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E00065: Gregory of Tours, in his Life of *Nicetius (bishop of Lyon, ob. 573, S00049), recounts how the deacon Agiulf, bringing relics of martyrs from Rome to Tours, learned in Lyon (central Gaul) of the miracles at the tomb of *Nicetius (bishop of Lyon, ob. 573, S00049) and collected herbs scattered at the grave, using them to cure fevers; AD 590/591. From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594.

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posted on 2014-09-30, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers 8.6

(Ch.6) Agiulfus quoque diaconus noster a Roma veniens, beata nobis sanctorum pignora deferebat. Hic causa orationis tantum locum quo sanctus quiescit adivit, ingressusque aedem, dum diversorum miraculorum opus inlustre perpendit, vidit inmensum catervatim populum ad eius sepulchrum ac velut felicium examina apium ad consuetum alveare confluere, et alios, presbitero qui aderat ministrante, particulas caerae pro benedictione sumere, alios parumper pulveris, nonnullos disruptas ab operturio eius fimbrias capere et abire, ferentes in disparibus causis unam gratiam sanitatis. Haec ille cernens, fide conpunctus, lacrimans ait: "Si marinorum me moles fluctuum sulcare tonsis actum mei sacerdotis devotio fecit, ut, lustrata orientalium martyrum sepulchra, aliquid de eisdem pignoris deferre deberem; cur non Gallicani mei confessoris pignora capiam, per qua mihi meisque salus integra reparetur?" Et statim accedens, quaedam de herbulis quas devotio populi sacro iecit in tumulo, manus lenteo opertas, sacerdote porregente, suscepit, repositisque, diligenter domui detulit; sed statim fidem hominis miraculorum actio conprobavit. Nam, discerptis de his foliis frigoriticis cum aquae potu porrectis, protinus cum haustu salutem invexit, sed et multis deinceps. Quando autem nobis haec retulit, iam quattuor exinde sanos factos ab hac infirmitate narravit.

(Ch.6) 'Our deacon Agiulf returned from Rome and brought us the blessed relics of holy men. On his return home he passed by the place where the saint [Nicetius] rested, and stopped to say prayers. He entered the building and, while he examined the famous account of the various miracles, he saw an immense crowd of people near the tomb, buzzing around like a swarm of happy bees around their familiar hive, some taking from the priest in attendance pieces of wax as holy objects, others a little dust, and others plucked and went away with a few threads from the fringe of the tomb-covering (ab operturio eius fimbrias), all thus carrying off for different purposes the same grace of health. The deacon, being full of grace, could not see this without tears, and he said "If the devotion of my bishop has made me plough a mass of sea waves with oars in order to visit the tombs of eastern martyrs and bring back relics, shall I not take relics (pignora) from a confessor of my native Gaul, to preserve my own health and that of those close to me?" And he went forward and received some of the herbs (quaedam de herbolis) from those which the devotion of the people had placed on the holy tomb: with his hands wrapped in a cloth he took them from the priest. He brought them carefully back to his house and immediately the action of miracles justified the faith of the man. For he made an infusion of those plants with water, and gave it to those who had fever, and they were cured as soon as they had drunk, and others were cured later. In telling us this he said that thereby he had already restored the health of four persons struck down with the same illness.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 246-247. Translation: James 1991, 56-57, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

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

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 - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Healing diseases and disabilities

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Contact relic - wax Contact relic - dust/sand/earth Contact relic - other Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries Eating/drinking/inhaling relics

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Flowers Registers of miracles


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. The dating of this event (590/591) is based on the information in Gregory's Histories that Agiulf ('our deacon', diaconus noster) during his visit to Rome witnessed the papal inauguration of Gregory the Great in 590 (Histories 10.1; E07784). Agiulf's visit to Rome, and his collection of relics there, is almost certainly also the subject of Gregory's Glory of the Martyrs 82 (E00626), where the saints concerned (all Roman martyrs) are named. [We can think of no explanation for why Agiulf, here in the Life of Nicetius, refers to the graves he has visited in Rome as being 'of eastern martyrs', orientalium martyrum.] Here, of course, Gregory, while accepting the perceived superior status of the Roman martyrs, is making a point – central to the Life of the Fathers – that sixth-century Gaul has its own great miracle workers. It is also an excellent passage to illustrate the different types of protective and healing objects that people took from shrines: wax (presumably from candles burning there), 'dust', threads from the covering of the grave, and, in the case of Agiulf himself, herbs that had been scattered there. All of these, and others besides (in particular oil from lamps), find ready parallels elsewhere in Gregory's writings. The phrase diversorum miraculorum opus inlustre perpendit ('he examined the famous account of the various miracles') probably refers to a register of Nicetius' miracles maintained at the shrine, though it is possible that Gregory is alluding here to the Life of Nicetius, which he mentions as a source he consulted while writing his own Life (see E00059). It is striking to note the practice of consulting a book of miracles at the shrine where they take place, which sheds light on the purpose of the composition of such collections, on their transmission, and the way they were used.


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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