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E00350: Gregory of Tours, in his Life of *Monegundis (female recluse of Chartres and Tours, mid/late 6th c., S00150), presents the saint as a powerful miracle worker, but subservient to *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050). From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594.

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posted on 2015-03-24, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers 19 preface and chapters 2 and 3

Gregory writes that God gives as models of sanctity not only men, but also women.

(Preface) Sicut nunc beata Monigundis, quae, relicto genitale solo, tamquam regina prudens, quae audire sapientiam Salamonis adivit, ita haec beati Martini basilicam, ut eius miracula cotidianis indulta momentis miraretur, expetiit, hauriretque de fonte sacerdotali, quo possit aditum nemoris paradisiaci recludere.

'This we can see now in the blessed Monegundis, who left her native land (just like that prudent queen who came to listen to the wisdom of Solomon) and came to the church of St Martin to admire the miracles which took place there daily and to drink there as from a priestly well, by which she was able to throw open the door to the grove of Paradise.'

Monegundis encloses herself in a room in her house in Chartres and effects miracles.

(Ch.2) His signis glorificata inter parentes, ne vanae gloriae lapsum incurreret, sancti Martini antestitis basilicam, relicto coniuge cum familia vel omni domo sua, fideliter expetivit. (...) ad basilicam sancti Martini Monegundis beata pervenit, ibique prostrata coram sepulchro, gratias agens, quod tumulum sanctum oculis propriis contemplare meruerat, in cellulam parvulam consistens, cotidie orationi ac ieiuniis vigiliisque vacabat. Sed nec ille locus ab eius virtute fuit inglorius.

'Glorified among her relations because of such prodigies, Monegundis, in order to avoid the trap of vainglory, left her husband, her family, her whole house, and went, full of faith, to the basilica of the holy bishop Martin. (...) the blessed Monegundis arrived at the basilica of St Martin, and there, on her knees in front of the tomb, she gave thanks to God for being able to see the holy tomb with her own eyes. She settled herself in a small room to which she gave herself every day to prayer, fasts and vigils. And indeed this place was made glorious by her miracles.'

Monegundis' husband brings her back home and puts her in the cell where she used to live previously, but she returns to the basilica of Martin.

(Ch.2) Dum autem haec agerentur, audita vir ille fama beatae, convocans amicos vicinosque suos, pergit post eam et reducit ad propria et eam in cellula in qua prius habitaverat intromisit. At illa non cessabat ab opere quod consueverat, sed exercebatur in ieiuniis obsecrationibusque, ut tandem locum in quo habitare desiderabat possit adquaerere. Inchoat iterum iter desideratum, inplorans beati Martini auxilium, ut qui dederat desiderium tribueret et effectum. Pervenit ad basilicam, revertitur in cellula illa in qua prius fuerat commorata; ex hoc perstetit inconcussa nec est amplius a viro quaesita. Ibique paucas collegens monachas, cum fide integra et oratione degebat (...).

'While these things were happening, her husband, having heard of the reputation of the saint, assembled his friends and neighbours and came after her and brought her back with him and put her in that same cell in which she had lived before. But she did not cease from the work she was used to, and she gave herself over to continual prayer and fasting, so that in the end she might reach the place where she wanted to be. Again she began the path which she desired, begging for the help of St Martin, that he who gave her the desire might give her the means. She came to the basilica and returned to the same cell she had inhabited before; she stayed there without any trouble, without being sought for again by her husband. She gathered together a small number of nuns in that place, and stayed there, persevering in faith and prayer (...)'.

Monegundis leads an ascetic life and effects more miracles.

(Ch.3) Mulier erat caeca, quae adducta ad eam, deprecata est, ut ei manus inponeret. At illa respondit: "Quid vobis et mihi, homines Dei? Nonne sanctus Martinus hic habitat, qui cotidie inlustrium virtutum opere refulget?
Illuc accedite, ibi obsecramini, ut ipse vos visitare dignetur. Nam ego peccatrix quid faciam?" Illa vero in sua petitione perdurans, aiebat: "Deus per omnes timentes nomen suum cotidie opus exercet egregium; ideoque supplex ad te confugio, cui praestita est Divinitatis gratia curationum. Tunc commota Dei famula, luminibus sepultis manus inposuit, statimque reseratis cataractis (...).

'A blind woman who was brought there begged her to place her hands on her, but she replied, "What is it between you and me, men of God? Does not St Martin live here, who each day shines with the work of his miracles? Go to him and pray that he might deign to visit you. For I am only a sinner; what can I do?" But the woman persisted in her request saying "God daily accomplishes remarkable deeds through those who fear his name. That is why I came to you as a suppliant, since you have received the grace of healing from God." And the servant of God, greatly moved, placed her hands on the buried eyes, and immediately the cataracts disappeared (...).'

Text: Krusch 1969, 287-289. Translation: James 1991, 120-123.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

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

Saint Name in Source

Monegundis, Monigundis Martinus

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

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Considerations about the hierarchy of saints

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women 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.


For an overview of the Life of Monegundis, see E00335. From the quoted passages we learn that a great sanctuary like that of Martin in Tours attracted not only pilgrims and people looking for healing, but also "Christian activists" like Monegundis, who themselves could become saints. The activity of Monegundis focuses on three major aspects: she leads an ascetic life, she effects miracles, and she founds a little monastic community. While serving as proof of the sanctity of Monegundis, at the same time they augment the glory of Martin, the saint Gregory was most interested in. Furthermore, the quoted passages reveal a very interesting aspect of the way Gregory presents the only female saint in his collection. There is a clear tension between Monegundis' agency as an independent hero, opposing her husband, venturing the life of a recluse and ascetic, and performing a large number of miracles, and her openly declared subjection to a greater (and male) saint - Martin of Tours (see also the discussion in E00335). Gregory finds an interesting biblical analogy for this relationship: the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon (I Kings, 10). This subjection, apart from having an explicit gender aspect, can also be interpreted in different contexts: e.g. Martin is a dead saint of great renown, whereas Monegundis is only starting her activity as a holy woman. However, Monegundis confirms her subservience towards Martin also on her deathbed and in a posthumous miracle (see E00351).


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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