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E00263: Gregory of Tours writes the Life of *Martius (abbot near Clermont, ob. 500/510, S00105): it presents the saint as a man who pardoned offences, and tells of healings within Gregory's own family. From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594. Overview of Gregory's Life of Martius.

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posted on 2015-01-19, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers, Book 14 (Life of Martius)


Preface: If we forgive others, our sins will be forgiven. Martius was ever ready to forgive.

§ 1: Martius was born in the diocese of Clermont. From his childhood he led a religious life, moderate in eating, giving alms, and praying a lot. He was rightly called Martius (Mars-like) because he slew wicked thoughts with the sword of the Holy Ghost. As a young man he went to the mountains and cut a cell for himself out of the rock, sitting and sleeping on the bare rock.

§ 2: God granted him the power to cure the sick; he expelled demons and cured sores. He treated people with fevers with holy oil. He attracted followers and founded a monastery. At this monastery a beautiful garden was established. One night a thief broke into it and stole fruit and vegetables, but then miraculously could not find the exit. Martius saw this in a revelation and ordered the prior to offer the fruit and vegetables to the man, and to let him out of the garden.

§ 3: Martius healed a man called Nivardus, a friend of Gregory's father. Nivardus had a swollen belly and was brought to the saint's cell on a cart; the swelling disappeared under Martius' fingers. Gregory's father himself was, as a child, cured of a tertian fever by Martius, then an old man.

§ 4: Martius died aged ninety, and was buried in the oratory of his monastery. At his grave the sick are cured [see $E00264].

Text: Krusch 1969, 267-270. Summary: Marta Tycner.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martius, abbot near Clermont in Gaul, ob. 500/510 : S00105

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

Visiting/veneration of living saint

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Healing diseases and disabilities Exorcism

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Children The socially marginal (beggars, prostitutes, thieves) Crowds 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 Martius is the fourteenth book (and so the fourteenth Life) included by him in his Life of the Fathers (for which, see above). It is one of the texts in Gregory's collection which makes us suspect that the author elaborated his account, mainly on the basis of a little information transmitted orally in his own family. Apart from the story of the thief in the garden, the only well-informed parts of the texts are the accounts of the two healing miracles performed by Martius on Gregory's father and his friend, and - in a less pronounced way - the description of the saint's cell. The characteristic of the saint as a merciful person, together with a story of the garden thief must have been a widespread hagiographic pattern, since we can find it (in the same configuration) in the Gallic Life of Amantius (E05662). In the Life of Martius this pattern is mingled with characteristics typical for an ascetic, like the healing power during lifetime, granted to Martius by God. The fact that Gregory decided to compose an account of Martius and to include it in his collection may well be because of the close link with his own family.


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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