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E00479: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (66), tells of the apparition of *Genesius (martyr of Thiers, S00265) to a peasant in the territory of Clermont (central Gaul), leading to the discovery of his tomb; he also records the building of his church, institution of his feast and deposition there of relics of another *Genesius (notary and martyr of Arles, S00263), all by Avitus, bishop of Clermont, in 571/593. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

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posted on 2015-05-08, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 66

Nuperrimo autem tempore in huius urbis Arvernae territurio, quod adiacit Tigernensi castello, Genesius eiusdem loci sanctus se hoc modo revelavit. Pauper quidam boves, quos ad exercendam culturam habebat, casu ab oculis dilapsos perdidit, eosdemque sollicita indage quaesitos repperire non potuit. Consequenti vero nocte apparuit ei vir quidam per visum, dicens: "Vade per viam, quae ad silvam ducit, et invenies boves, quos sollicite requiris, iuxta lapidem marmoris herbarum copiam decerpentes; iunctisque ad plaustrum, marmorem exhibe et super sepulturam, quae viae est propinqua, conpone. Ego enim sum, qui tibi haec loquor, Genesius, cuius est tumulus ille, qui in albis positus per martyrium ab hoc mundo migravi." Consurgens autem homo ille diluculo, repperit boves iuxta lapidem, fecitque sicut ei praeceptum fuerat per visum. Sed nec in hoc defuit miraculum, cum inmensum lapidem, quem a multa boum paria movere vix poterant, a duobus tantum delatus est bubus. Ex hoc enim multi infirmi ibidem venientes, votorum promissa solventes, sanitatem recipiunt. Audiens haec Avitus episcopus urbis illius, basilicam super tumulum sancti magnam aedificavit, dedicatamque, festivitatem in ea excoli praecepit, in qua nunc multa frequentia populorum cum votis, ut diximus, veniens, cum sanitate regreditur. Hanc etiam basilicam sancti Genesi Arelatensis reliquiis inlustravit.

'Very recently, within the territory of Clermont where it borders the town of Thiers, St Genesius revealed himself at this place in this way. A poor man lost the oxen that he owned for ploughing the land and that had by chance
vanished from his sight. Although he looked and searched carefully, he could not find them. On the following night a man appeared to him in a vision and said: 'Go on the path that leads to the forest, and you will find the
oxen that you earnestly seek eating the thick grass next to a marble tombstone. After you hitch the oxen to a wagon, take the marble stone and place it on the tomb which is next to the path. For I who say this to you am
Genesius, and this is my tomb. While clothed in the white robes I left this world as a martyr.' The man got up at dawn, found the oxen next to the tombstone, and did just as he had been instructed in the vision. But a miracle also occurred on this occasion, because only two oxen moved this huge stone that many teams of oxen could hardly move. Thereafter many ill people came there, performed the requirements of their vows, and received their health. Once bishop Avitus of Clermont heard of these cures, he built and dedicated a large church over the tomb of the saint. He ordered that a festival be celebrated in the church. Now large crowds of people gather in the church with their vows, as I said, and depart with their health. Avitus also distinguished this church with relics of Saint Genesius of Arles.'

There follows the story of Genesius of Arles, on which see $E00480.

Text: Krusch 1969, 83. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 63-64; lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Genesius of Arles, notary and martyr, ob. 303/308 : S00263 Genesius, martyr of Thiers : S00265

Saint Name in Source

Genesius Genesius

Type of Evidence

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



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


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miracle with animals and plants Power over objects Healing diseases and disabilities

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Peasants Ecclesiastics - bishops Crowds

Cult Activities - Relics

Construction of cult building to contain relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics

Cult Activities - Cult Related 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)


Avitus was Gregory's teacher and bishop of Clermont (571-594), and we can assume that Gregory learned about the cult of Genesius near Clermont from him or somebody from his milieu. The quoted story shows in an interesting way the phenomenon of overlapping cults. Gregory presents Genesius of Clermont as a locally venerated figure of a somewhat dubious authenticity: his cult started after a revelation to a peasant, his tomb was allegedly found by oxen and the cult practices it attracted consisted of 'performing the requirements of the vows' (votorum promissa solventes). The spontaneous veneration gets official when the bishop of the place establishes a festival and a church of the saint. Strikingly, he supplements the church built over the tomb of Genesius of Clemont with relics of his prominent namesake, Genesius of Arles, as if trying not only to strengthen but also to validate the cult of Genesius of Clermont. The cult of Genesius of Arles was very clearly connected with the river Rhone and with miraculously fruiting trees (seeE00486, E00480, E00478). The latter was also the case of his other double, *Genesius of Tarbes (priest and martyr of Tarbes, S00266) (see E00481). It seems very possible that the cult of all three Genesii originated in local non-Christian cults associated with fertility. In the quoted passage the character of the local cult is not described explicitly, but the 'oxen owned for ploughing' which discover the tomb of Genesius of Arles establish a link to this sphere of beliefs.


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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