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E00224: Gregory of Tours, in his Life of Aemilianus and Brachio (hermit, and monastic founder of the Auvergne and Touraine, ob. 535/550 and 576, S00087), recounts how relics of saints were deposited overnight on the altar of the church of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) in Tours; Brachio (monastic founder of the Auvergne and Touraine, ob. 576, S00087) held vigils in the church and witnessed the apparition of a miraculous ball of fire. From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594.

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posted on 2014-12-03, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers 12.3

(Ch.3) Quodam autem tempore advenientes homines peregrini, reliquias sanctorum detulerunt secum, quas super altare basilicae sancti Martini Turonus locaverunt, quasi in crastinum profecturi. Adfuit ei Brachio abba, qui vigilans in basilica, circa medium fere noctis vidit quasi globum ignis inmensi de sanctis pignoribus emicare et usque ad templi cameram cum lumine magno conscendere. Quod non est dubium aliquid fuisse divinum; nulli tamen de adstantibus aliis nisi illi tantum fuit ostensum.

'One day travellers arrived carrying the relics of saints, which they placed on the altar of St Martin's church in Tours, as they planned to leave the following day. Abbot Brachio was keeping a vigil in the church, and saw around midnight a great globe of fire, which left the relics and rose with a great light towards the roof of the church. There was without doubt something divine about this, but it was seen only by him and not by those with him.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 264. Translation: James 1991, 84, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050 Saints, unnamed or name lost : S00518 Brachio, abbot of the Auvergne, ob. 576 : S00087

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

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Miraculous sound, smell, light Miraculous behaviour of relics/images

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Foreigners (including Barbarians) Ecclesiastics - abbots

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Other activities with relics Privately owned relics Public display 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 Aemilianus and Brachio, see E00222. It is striking to learn that travellers (peregrini, which can also mean 'foreigners') were voyaging through Gaul with relics. We don't know whether Gregory alludes here to a formal translation of relics, or to some privately owned relics, but he mentions this as if it were a common custom or at least an activity needing no further explanations. The altar was not only a holy place in itself but also - according to Gregory, as can be stated on the basis of his writings - a place where relics could properly be deposited. Gregory tells this same story of the vision of Brachio in Glory of the Confessors 38 (E02603), though there he says that the fire appeared to 'not many (non multis)' of those present, rather than to Brachio alone.


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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