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E00335: Gregory of Tours writes the Life of *Monegundis (female recluse of Chartres and Tours, mid/late 6th c., S00150): she is presented as a wife who withdrew from the world to devote herself to God, a humble servant of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050), and a miracle worker in life and from her grave. From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594. Overview of Gregory's Life of Monegundis.

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posted on 2015-03-06, 00:00 authored by robert
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers, Book 19 (Life of Monegundis)


Preface: God gives as models of sanctity not only men, but also women. Monegundis is compared to the Queen of Sheba who came to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, because she came to the church of *Martin in Tours [see $E00350].

§ 1: Monegundis was from the city of Chartres. She married and had two daughters who both died as little children. She mourned them and finally enclosed herself in a room of her house, withdrew from her husband and devoted herself to God. She was rigourous in asceticism, fasted and baked for herself bread with ashes. Her servant left her because of the strict asceticism and Monegundis was without food and water. She prayed and snow fell on her house - she used water from the snow to bake bread. A woman observed her in her garden in an improper way and her eyes were blinded. Monegundis healed her; she also healed a deaf man.

§ 2: Monegundis, fearing vainglory from her growing reputation for sanctity, left her house and husband and came to the basilica of Martin in Tours. On the way she passed through the village of Esvres in the Touraine, which had relics of *Medard (bishop of Noyon buried at Soissons, ob. 557/558, S00168) [see $E00348]. During a mass celebrated there she healed a girl from a life-threatening pustule. At Tours, Monegundis venerated the tomb of Martin, settled in a small room near the basilica, and effected miracles, e.g. healing the contracted hands of a widow's daughter. Monegundis' husband, hearing of her reputation, took her back home to live in her old cell, but she returned to Tours and, thanks to St Martin, stayed there untroubled by her husband [see $E00350]. She gathered a small number of nuns around her, led a very ascetic life, and effected miracles.

§ 3: Further miracles: she cured with her saliva the sores of a young prostitute; she placed a vine-leaf moistened with her saliva on the stomach of a boy to drive out poison; a paralysed boy was healed. A blind woman asked her for healing and she first referred her to Martin, but finally effected the cure herself [see $E00350]. She performed many exorcisms. 'Of those to whom the holy woman allowed access, none had to wait long for a cure', nec morabantur ex his curari, quos ad se sancta permisit accedere.

§ 4: As her death approached, she commended her community to the protection of St Martin. At the urgent request of her nuns, she blessed some oil and salt to be used for the sick after her death. On dying she was buried in her cell. Many miracles are then described by Gregory, some at her tomb, others involving the blessed oil and salt [see $E00351].

Text: Krusch 1969, 286-291. Summary: Marta Tycner.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Monegundis, female recluse from Chartres and Tours, ob. 2nd half of the 6th c. : S00150 Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397 : S00050

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

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Punishing miracle Healing diseases and disabilities Healing diseases and disabilities Exorcism

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Children Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Relatives of the saint The socially marginal (beggars, prostitutes, thieves)

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - nails, hair and bodily products Contact relic - oil Contact relic - other


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 Monegundis is the nineteenth book (and so the nineteenth Life) included by him in his Life of the Fathers. It is the only Life of a female saint in the collection. Gregory was familiar with her cult, because its centre was the saint's cell, located next to the basilica of Martin in Tours, where Gregory was bishop (see E00351). Monegundis died within the half-century preceding the composition of Gregory's text, and her cult seems to have been flourishing when Gregory decided to write her life. No written sources are mentioned in his text and it is highly probable that he based his account on some well-known stories about Monegundis' life, death and miracles, which were told in his surroundings, and perhaps on a written record of miracles at her grave. There are at least three interesting features which can be highlighted in the text. First, Monegundis' familial status: she is married with children. Her decision to devote herself to God is a result of prolonged mourning after the death of her daughters. She then separates herself from her husband and lives as a recluse in her house and later at the basilica of Martin in Tours. Interestingly, her devotion to God seems to be a justification of her independence from her husband's authority: he makes her come back home from Tours but she leaves him again, armed with the protection of Martin. The situation can be seen as a transition from the authority of a husband to the authority of a male saint. Indeed, Monegundis' dwelling, ascetic practices and miracles are almost identical in her family house as in Tours. The main difference is that after a certain point in Tours, Monegundis is surrounded by a number of nuns and can be seen as a head of a small monastic community. Still - and this is the second interesting characteristic of the Life - she constantly stresses her subordination to St Martin in terms of miraculous power and the general hierarchy of saints (on this topic, see more in E00350). The third interesting issue is the number of miracles performed by Monegundis. Gregory stresses several times that she did not consider herself worthy to perform them, but nevertheless the life is actually a long list of the miracles accomplished by her both during lifetime and after death. The power of miracle-working during lifetime is typical for the ascetics presented in Gregory's collection of lives, but no other saint described in the Life of the Fathers performs as many as Monegundis.


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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