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E00157: Gregory of Tours writes the Life of *Patroclus (hermit of Berry, ob. 576, S00064): it presents the saint as an ascetic, founding monasteries in Berry (central Gaul), attracting the devout, and experiencing visions. From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594. Overview of Gregory's Life of Patroclus.

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posted on 2014-11-07, 00:00 authored by mszada
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers, Book 9 (Life of Patroclus)


Preface: We should offer up stories of the saints. Gregory has recently learned about Patroclus, so feels he should tell his story, even if in poor prose.

§ 1: Patroclus was born in Berry (the territory of Bourges) into a modest but free family. In his childhood he guarded sheep. Called a "peasant" (rusticus) by his better educated brother, he hurriedly entered school, overtook his brother, and was recommended to work for a nobleman close to King Childebert [r. 511-558]. Despite the wishes of his widowed mother, he refused to marry, and was ordained deacon by the bishop of Bourges. His strict asceticism and habit of avoiding meals with the other deacons angered his archdeacon.

§ 2: Patroclus left Bourges through a wish to live as a hermit, and built an oratory at Néris where he placed relics of St Martin and taught children. The sick and possessed came to him and received cures. Patroclus could not bear the renown, and God revealed to him by means of divination that he should become a hermit. He established Néris as a female monastery and left for the forests. Here he constructed a cell in a place called Mediocantus [see $E00158]. He cured a particularly seriously possessed man, and repelled assaults and temptations of the devil; exposing a trick of the devil who falsely revealed himself as St Martin to a woman and offering cures against the plague [see $E00159]. Tempted to return to the world, an angel showed him in a vision all the evils of the world, discouraging him from ever leaving his cell.

§ 3: Patroclus founded a monastery at Colombier in the neighbourhood of his cell and nominated its abbot; he himself continued a solitary life. He announced to the monks his approaching death. After his death, his body was taken for burial in the monastery. The archpriest of Néris, planned to seize the body, but repented of his plan. Gregory lists a number of miracles at his tomb, and says that they continue [see $E00166].

Text: Krusch 1969, 252-255. Summary: Marta Tycner


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Patroclus, hermit from Berry in Gaul, ob. 576 : S00064

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 - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Healing diseases and disabilities Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Exorcism Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future) Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - abbots Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Relatives of the saint Aristocrats Peasants


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.


Gregory's Life of Patroclus is the ninth book (and so the ninth Life) included by him in his Life of the Fathers (for which, see above). Berry (the territory around Bourges) lies between Tours and Clermont, so was familiar to Gregory. According to Gregory's own words, the Life of Patroclus was based on a story which had reached him shortly before he started writing the Life of the Fathers. This may have been a written text. Firstly, the cited sentence from the preface closely resembles the sentence from the Life of Nicetius (E00059) where Gregory refers without a shadow of doubt to a written source he had at his disposal. Secondly, the very last paragraph of the Life looks like a summary or quote from a written text (see E00166). Gregory dedicates chapter 5.10 of his Histories to Patroclus (E07761), allowing us to date his death to 576. There Gregory tells essentially the same story as here in Life of the Fathers, though with less detail about the events of Patroclus' life and more detail of the particulars of his asceticism.


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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