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E00356: Gregory of Tours, in his Life of *Leobardus (recluse of Marmoutier, later 6th c., S00175), recounts how he lent two books on the lives of saints to Leobardus, who had gone astray; inspired by them, he changed his behaviour. From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594.

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posted on 2015-03-31, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers 20.3

Leobardus leads the life of an ascetic in a cell in Marmoutier near Tours.

(Ch.3) Interea, ut se temptator manifestaret Dei servis semper inimicum esse ac invidum, cum aliquid de illius monacholi litem quandam cum vicinis habuisset, inmisit ei cogitationem, ut, relicta cellula illa, ad aliam transmigraret.
Cumque ibi ad orationem soliti evenissemus, dolum nobis veneni crassantis aperuit. Ego vero suspirans non minimo dolore, increpare hominem coepi, asserens diaboli [haec] esse caliditatem; librosque et vita patrum ac institutione monachorum, vel quales qui recluduntur esse debeant, vel cum quali cautela monachis vivere oporteat, abscedens ab eo, direxi. Quibus relictis, non solum cogitationem pravam a se discussit, verum etiam tantum sensum acumine erudivit, ut miraretur facundia elocutionis eius. Erat enim dulcis alloquio, blandus hortatu, eratque ei sollicitudo pro populis, inquesitio pro regibus, oratio assidua pro omnibus eclesiasticis Deum timentibus. Verum non ille, ut quidam, dimissis capillorum flagellis aut barbarum dimissione plaudebat, sed certo tempore capillum tondebat et barbam.

'Meanwhile, in order to show himself always as the enemy of the servants of God, the Tempter took advantage of a quarrel which had arisen between the saint and his neighbours over monastic matters and gave him the idea of leaving his cell and going to another. When we were in that place, coming there to pray as usual, he showed us the corruption of the poison which ravaged his heart. I sighed deeply with great sadness and began to exhort him and assure him that it was an artifice of the devil. And when I had left him I sent him books of the Life of the Fathers and the Institution of the Monks, in order that he might learn what hermits had to do and with what care monks had to live. He read them, and not only did he banish from his mind the evil thought that he had had, but also developed his learning so much that he astonished us by his facility in speaking of such matters. He expressed himself in such a gentle manner, and his exhortations were full of charm; he had solicitude for the poor, reproof for kings and assiduous prayer for all God-fearing clerics. He was not like those who delight in wearing long hair and long beards, for at fixed times he used to cut his hair and beard.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 292-293. Translation: James 1991, 128-129.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Leobardus, recluse from Marmoutier in Gaul, ob. in the late 6th c. : S00175

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

Transmission, copying and reading saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops 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 Leobardus, see E00354. Marmoutier lies across the river Loire from Tours. From Gregory's description we can deduce that Leobardus lived there probably in a loose community of monks. The quoted passage reveals highly interesting information about the monastic formation. Gregory writes explicitly that a holy man who had difficulties in leading an ideal life could consult hagiographic books in search of models to follow. He presents himself as the person who delivered the books to the future saint and so played a part in his formation. The second book mentioned by Gregory is John Cassian's De Institutis Coenobiorum; the identity of the first one, is less certain. This title could refer either to Rufinus' Historia Monachorum , perhaps already combined into one text with Palladius' Historia Lausiaca, or a collection of other monastic Lives, such as those of Antony, Paul of Thebe and Hilarion. Interestingly, the same two works are mentioned in a similar context in the Life of the Fathers of Jura 11 (E05899) as obtained by Romanus from Abbot Sabinus (James 1991, 128). If so, Gregory, who knew this text, was inspired in his action by a written tradition: he gave Leobardus the books which he knew (from another book) should be given to a future saint. Leobardus' willingness to listen to his bishop and to avoid over-ostentation in his display of asceticism is presented as an ideal by Gregory.


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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