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E00156: Gregory of Tours, in his Life of *Nicetius (bishop of Lyon, ob. 573, S00049), tells of two men punished by the saint: a participant in a military expedition who failed to deliver, to the saint's church at Pressigny in the Touraine (north-west Gaul), booty vowed to ensure his safety, and his brother who failed to attend Christmas vigils held to invoke Nicetius' support. From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594.

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posted on 2014-11-06, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers 8.11

Gregory has explained how he placed relics of Nicetius in the altar of a newly built church at Pressigny in the Touraine, and how, at that church, three possessed woemn were cured by Nicetius

(Ch.11) (...) Dado [igitur] unus ex his pagensibus, cum in hostilitate illa quae Convenas acta est accessisset et plerumque in periculis mortis inruerit, vovit, ut, si domui reverteretur incolomis, ad memoratam eclesiam exornandam in honore beati Niceti aliqua ex his quae adquesierat largiretur. Rediens igitur, duos calices argenteos detulit vovitque iterum in itenere, ut hos eclesiae conferret, si ad propria sospes accederet. Ad domum igitur accedens, unum tantummodo dedit, alium fraudare procuravit, dans cooperturium Sarmaticum, quo altari dominico cum oblationibus tegeretur. Apparuit autem viro vir beatus per somnium, dicens: "Quousque dubitas et votum implere dissimulas? Vade [igitur]", inquid, "et calicem alium, quem vovisti, redde eclesiae, ne pereas tu et domus tua! Coopertorium vero, quia rarum est, non ponatur super munera altaris, quia non exinde ad plene tegitur mysterium corporis sanguinisque dominici". At ille exterritus, nihil moratus, votum quod voverat velociter adimplevit.

Huius hominis frater ad vigilias dominici natalis advenit, monuitque presbiterum, dicens: "Vigilemus unanimiter ad eclesiam Dei atque exoremus devote beati Niceti potentiam, ut, eo obtenente, huius anni curriculum cum pace ducamus". Quod presbiter audiens, gavisus iussit signum ad vigilias commoveri. Quo commoto, adveniente presbitero cum clericis et reliquo populo, hic gulae inhians, moras veniendi innectebat; misitque saepius presbiter ad eum arcessiendum. Quibus respondebat: "Paulisper sustenete, et venio". Quid plura? Transactis vigiliis, data luce, hic qui prius commonuerat ad vigilias non accessit. Presbiter vero, inpleto officio, commotus contra hominem, ad metatum eius properat, quasi eum a communione suspenderet. At ille correptus febre, sicut vino, ita divino exurebat incendio; nec mora, viso presbitero, datis vocibus, cum lacrimis supplicabat, sibi paenitentiam tradi.
Cumque eum presbiter increparet, dicens: "Merito a sancti Niceti virtute exureris, ad cuius eclesiam venire ad vigilias neglexisti"; inter sermocinantum conloquia spiritum exalavit. Facta quoque hora tertia, cum populus ad missarum solemnia conveniret, hic mortuus ad eclesiam est delatus. Quod virtute sancti antestitis actum nemo ambigere potest. Haec enim nobis ipse exposuit presbiter.

'(Ch.11) (...) Dado, one of the peasants who had joined the great expedition against St-Bertrand-de-Comminges, and who had several times been in danger of death, made a vow that if he returned home safe and sound he would give in honour of St Nicetius, for the adornment of the same church, some of the goods that he had acquired. Thus he was returning home, and was bringing with him two silver chalices, and again he vowed that he would give them to the church if he arrived home safely. But when he did return he gave only one of them, and in order to excuse the fact that he was keeping the other he gave a Sarmatian cloth to cover the altar of the Lord and its offerings. But the blessed man appeared to him in a dream, and said to him "How long do you hesitate, and pretend to fulfil your vow? Go and give to the church the second chalice which you promised, lest both you and your family perish. As for the cloth, since it is thin, let it not be placed on the gifts of bread and wine on the altar, because it cannot sufficiently cover the mystery of the body and blood of Our Lord." The man was frightened, and hesitated no longer, and promptly fulfilled his vow.

A brother of this man came to the Christmas vigils, and spoke to the priest, saying "Let us keep the vigils together in the church of God, and let us prey devoutly to the power of the blessed Nicetius, so that through his intercession we may pass the year in peace." Hearing this the priest joyfully ordered the signal for vigils to be given. This was done, and the priest came in with the clergy of his church and the rest of the people. But this man, a slave to gluttony, did not hurry to come. The priest sent to him several times, but he only replied "Wait a little. I am coming". What more need I say? The vigils were completed and the morning arrived, and he who had first thought of the celebration was not there. The priest finished the office and angrily hastened to the man, thinking to suspend him from the holy communion. But the man had been corrupted by fever, just as he had been by wine, and he burned with a divine heat. As soon as he saw the priest he begged him with tears to impose a penance on him. The priest rebuked him, and said "It is right that you burn by the power of St Nicetius in whose church you neglected to come to the vigils", and in the midst of these words the man died. Then, at the third hour, as the people were reassembling in the church for solemn Mass, the dead man was brought into the church. Nobody could doubt that it had all been accomplished by the power of the holy pontiff. The priest himself told it to us.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 260-251. Translation: James 1991, 62-63.


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 - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Punishing miracle Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous protection - of people and their property

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Aristocrats Soldiers Crowds

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Chalices, censers and other liturgical vessels Precious material objects Cloth over/near the shrine


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 two quoted miracles present Nicetius as a fiery-tempered saintly judge - a characteristic also present in other episodes from the Life (see E0061). It is quite difficult to say where the quoted episodes are supposed to have taken place. The protagonist of the first story is said to originate from an unnamed pagus; the previous passage (not quoted here) suggests either Tours or Bourges (see E00067). The church named in the episode is not named as a church of Nicetius. The second story which involves the brother of the man is located in a church, perhaps dedicated of Nicetius. It is tempting to identify it with Lyon, where the grave of Nicetius was located and where many other episodes of the Life are placed. Both stories reveal interesting details about cult practices in late antique Gaul. From the first one we learn of a vow taken before a military expedition. In exchange for the saint's protection a man promises to offer a part of his booty to the local church. According to the story, a vow should be fulfilled literally. No concern is expressed that part of the booty are chalices stolen from another church. The focal point of the second story are vigils held in a church, perhaps dedicated to Nicetius. They are described as a special service for the saint celebrated by a group of clergy. The vigils took place at Christmas which marked the beginning of a new year and this is probably why it was appropriate to gather at this time and ask the saintly patron for a peaceful new year. Gregory doesn't however describe it as an office held regularly each year but ascribes the initiative of its celebration to a noble (almost certainly lay) man. It had also probably nothing to do with the feast of Nicetius, which was - at least in Lyon - celebrated in spring (E00060).


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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