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E00174: Gregory of Tours writes the Life of *Friardus (recluse near Nantes, ob. 573, S00078): it presents the saint as having particular powers over the natural world, and tells how his companion was deceived by the devil into thinking he was a saint; all near Nantes (north-west Gaul). From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594. Overview of Gregory's Life of Friardus.

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posted on 2014-11-14, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers, Book 10 (Life of Friardus)


Preface: There are many paths to God, but the way is difficult and His help is needed [see $E00175] - Friardus amidst his difficulties always sought this help.

§ 1: Gregory knows of no text on the life of Friardus. He was an agricultural labourer but prayed constantly. During the harvest, his fellow harvesters got him to work by a wasps' nest, challenging him to tame them by prayer; with the sign of the cross, Friardus drove the wasps into their nest and was unharmed. He fell from a tree, but, by invoking Christ, landed unharmed.

§ 2: These events encouraged him to leave his family and go into the wilderness. Together with Abbot Sabaudus (an ex-official of King Chlothar) and the deacon Secundellus, he withdrew to the island of Vindunitta in the territory of Nantes; but the abbot then left the island. The devil appeared to Secundellus in the form of Christ and convinced him that he was a saint, and should leave the island and cure people - which he did. On returning to the island, Friardus explained to him his error, and Secundellus withstood all further temptations of the devil and died a holy man [see $E00176].

§ 3: Friardus performed miracles: he planted his staff and it grew into a tree; great crowds came to see it. So, fearingf vainglory, Friardus cut it down. He found a tree covered in blossom that had uprooted by the wind; he sharpened the end of the trunk and planted it in the ground; though lacking roots the tree revived and bore fruit. Gregory comments that, as he could revive trees, so too he would have been able to raise the dead.

§ 4: Friardus predicted the time of his death. When taken ill he asked Bishop Felix of Nantes to visit him one last time; but the bishop could not come at once, so Friardus postponed his death. When Felix finally arrived, they kept vigils together, and in the morning Friardus gave up his spirit. His cell shook and was filled with a sweet odour, and Felix's body was buried [see $E00177].

Text: Krusch 1969, 255-259. Summary: Marta Tycner.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Friardus, recluse from the island Vindunitta near Nantes in Gaul, ob. 573 : S00078

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

Place associated with saint's life

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Visiting/veneration of living saint

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Uncertainty/scepticism/rejection of a saint

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle with animals and plants Specialised miracle-working Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money) Power over life and death

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Peasants Ecclesiastics - abbots Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Crowds Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits


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 Friardus is the tenth book (and so the tenth Life) included by him in his Life of the Fathers (for which see above). Two pieces of information mentioned in this Life and in Gregory's Histories 4.37 root Friardus firmly within the history of Gregory's times: in Histories 4.37 (E07871) Gregory states that Friardus died at the same time as Nicetius, bishop of Lyon, so in 573; bishop Felix of Nantes, who features prominently in the Life, was Gregory's suffragan and personal enemy. The island of Vindunitta, where the saint lived, has not so far been identified. It has been suggested that it was an island (which no longer exists) on the river Brivet, somehow connected with the village of Besné where today the only place of Friardus' cult is located (James 1991, 72). Nantes was the immediately neighbouring bishopric of Tours, on the Loire, so Gregory could be expected to have heard stories of a holy man from this district. On the other hand the story itself fits only with difficulty the usual hagiographic patterns applied in Gregory's Life of the Fathers and in late antique Latin texts about saints in general. If we leave apart the interesting story of Secundellus (E00176), the rest of the account creates a very clear profile of its protagonist. The very first scene presents Friardus as a harvester exercising control over the animal world in order to ensure the effective collection of crops. The scene introduces immediate associations with abundance and vegetation, which are then pursued further (not without some humour) in three different tree-episodes. In two of them Friardus miraculously brings life to a dead piece of wood by planting it in the earth. One of the stories (the planted staff) bears resemblance to similar accounts of this type, of which the most prominent example is Aaron's rod described in Numbers 17:8-10; the other seems to be entirely original. Both confirm Friardus' power over vegetation, which Gregory himself understands as a general power over life and death (ch. 3). Gregory's statement that he believed that Friardus would have been able to raise a man from the dead is all the more important since the author treats this particular type of miracle (which Martin of Tours had been able to effect) as particularly special. In this respect the last episode is also very telling (ch. 4). Its usual, and undoubtedly correct, interpretation says that through the postponed death of Friardus Gregory wanted to stress the subordination of ascetics to bishops, while at the same time silently criticising Felix for not responding to the saint's request immediately. (This case is indeed an extreme example of deference to episcopal authority, since Felix was in Gregory's eyes no saintly figure, and his reason for delaying visiting the dying saint is left unexplained). In my opinion an additional interpretation of this episode is legitimate: Gregory presents Friardus again as having power over life and death. The profile of the saint is in fact so functionally pronounced that one is tempted to look for its possible inspirations not in hagiography but in mythology. Gods and mythical heroes responsible for abundance, promoting vegetation and controlling the cycle of birth and death are a clearly distinguishable group. An absorption of mythological motifs and narrative schemes to hagiography is less common than in the case of dynastic legends and legends about the origins of peoples, typical elements of historiographical accounts. However, such an absorption makes perfect sense if we consider the saint as a patron of the community, whose presence should ensure its prosperity. It is just possible that the island of Vindunitta on which Friardus settled was associated with fertility from much earlier times; the reconstructed Indo-European root *ven seems to be closely associated with nature and fertility (Banaszkiewicz 1998, 65-154).


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: Banaszkiewicz J., Polskie dzieje bajeczne mistrza Wincentego Kadłubka (Monografie Fundacji na rzecz Nauki Polskiej. Seria Humanistyczna; Wrocław: Leopoldinum, 1998). 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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