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E00291: Gregory of Tours, in his Life of *Senoch (ascetic and miracle-worker near Tours, ob. 576, S00116), recounts how, through the prayers of the saint, a reliquary miraculously fitted into the altar of a renovated oratory in the Touraine (north-west Gaul), where *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) had once prayed. From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours, 573/594.

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posted on 2015-02-13, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers 15.1

(Ch. 1) Igitur beatissimus Senoch (...) et conversus ad Dominum clericusque factus, monasterium sibi instituit.
Repperit enim infra territurii Turonici terminum parietes antiquos, quos erudirans a ruinis, habitationes dignas aptavit. Repperitque ibi oratorium, in quo ferebatur celebre nostrum orasse Martinum. Quod diligenti cura conpositum, erecto altari loculumque in eo ad recipiendas sanctorum reliquias praeparatum, ad benedicendum invitat episcopum. Adfuit tunc Eufronius beatus episcopus, qui, consecratum altare, eum diaconatus honori donavit. Celebratis igitur missis, cum capsula reliquiarum in loculo cupirent collocare, extetit capsa prolixior nec recipere in loculum poterat. Tunc prostratus diaconus cum ipso sacerdote pronus ad orationem, lacrimis precibus mixtas effudit, obtenuitque petita. Mirum dictu! Ita enim loculum divinitus amplificatum capsulaque constricta est, ut in eo spatiosissime non sine admiratione reciperet. In hoc loco, collectis tribus monachis, Domino assidue serviebat et in primis artum vitae tramitem incedebat, exiguosque cibos, tenues potiones utens.

'The blessed Senoch (...) having turned towards the Lord, became a cleric and established a monastery for himself. Namely, he found in the territory of Tours old walls, and by restoring them from ruins he made worthy dwellings. And he discovered there an oratory in which, it is often said, our St Martin had prayed. He restored it with much care, and having placed an altar inside which had a small compartment suitable for containing relics (loculum in eo ad recipiendas sanctorum reliquias praeparatum), he invited the bishop to come to bless it. The blessed Bishop Eufronius came, and when he had blessed the altar he bestowed on Senoch the honour of the diaconate. They then celebrated masses. But when they wanted to place the casket of relics (capsula reliquiarum) in the hollow prepared for it they found that the casket (capsa) was too large and would not go in. Then the deacon fell down and began to pray with the bishop himself, weeping, and he obtained what they asked for. What a marvellous thing! The place which had been too small was enlarged by divine power, and the casket itself grew smaller, so that it entered very easily, to the great amazement of those who were present. Senoch assembled three monks in this place, and served the Lord assiduously.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 271-272. Translation: James 1991, 95-96, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050 Saints, unnamed or name lost : S00518 Senoch, ascetic and miracle-worker from Poitou, Gaul, ob. 576 near Tours : S00116

Saint Name in Source

Martinus Senoch

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

  • Eucharist associated with cult

Cult activities - Places

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

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Renovation and embellishment of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Miracles

Power over objects Miracle during lifetime

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Reliquary – institutionally owned


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 Senoch, see E00290. The terminus post quem of the quoted event is the year of the ordination of Bishop Eufronius of Tours (556); the terminus ante quem is the death of Senoch (576). The monastery, where Senoch was later buried [see E00293], was almost certainly located in today's Saint-Senoch, some 50 km south-east of Tours; the name is first mentioned in the 13th century; today no traces of the monastery are evident (Vieilliard-Troiekouroff 1976, 275). The association between the oratory renovated by Senoch and the person of Martin is quite loose. It is possible that Gregory invented it, since he had the habit of inserting references to Martin into all his texts. It is not said that Martin was the patron of the oratory, and even less can we suppose that it was his relic which was deposited in its altar. The passage provides valuable information about the consecration of cult buildings. We learn about three key elements of the ceremony: the blessing of the altar, the eucharist (or a series of masses), and the deposition of relics in the altar. The miracle of the shrinking reliquary stresses the importance of the last element, and indeed for Gregory cult buildings must contain an altar with relics to function properly [see especially E00067]. There is however no straightforward relationship between the saintly patron of the cult building and the saint whose relics are deposited in the altar.


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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