University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E00378: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (8), tells how, during the construction of a church of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033) by the emperor Constantine (324-337), probably in Jerusalem, she appeared to the architect and told him how to raise the building's columns; her feast is also mentioned. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

online resource
posted on 2015-04-13, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 8

Maria vero gloriosa genetrix Christi ut ante partum ita virgo creditur et post partum, quae, ut supra diximus, angelicis choris canentibus, in paradiso, Domino praecedente, translata est. Cuius basilica ab imperatore Constantino admirabili opere fabricata renidet, ad quam adductae colummae, cum prae magnitudine levare non possint, eo quod esset circuitus earum sedecinum pedum, ac diebus singulis casso labore fatigarentur, apparuit artifici sancta virgo per visum, dicens: "Noli maestus esse; ego enim tibi ostendam, qualiter hae quaeant elevari columnae". Et ostendit ei, quae aptarentur machinae, qualiter suspenderentur trocleae atque funes, extenderentur officia, illud addens: "Coniunge tecum tres pueros de scolis, quorum hoc adiutorium possis explere". Quo cum ille evigilans quae praecepta fuerant coaptasset, vocatis tribus pueris ab scolis, erexit summa velocitate columnas. Praestitum est populis expectare miraculum admirandum, ut, quod multitudo virorum fortium levare nequiverant, tres pueruli absque virtute perfecti operis sublevarent. Huius festivitas sacra mediante mense undecimo caelebratur.

'The glorious Mary, Mother of Christ, is believed to have been a virgin after the birth [of Christ] just as before the birth. As I already mentioned, she was translated among a chorus of singing angels to Paradise, where the Lord had already gone. Her church was constructed by the emperor Constantine and shone forth as an impressive building. Columns were brought to it, but they could not be raised because of their size; the circumference of each was sixteen feet. Each day the workmen were worn out by their futile efforts, [until] the holy Virgin appeared to the architect in a vision and said: 'Do not despair. For I will show you how these columns can be raised.' Then she showed him what scaffolding was appropriate, how the pulleys were hung, and for what task the ropes were stretched. She added: 'Have with you three boys from the schools, [so that] you can complete the task with their assistance.' After the architect awoke and prepared what had been commanded, he summoned three boys from the schools and very quickly set up the columns. People had the opportunity to witness a wonderful miracle, because three boys, without the benefit of previous experience, raised what many strong men could not raise. The holy festival of Mary is celebrated in the middle of the eleventh month.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 43. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 9-10.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033

Saint Name in Source

Maria, genetrix Christi

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 - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Power over objects Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Children Monarchs and their family Merchants and artisans


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 the overview of the Glory of the Martyrs see E00367. Since Gregory starts the chapter with a reference to Mary's Assumption (for a previous mention, see E00369), it is generally assumed that the church he describes is the basilica of the Virgin in Jerusalem, housing her empty tomb. This location is based on the conviction that Gregory used as his source Theodosius' De situ terrae sanctae (E07923) or a similar text. Theodosius locates the basilica of Mary and her tomb in the Josaphat Valley (see Krusch 1969, 43, and Van Dam 2004, 9). Gregory's text itself doesn't say anything about the location of the church, and even its association with the Assumption is only indirect; however a church of Mary associated with Jerusalem is mentioned by Gregory shortly after the quoted passage (see E00380) and it is quite possible that he is referring to the same shrine. There is no basis for believing that the emperor Constantine had anything to do with this church, but unsurprising that by the late 6th century, buildings were being attributed to the first Christian emperor. The Marian feast Gregory refers to must be the Assumption of Mary on 18 January recorded in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum (see E04613, Krusch 1969, 43): this is 'the eleventh month' for Gregory because under the Merovingians the calendar year began in March. The date of the feast seems to be widespread in the early western tradition. A much less likely possibility is the usual date of the feast of the Assumption, 15 August, assuming a mistake in the manuscript tradition ('twelfth month' instead of 'eleventh month', with the beginning of the year on 1 September). On a miracle experienced by Gregory on this feast, see E00379.


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.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager