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E00159: Gregory of Tours, in his Life of *Patroclus (hermit of Berry, ob. 576, S00064), recounts how Patroclus exposed a trick of the devil: pretending to be *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050), the devil had appeared to a woman in a time of plague with objects that supposedly could save people; in central Gaul, probably in 571. 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 Bryan
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers 9.2

This passage follows a particularly difficult exorcism achieved by Patroclus:

Nam sicut hos qui vexabantur emundabat, ita et quae inmittebat occultae atrocia auctor criminis repellebat crucis sacratissimae per virtutem. Nam Leubellae cuidam feminae, cum per luem illam inguinariam diabolus Martinum mentitus oblationes, quibus quasi populus salvaretur, iniquiter obtulisset; haec ad sanctum dilatae, non solum, revelante Spiritu sancto, evanuerunt, verum etiam ipse incentor malorum sancto teterrimus apparens, quae nequiter gesserat est professus. Transfigurat enim se saepe diabolus in angelum lucis, ut hac fraude decipiat innocentes.

Just as he cleansed those who were possessed, so he repelled by the virtue of the holy cross the terrible assaults which the author of every crime let loose in secret. During that bubonic plague, the devil, falsely appearing as St Martin, had wickedly brought to a woman named Leubella, offering which would, he said, save the people. But as soon as they had been shown to the holy man, not only did they vanish by a revelation of the Holy Spirit, but the terrible instigator of this crime appeared to the saint and admitted all his evil deeds. Often, indeed, the devil transfigures himself into an angel of light to deceive the innocent.

_x000B_Krusch 1969, 254. Translation: James 1991, 68, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Patroclus, hermit from Berry in Gaul, ob. 576 : S00064 Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397 : S00050

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 - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Scepticism/rejection of specific relics

Cult Activities - Miracles

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

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives


Cult Activities - Cult Related 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 Patroclus, see E00157. The outbreak of plague during which this incident took place was probably one in 571, which Gregory mentions in Histories 4.31. The chronology of Patroclus' life means it cannot have been the great plague of 543, the 'Justinianic' plague (James 1991, 68, n. 9). The passage illustrates a theme that occurs frequently in Gregory's writings: the danger of false promises of miraculous power, indeed even of false miracles, and the need to carefully police those claiming access to divine power, in this case a lay person and a woman at that. Here Gregory does not blame the woman concerned, but portrays her as the innocent victim of the devil's trickery.


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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