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E00466: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (14), recounts the miracles which happened when he deposited relics of *John the Baptist (S00020) in an oratory of the church of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) in Tours. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

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posted on 2015-05-05, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 14

Apud Toronicam vero urbem in oratorium atrii beati Martini, dum ipsius praecursoris reliquias collocaremus, caecus quidam, amminiculo deducente, lumen recepit. Inerguminus vero obtestans virtutem beati Iohannis Martinique antestitis, expulso purgatus est daemone. In hoc oratorium una puellarum, cui officium erat lychni fomenta conponere, adveniens cum cereo, ut haec ageret, est ingressa; conpositumque lychnum atque accensum, adtracta ad se funem, sublimavit in altum, plexisque in nexum laqueis ad parietis clavum, abscessit. Quae dum redit, cereus, quem manu gerebat, extinguitur, regressaque velociter ad cicendilem, cereum non attingebat inluminare neque laqueum funis absolvere. Dum ambigua de ac causa penderet, subito delapsa a cicendile flamma cereum in manu eius inluminavit; et sic officio luminis praeeunte, quo voluit ivit.
Ferunt autem in hoc oratorium a lychno oleum ebullire. Habentur enim et ibi reliquiae sanctae crucis.

'At Tours, while I was depositing relics (reliquias) of the forerunner [John the Baptist] in an oratory located in the forecourt of [the church of] St Martin, a blind man dropped his cane and received his sight. A possessed man called upon the power of the blessed John and bishop Martin and was cleansed after the demon was expelled. One of the girls responsible for filling a lamp with oil entered the oratory, carrying a candle to do her job. After filling and lighting the lamp, she tied a rope to it, hoisted [the lamp] up in the air, fastened [the rope] with a knot looped around a nail in the wall, and left. As she was leaving, the candle in her hand went out. She quickly returned to the lamp, but she did not reach to light the candle or to untie the knot in the rope. While she was uncertain and thought about the dilemma, suddenly a spark fell from the lamp and lit the candle in her hand. So, with the help of the light that preceded her, she went where she wished.
They say that in this oratory oil bubbles over from the lamp. For relics (reliquiae) of the holy cross are also kept there.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 48. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 16, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050 John the Baptist : S00020

Saint Name in Source

Martinus praecursor

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 - Places

Cult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)

Cult Activities - Miracles

Healing diseases and disabilities Exorcism Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Transfer, translation and deposition of relics

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Oil lamps/candles


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. The event described must have taken place after Gregory became bishop of Tours in 573. The oratory in the atrium of the church of Martin has been identified (Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 309) with the baptistery mentioned by Gregory in Histories 10.31 (E02419), very appropriately dedicated to 'The Baptist' and where he placed the relics of John the Baptist and *Sergius (S00023); however, doubts have been raised in relation to this identification (Pietri 1983, 399-402; see also Van Dam 2004, 17). A translation and deposition of relics was a special moment, in which miracles could (and should) happen to prove the authenticity of the relics and the rightness of the translation; they also revealed and strengthened the relationship between the saint and the community of the faithful. Gregory certainly wanted to stress with his account the importance of the relics he himself had acquired for his church. Interestingly, he does not explain the origin of the relic; the reader might gain the impression that it had something to do with the corporeal relic of John the Baptist in Maurienne, to which he devoted the preceding chapter of his text (see E00387). Gregory stresses the community and unity of the saints: the newly arrived relics of John, do not replace the power of the local Martin. Rather, the possessed man is healed by John and Martin working together. The mention of the oil lamp bubbling over refers to Gregory's belief that relics of the Holy Cross have this specific power, which he discusses in detail in Glory of the Martyrs 5.


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: Pietri, L., La ville de Tours du IVe au VIe siècle. Naissance d'une cité chrétienne (Rome, 1983). 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. Vieillard-Troiekouroff, M., Les monuments religieux de la Gaule d'après les œuvres de Grégoire de Tours (Paris, 1976).

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