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E00332: Gregory of Tours writes the Life of *Ursus and Leobatius (abbots in Berry and the Touraine, around AD 500, S00137): it presents Ursus as the ideal head of a family of monasteries, and briefly mentions his saintly follower, Leobatius. From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594. Overview of Gregory's Life of Ursus and Leobatius.

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posted on 2015-03-06, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers, Book 18 (Life of Ursus and Leobatius)


(Preface) The saints are like stars in the heaven to enlighten us; two such are Ursus and Leobatius [see E00333]. Gregory says that he heard the stories of their lives from trustworthy brothers.

§ 1: Ursus, born in Cahors, came to the territory of Bourges [= the Berry], where he founded monasteries at Tausiriacus, Onia and Pontiniacus; he then moved to the Touraine and founded an oratory and monastery at Sennevières, and a further monastery at Loches on the river Indre. He established priors (propositi) in his monasteries, one of them being Leobatius at Sennevières; he himself settled as abbot in Loches. He lived a holy and inspirational life, and was granted the gift of healing, being able to expel demons and accomplish other miracles.

§ 2: He built a water-mill on the river Indre, but Silarius, a Goth and favourite of King Alaric [= Alaraic II, r. 484-507], first tried to acquire the monastery's mill and then built another one up river, depriving the wheel of Ursus' mill of the water it needed to turn. Ursus and the monks of all his monasteries prayed, and on the third day the wheel started turning as before; Silarius' mill had completely disappeared, swallowed into the earth.

§ 3: Ursus died and miracles happened at his grave. The priors of the monasteries he had founded became abbots. One of them was Leobatius who became abbot of Sennevières and there lived a holy life to a great age [see $E00334].

Text: Krusch 1969, 283-285. Summary: Marta Tycner.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Ursus, abbot of Loches in Gaul, ob c. 500 : S00137

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 Exorcism Power over objects

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Aristocrats Foreigners (including Barbarians) Heretics


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 Ursus and Leobatius is the eighteenth book (and so the eighteenth Life) included by Gregory in his Life of the Fathers (for which, see above). It is in fact a Life of Ursus only, with three very brief mentions of Leobatius. From the point of view of the composition, the text is thus incoherent: it is the Life of a single saint, with a second saintly figure loosely attached to it. It is also striking that no posthumous cult or miracles of Leobatius are mentioned in the Life (E00334). The Life is interesting from the point of view of the monastic structure described in it: Ursus is the head of a congregation of five monasteries which gained their own abbots only after his death. One of the consequences of this arrangement was that all the monks from all the monasteries prayed to support Ursus' prayer for a miracle, and so we learn that miraculous power can have a collective character and the saint is the one who "gathers" and "transmits" it. The most intriguing part of the Life is the water mill miracle. Gregory describes with great detail the technology used to construct and then to immobilise it. The abrupt and violent finale could be a distant suggestion of the diabolical character of Siliarius, who is introduced by Gregory as a "Goth" (and therefore with some probability an Arian).


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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