoritative representatives of the church of Lyon. The story is also a splendid example of Nicetius' bad temper as a saintly judge (see E00061).


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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