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E00067: Gregory of Tours, in his Life of *Nicetius (bishop of Lyon, ob. 573, S00049), tells of the healing powers of Nicetius' bed in Lyon (central Gaul), and of a lamp that burned miraculously there; Gregory used threads from a cloth used by Nicetius to consecrate altars in the Touraine (north-west Gaul). From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594.

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posted on 2014-10-01, 00:00 authored by CSLA Admin
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers 8.8

In this chapter Gregory begins with two miracles effected by objects that had been close to Nicetius:

Gratum est illud addi miraculis, quid accensus ad lectum eius fecerit cicendilis, quia ingentia sunt, quae hic sanctus in caelis habitans operatur in terris.Igitur lectulus quo sanctus quiescere erat solitus saepius miraculis adornatur inlustribus, quique grandi studio ab Aetherio nunc episcopo fabricatus, devotissime adoratur non inmerito, cum frigoritici saepius sub eo siti, conpresso vapore ac frigore, salvantur, ceterique infirmi ibidem proiecti protinus sublevantur. Palla etenim speciosa tegitur, ligni in ea iugiter accenduntur. Unus igitur ex his per quadraginta dies totidemque noctes, ut ipse aedituus adseruit, absque ullius fomenti adiutorio perduravit splendens, in quo nec papirus addita, nec gutta olei est stillantis adiecta, sed in ipsa quod primum statutum est conpositione permansit in luce praeclara.

Huius sancti reliquias Gallomagnus Tricassinorum pontifex devotus expetiit; quae cum psallendo deducerentur, et caecorum oculi inluminati sunt earum virtute, et aliorum morborum genera meruerunt recipere medicinam. Ad nos quoque facietergium dependentibus villis intextum, quod sanctus super caput in die obitus sui habuit, est perlatum; quod nos tamquam munus caeleste suscepimus. Factum est autem, ut post dies plurimos ad benedicendam eclesiam in parochia Paternacense urbis Toronicae invitaremur. Accessi, fateor, sacravi altare, decerpsi fila de lenteo, locavi in templo; dictis missis, facta oratione, discessi. Paucis deinde diebus interpositis, advenit ad nos ille qui invitaverat, dicens: "Gaude in nomine Domini, sacerdos Dei, de virtute beati Niceti antestitis. Nam noveris, quia ostendit magnum miraculum in eclesia quam sacrasti. Caecus enim erat in pago nostro diuturna nocte detentus, cui apparuit vir quidam per visum noctis, dicens: "Si vis sanus fieri, prosternere in orationem coram basilica sancti Niceti altare, et recipies visum". Quod cum fecisset, disruptis tenebris, lumen ei virtus divina patefecit". Posui, fateor, de his pignoribus et in aliis basilicarum altaribus, in quibus et inergumini sanctum confitentur, et fidelis oratio saepius promeretur effectum.

'To these miracles I am pleased to add the one which he did with a lamp which burned near his bed; for the things which the holy man, living in the heavens, now works upon the earth are truly great. The bed, then, on which the saint was accustomed to rest, which had been constructed with the greatest of care by Aetherius, now a bishop, has been made famous by many notable miracles. People adore it with deserved devotion, for those who are taken with fever are only to be placed there and warmth returns and they are cured from their chill. Many other ill people are cured when they are laid out on it. It is covered with a fine cloth, and lamps are kept alight around it permanently. One of them continued to burn for forty days and forty nights, as the guardian (aedituus) assured us. It burned brilliantly without any maintenance, without any new papyrus for the wick, or a single drop of oil; but it remained in its pristine state, bright and shining.

Gallomagnus, bishop of Troyes, came with great devotion to ask for relics of the saint, and while they were being transported with the singing of psalms their virtue opened the eyes of the blind, and many other sick people obtained cures. Someone brought us a face-cloth with hanging tassels which the holy man had on his head the day of his death. We received it as a gift from heaven. It happened some days later that we were invited to bless a church in the parish of Pernay in the diocese Tours. I went there and consecrated the altar; I took some threads from this cloth and placed them in the church, and having said the Masses and the prayers I left. Several days later he who had invited us came to find us, and said "Rejoice in the name of the Lord, priest of God, because of the power of the blessed Bishop Nicetius, for you are going to learn of the great miracle which he has worked in the church which you consecrated. There was in our area a blind man, restrained for a long time in the dark night of blindness, to whom appeared in a dream one night a man who said to him 'If you want to be cured, go and prostrate yourself in prayer at the church, at the altar of St Nicetius (prosternere in orationem coram basilica sancti Niceti altare), and there you will receive your sight.' When he had done this the darkness vanished, and divine power gave him back the light." I have placed more of these relics in the altars of other churches (in aliis basilicarum altaribus), and there those possessed confessed the saint, and prayer full of faith often obtained its effect.'

Gregory closes the chapter with a third miracle: of a servant/slave of Phronimius, bishop of Agde, cured of epilepsy at the shrine. It was seven years after his cure 'when the bishop [Phronimius] gave him to me' (quando eum nobis episcopus praesentavit.)

Text: Krusch 1969, 248-249. Translation: James 1991, 58-60, 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


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Healing diseases and disabilities Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - saint’s possession and clothes Noted absence of relics


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 story about Nicetius' bed, in which people can be cured, is yet another example of the importance the saints' beds had for Gregory, probably at least in part because it was there that they died (see Gregory's Miracles of Martin 2.19 (E03091), 2.21 (E03094), 2.23 (E03127) and 3.21 (E03539)). As in the other accounts, Gregory stresses the warmth which is sensed in the bed, opposed to the chills of the ill. What makes the account exceptional is the way the surroundings of the bed are described. We don't know where the bed was placed after Nicetius' death: it might have been transported into a church. There is however a strong possibility that it was Nicetius' room (in the bishop's house?) which was turned into a memorial of the saint, with lamps lit around the bed and a guardian (aedituus, lit. sacristan) taking care of the place. Aetherius, mentioned as the constructor of Nicetius bed was later bishop of Lyon himself, a promoter of Nicetius' cult and author of another Life (E00060). The second miracle reveals interesting details about the consecration of churches in the times of Gregory, and the relation between the relics housed in a church and its dedication to a particular saint. Gregory, as bishop of Tours was asked to consecrate a church in his diocese. He brought there contact relics of Nicetius which he placed "in the church"; then he consecrated an altar. The subsequent miracle happened "at the church, at the altar of St Nicetius" (presumably with the relics inside it, as in many other attested cases). For Gregory at least the deposition of relics seems to be an obligatory part of the consecration. However, the presence of the relics of a particular saint does not seem to have determined the dedication of the church. In this case the altar is described as an altar of Nicetius, not the church.


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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