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E00308: Gregory of Tours writes the Life of *Venantius (priest and abbot in Tours, ob. late 5th c., S00121): it presents the saint as a zealous priest experiencing visions and performing miracles; all in Tours (north-west Gaul). From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours, 573/594. Overview of Gregory's Life of Venantius.

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posted on 2015-02-18, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers, Book 16 (Life of Venantius)


Preface: God has given us the saints to intercede for us and as an example to follow.

§ 1: Venantius was born in Bourges into a family of free people. He was betrothed, but broke the betrothal after a visit to Tours and the basilica of St Martin. He joined the monastery there, which was under Abbot Silvinus, and eventually became its next abbot.

§ 2: He had a vision of an old man [presumably St Martin] blessing the offering during a mass. He heard a mass being celebrated in heaven; during another mass a voice from a tomb repeated one of the prayers. He talked to the priest Passivus in his grave. These visions and sounds were vouchsafed to him alone.

§ 3: He cured a boy from pains in his shins and knees. A slave sought refuge in his oratory, but was taken from it by his master, in the absence of the holy man, and slain; the perpetrator died shortly thereafter from a fever. Venantius cured fevers and boils, and expelled demons. He combated two demons in the form of rams and, on a different occasion, a horde of demons originating from Rome.

§ 4: After his death his grave is glorified by miracles. In particular, at his tomb a possessed man was cleansed and a woman cured of a fever, while another woman was also cured of fever when she prayed by the saint's bed [see $E00310].

Text: Krusch 1969, 274-277. Summary: Marta Tycner


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Venantius, presbyter and abbot from Tours (Gaul), ob. late 5th c. : S00121

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

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Exorcism Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures Punishing miracle Healing diseases and disabilities

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Children Slaves/ servants 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 Venantius is the sixteenth book (and so the sixteenth Life) included by him in his Life of the Fathers (for which, see above). Venantius lived in the fifth century, though when precisely is unknown (James 1991, 103, n.3). The place where he was abbot was the abbatiola S. Venantii, documented in the tenth century near the basilica of Martin in Tours (see Vieilliard-Troiekouroff 1976, 325-326). Gregory's Life is a consistent piece of hagiography; but, with its multiple visions vouchsafed to the saint and his struggles with very real demons, it is uncharacteristic of the other Lives in Life of the Fathers. Possibly it depends on a lost written source, though Gregory does not tell us this. It is difficult to say what are the precise saintly virtues emphasised in the Life. Venantius is an abbot, but Gregory seems to focus more on his activity as a priest, and records his three different miracles concerning the eucharist or the celebration of mass. It is however not the only focus of the text: Venantius also performs healing and punishing miracles, exorcisms, and spectacularly combats demons.


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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