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E00370: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (5), tells how *Radegund (former queen, and monastic founder, ob. 587, S00182) obtained for her monastery in Poitiers (western Gaul) relics of the Holy Cross, and, through servants sent to the East for this purpose, relics of martyrs and confessors, which she placed in the reliquary of the Holy Cross; miracles occur in Poitiers in the presence of this reliquary. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

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posted on 2015-04-07, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 5

Crux dominica, quae ab Helena augusta reperta est Hierusolymis, ita quarta et sexta feria adoratur. Huius reliquias et merito et fide Helenae conparanda regina Radegundis expetiit ac devote in monasterium Pictavensim, quod suo studio constituit, collocavit; misitque pueros iterum Hierusolymis ac per totam Orientis plagam. Qui circumeuntes sepulchra sanctorum martyrum confessorumque, cunctorum reliquias detulerunt, quas in arca argentea cum ipsa cruce sancta locatas, multa exinde miracula conspicere meruit.

'The cross of the Lord that was found by the empress Helena at Jerusalem is venerated on Wednesday and Friday. Queen Radegund, who is comparable to Helena in both merit and faith, requested relics of this cross and piously placed them in a convent at Poitiers that she founded out of her own zeal. She repeatedly sent servants to Jerusalem and throughout the entire region of the East. These servants visited the tombs of holy martyrs and confessors and brought back relics of them all. After placing them in the silver reliquary (arca argentea) with the Holy Cross itself, she thereafter deserved to see many miracles.'

There follows an account of some of these miracles, which Gregory attributes to the Holy Cross, rather than to the saints: how a miraculous light appeared during Good Friday vigils, how the oil in a lamp burning in front of the relics increases in quantity and overflows, and how the sight of one of the nuns was healed.

Text: Krusch 1969, 39-40. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 5, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Radegund, queen of the Franks, ob. 587 : S00182 Anonymous Martyrs : S00060 Helena, empress, mother of Constantine, ob. 328 : S00185 Confessors, unnamed or name lost : S00184

Saint Name in Source

Radegundis Helena

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Collections of miracles Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts


  • 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 - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Uncertainty/scepticism/rejection of a saint

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracles experienced by the saint

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Monarchs and their family Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries Collections of multiple relics Reliquary – institutionally owned

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Precious material objects


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. Internal references to datable events and to other work by Gregory, suggest that he wrote the greater part of his Glory of the Martyrs between 585 and 588, though there is one chapter (ch. 82), long before the end of the book, that describes an event that is most readily dated to 590. It is in fact likely that Gregory was collecting and recording these stories throughout his life, and, fortunately for our purposes, precise dating is not of great importance, since his views on the role of saints and the correct ways to venerate them do not seem to have changed during his writing life. The work was probably never fully completed and polished: the version we have closes with four very disparate chapters, including one (105) about the divine punishment of an avaricious woman that bears no obvious connection to the overall theme of the book. (For discussions of the dating, see Van Dam 2004, xi-xii; Shaw 2015, 104-105, 111.) In his preface, Gregory states that his aim in the work is 'to publicise some of the miracles of the saints that have until now been hidden' (aliqua de sanctorum miraculis, quae actenus latuerunt, pandere), so, as in his Glory of the Confessors, his focus is not on the lives of the saints, nor on the details of their martyrdoms, but on miracles they have effected, particularly through their relics. Miracles are recorded from many places; but unsurprisingly the largest number is from Gaul. The book opens, rather curiously, with a sizeable number of miracles and relics of Jesus and his mother Mary, neither of them conventional 'martyrs'. The explanation for this must be that Gregory's interest was really much more in relics and miracles in general than in martyrs specifically. Many of the Gallic saints he included are somewhat obscure, but outside Gaul he concentrates for the most part on major saints; towards the end of the book, however, he slips in a couple of lesser Syrian saints, probably because they had interesting specialisms: Phokas and Domitios, with, respectively, particular skills at curing snake bites and sciatica. In the case of the non-Gallic saints, it is not always clear whether they were attracting active cult in Gaul – Phokas and Domitios, for instance, almost certainly didn't. It is only when Gregory tells us of a church dedication or relic that we can be certain that the saint concerned had serious cult in Gaul: in the case of the martyrs of Rome, for instance, this is true of Clement and Laurence, but not of Chrysanthus and Daria, Pancratius, and John I. Although each section contains extraneous material, the work can be broken down very roughly into the following sections:    *Chapters 1-7: Miracles and relics of Jesus (with some of Mary), including three chapters (5-7) on relics of the Passion. (For the most part, these chapters are not covered in our database.)    *Chapters 8-19: Miracles and relics of Mary and John the Baptist.    *Chapters 20-25: Miraculous images of Jesus, and a spring associated with Easter.    *Chapters 23-34: Miracles and relics of the Apostles and Stephen (i.e. New Testament saints).    *Chapters 35-41: Miracles and relics of the post-apostolic martyrs of Rome.    *Chapters 42-46: And of northern Italy.    *Chapters 47-77: And of Gaul (in no obvious order, except that the first three chapters are occupied by early martyrs). This is the longest section of the book.    *Chapters 78-87: Very miscellaneous, with only marginal references to saints: three anti-Arian stories (79-81); two stories regarding relics of Gregory's (82-83); four stories of the punishment of impure people (84-87).    *Chapters 88-102: Miracles and relics of martyrs of Spain, Africa (just one, Cyprian of Carthage), and the East, in that order.    *Chapters 103-106: Miscellaneous. But tight structuring was never a great concern of Gregory's, so within this broad framework, he often wanders off his main theme. For instance, a clutch of miracle stories relating to John the Baptist (chs. 11-13) lead Gregory into a general discussion of the River Jordan (ch. 16), which then leads him to discuss some springs near Jericho (ch. 17), linked to the preceding chapter by the common theme of 'miraculous waters in the Holy Land', but with no connection to any martyr. Similarly, a miracle story involving relics of St Andrew and the punishment of an Arian count (ch. 78) leads Gregory into three stories against Arians with no relation to saints. These digressions did not bother Gregory and are part of the charm of his work. Gregory very seldom tells us about his sources, which for the most part were certainly oral; he had a wide circle of acquaintances within the Gallic church, and also met and collected stories from travellers from abroad, including (if the source is to be believed) a man who had travelled to India (ch. 31). But Gregory also used a range of written texts, including Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History (chs. 20 and 48), the poems of Prudentius, Paulinus of Nola, and Venantius Fortunatus, and a substantial number of Martyrdoms (Van Dam 2004, xiv-xvi). Because many of his stories are set abroad, Glory of the Martyrs is less informative about cult practices than Glory of the Confessors, with its very local and very Gallic focus, but it is still a gold-mine of information. To take just two examples: the story of Benignus of Dijon is a remarkably rich and detailed account of the discovery and enhancement of a previously unknown martyr (ch. 50), while that of Patroclus of Troyes shows the importance of a written Martyrdom, and the degree of scepticism that might greet a new one (ch. 63). There is a good general discussion of Glory of the Martyrs in Van Dam 2004, ix-xxiii, and of Gregory's hagiography more widely in Shaw 2015. (Bryan Ward-Perkins)


For an overview of the Glory of the Martyrs see E00367. Our database, on the cult of saints, does not cover relics of Christ and his Passion, unless they overlap with the cult of saints. Radegund's primary relic was of the Holy Cross, but, as this passage states, she also placed relics of many saints inside the same reliquary. The relics of the Holy Cross were obtained from the emperor Justin II, probably in 568/569 (Van Dam 2004, p.23, note 5). Radegund died in 587. The quoted passage was probably written during her lifetime, since Gregory is only discreetly suggesting her sanctity: she does not perform, but only experience miracles. Her status, on the cusp of sanctity, finds its counterpart in the status of Helena who is perceived in a similar way and with whose 'merit and faith' Radegund's is explicitly paralleled. Radegund's activity is an important example of the custom of creating collections of relics. The venture was impressive in scale, as befitted a Frankish queen: she obtained relics of the Holy Cross with imperial support, and sent special emissaries to gather diverse relics from Jerusalem and the 'East', and bring them to Poitiers. For more on these relics in Poitiers, see E00371. Although Radegund placed her relics of saints in the same reliquary as her fragment of the Holy Cross, none of these are named, and Gregory attributes the miracles that happened in the presence of this reliquary to the Holy Cross, a more powerful relic than any saintly one.


Edition: Krusch, B., Liber in gloria martyrum, in: Gregorii Turonensis Opera. 2: Miracula et opera minora (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum 1.2; 2nd ed.; Hannover, 1969). Translation: Van Dam, R., Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs (Translated Texts for Historians 4; 2nd ed., Liverpool, 2004). 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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