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E00158: Gregory of Tours, in his Life of *Patroclus (hermit of Berry, ob. 576, S00064), recounts how Patroclus founded an oratory with relics of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) at Néris (central Gaul), performed divination on its altar, and founded a female monastery next to it. From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594.

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posted on 2014-11-08, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers 9.2

Sed [Patroclus] egressus ab urbe memorata, venit ad vicum Nereensim, ibique aedificato oratorio ac sancti Martini reliquiis consecrato, pueros erudire coepit in studiis litterarum. Veniebant autem ad eum infirmi et sanabantur, atque inergumini nomen eius confitentes emundabantur; nec ei erat solitudo, ut voluerat, sed patefacta virtus publicum usquequaque reddebat. Tunc pro auspitio quoddam brevibus conscriptis, posuit super altare, vigilans et orans tribus [diebus et tribus] noctibus, ut, quid ei Dominus agere iuberet, dignaretur manifestissime declarare. Sed pietatis divinae inclita miseratio, quae eum [iam] praesciens heremitam esse decreverat, brevem illum accipere iubet, ut ad heremum properaret. Ille autem in cellula qua degebat, congregatis virginibus, monasterium instituit puellarum, nihil de omni labore suo quod ibidem adgregaverat, cum abscederet, sumens, nisi rastrum unum unamque bipennem. Ingressusque altas silvarum solitudines, venit ad locum qui dicitur Mediocantus.

'Thus he [Patroclus] left the above-mentioned city [Bourges] and came to the village of Néris; there he built an oratory and sanctified it with relics of St Martin and he began to instruct children in the study of letters. The sick came to Patroclus and were cured, and the possessed were cleansed after confessing his name. But he had still not found the solitude which he sought, and his manifest power seemed to him to be bringing him too much publicity. For an auspice he wrote out little notes, and placed them on the altar. Then he watched and prayed for three nights, so that the Lord might deign to reveal clearly to him what He ordered him to do. But the great mercy of divine goodness had decreed that he would be a hermit, and made him take the note which hastened his departure for the desert. Thus he assembled young girls in that place where he was living, and instituted a monastery of nuns, and then he left, taking with him nothing from all that he had amassed by his work save a rake and an axe. He entered the high solitudes of the forests and came to a place called Mediocantus.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 253. Translation: James 1991, 67, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050

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

  • Ceremony of dedication

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Women Children

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Transfer, translation and deposition 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 Patroclus, see E00157. Néris (vicus Nereensis, Néris-les-Bains) is located in the department of Allier. The probable remains of the nunnery are still visible there (Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, no. 179). Gregory states in many places that the main moment of dedication of a cult building was the placing of saints' relics in its altar (see e.g. E00062, E00067). In this particular case, Gregory may be suggesting that the divination on the altar was performed through the agency of the relics of Martin. Patroclus placed a number of slips of papyrus or parchment on the altar, each with a different path for life written on it, prayed for three days, and then, divinely guided, selected the slip with the correct path for him to follow.


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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