University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E00473: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (18), recounts the story of a man from Gaul who acquired in Jerusalem relics of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033), which, during his journey home, were unharmed by fire. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

online resource
posted on 2015-05-07, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 18

Nam vidi ante hoc tempus hominem Iohannem nomine, qui a Galliis leprosus abierat, et in ipso loco, quo Dominum diximus baptizatum, aiebat se per annum integrum commoratum fuisse. Qui assiduae abluebatur in amne; sed redditus pristinae incolomitati, reformata in melius cute, sanatus est. Hic reliquias beatae Mariae ab Hierusolymis accipiens, revertebatur in patriam; sed prius Romam abire disposuit. Verum ubi altas Italiae solitudines est ingressus, incidit in latrones. Nec mora, spoliatur ab indumentis; et ipsa quoque capsa, in qua beata gestabat pignora, capitur. Exaestimantes enim inimici illi auri ibidem sestertias adgregatas, effracta clave, omnia rimantur intente. Sed cum nihil in eam pecuniae repperissent, extracta pignora in ignem proiciunt, caesoque homine, discesserunt. At ille semivivus exsurgens, ut vel cineres exustorum collegeret pignorum, invenit super carbones accensos inlaesas iacere reliquias; ipsumque lenteum, quo involutae erant, ita admiratur integrum, ut non putaretur prunis iniectum, sed eum ex aquis absconditum. Collegitque cuncta cum gaudio, et viam quam pergebat ingressus, usque ad Gallias pervenit incolomis. Multos enim vidimus, qui vel in Iordane vel in aquis Levidae urbis tincti, ab hoc fuerant morbo mundati.

'Previously I saw a man named Johannes who had departed from Gaul as a leper. He said that he had waited for an entire year at that spot where I said the Lord had been baptized. Frequently he washed himself in the river; when his skin was transformed for the better, he was cured and restored to his earlier health. From Jerusalem he received relics (reliquias) of the blessed Mary. He set out for his homeland but decided first to visit Rome. As soon as he entered the vast mountains of Italy, he met bandits. Immediately he was robbed of his clothing; even the reliquary (capsa) in which he carried the blessed relics (pignora) was seized. For these highwaymen thought that gold coins were in it, and after breaking the lock they closely examined everything. When they found no money in it, they took out the relics and threw them in a fire. After beating the man, they left. Although half-unconscious, the man got up to collect the ashes of the relics that had burned. He found the relics lying unburned on top of smoldering embers. He was astonished that the linen cloth in which the relics were wrapped was so spotless that one might think it had been not tossed on coals but soaked in water. Happily he gathered everything up and set out on the road he was travelling; he reached Gaul in safety. I have seen many people who bathed either in the Jordan river or in the springs of the city of Levida and were healed of this disease.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 49. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 18.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033

Saint Name in Source


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 - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miraculous behaviour of relics/images

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

The socially marginal (beggars, prostitutes, thieves)

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Privately owned relics Reliquary – privately owned Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries


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 quoted story is one of the many in which Gregory tells about relics from the Holy Land being brought to Gaul. It is clear that he valued them very highly and stressed their presence in Gaul on every possible occasion. He was equally very interested in the cult of Mary, which he links in the first place with the Holy Land (see e.g. E00368, E00369, E00378, E00380). In this particular case we quite surprisingly learn nothing about where the relics were placed after being brought to Gaul, and are only told the name (Johannes) of the man who acquired them in Jerusalem. Gregory clearly focuses on the miracle which happened to this Johannes on his way home. Relics surviving contact with fire are also mentioned by Gregory elsewhere (e.g. E00027) and we may assume that he treated such stories as proofs of their authenticity and holiness. An interesting detail is mentioned in passing: the evidently privately owned reliquary was in Gregory's story mistaken by the robbers for a casket with money. We also learn that the reliquary (capsa) had a lock (clavis), and that the relics were wrapped in a cloth (lenteum, i.e. linteum).


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