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E00518: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (33), tells of a woman, who in 577/585 experienced while fully awake a vision of *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030), accompanied by other saints, in the crypt of a church of *Peter (the Apostle, S00036) in Bordeaux (south-west Gaul), where relics of unspecified saints were housed; Stephen, who had just rescued a ship at sea, dripped sea water on the floor; absorbed by the woman into a cloth, this acted as a powerful relic and was used by the bishop of Bordeaux in the consecration of churches. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

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posted on 2015-05-18, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 33

In Bordeaux, an old woman whose task it was to light the lamps in the church of Saint Peter, was accidentally locked overnight in the crypt of the church, where there was an altar with relics of saints (cum sanctorum pignoribus). She knelt to pray.

In qua oratione excubans, vidit circa medium fere noctis, patefactis ostiis, omnem basilicam inmenso lumine effulgere. Et ecce chorus psallentium, qui ingressus basilicam! Postquam, dicta Gloria Trinitati, psallentii modolatio conquievit, audivit viros conquerentes inter se atque dicentes: "Moram nobis sanctus levita facit Stephanus. Iam enim alias debebamus adire basilicas et non possumus, nisi ille prius qui praestolatur adveniat". Haec enim crebre repetentibus, advenit vir subito in veste alba, cuius personam omnis illa venerans multitudo salutavit humiliter, dicens: "Benedic nobis, sacer ac sanctae levita Stephane". At ille iterum salutans, data oratione, interrogatus ab eis, cur a visitatione locorum sanctorum paululum retardasset, respondit: "Navis enim in mari periculum dimersionis incurrerat, ibique invocatus adsteti, erutamque, ecce adsum! Et ut ipsi probetis esse vera quae loquor, vestimentum, quod indutus sum, adhuc guttis stillantibus marinis, fluctibus cernitur umectatum".

Haec mulier, cum tremore magno opprimens pavimentum, intente suspiciebat. Quibus discedentibus, rursum ostiis divinitus obseratis, haec ad locum in quo sanctus steterat accedens, sudario guttas, quae in pavimentum delapsae fuerant, diligenter collegit et Bertchramno, qui tunc episcopatu urbem regebat, manifestavit. Quod ille cum gaudio et admiratione magna suscipiens, secum retenuit. De hoc enim sudario multi infirmi sanitatem experti sunt, ac plerumque et ipse pontifex de eo decerpens pignora, ubi eclesias consecrabat, fideliter collocavit. Haec autem ab ipsius episcopi relatu cognovimus.

She stayed awake while praying; and about midnight she saw the doors open and the entire church shine with a great light. And behold, a choir of men chanting psalms entered the church. Then, after they had recited the Gloria in honour of the Trinity and stopped chanting psalms, she heard them talking and complaining among themselves: "The deacon St Stephen has delayed us. For we ought already to be entering other churches, but we cannot until he whom we await first arrives." As they frequently repeated this complaint, suddenly a man dressed in white arrived. The entire group of men respectfully and humbly greeted him and said: "Bless us, St Stephen, holy deacon." He returned the greeting and offered a prayer. They asked him why he had been a bit tardy in visiting the sacred shrines. He replied: "A ship faced the danger of sinking at sea; after being summoned I went and rescued [the ship]. Behold, now I am here! And so that you may verify what I am saying to be true, the garment I am wearing was clearly drenched by the waves, because salt water is still dripping [from it]."

Although pressed shivering to the pavement, the woman was intently watching all these events. After the men left and the doors by divine command were again locked, the woman went to the spot where the saint had stood and carefully soaked up in a handkerchief (sudarium) the drops that had fallen on the pavement. She showed the handkerchief to Bertram, who was then ruling the city [of Bordeaux] as bishop. With great joy and amazement he took it and kept it with him. Many ill people received their health from this handkerchief; the bishop himself often snipped relics (decerpens pignora) from it and faithfully placed them where he consecrated churches. I learned about these events from an account by the bishop himself.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 59. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 32-33, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030 Peter the Apostle : S00036 Saints, unnamed or name lost : S00518

Saint Name in Source

Stephanus Petrus

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 - Liturgical Activity

  • Ceremony of dedication

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Oral transmission of saint-related stories

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous protection - of people and their property Healing diseases and disabilities

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - water and other liquids Contact relic - cloth Division 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. Bertram (PCBE 4, 'Berthechramnus 1') was bishop of Bordeaux in 577-585. Gregory's account of this miracle during Bertram's episcopate, which he says he heard from Bertram himself (ab ipsius episcopi relatu), is notable for the architectural detail about the church of St Peter at Bordeaux, with its altar with a crypt-like space underneath containing another altar (see Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 55-6). The contact relic produced by Stephen's miraculous appearance is also striking: by implication, when Stephen manifested himself at sea he did so in a form sufficiently corporeal for his clothes to soak up sea water, and then, when he appeared in the church, for the water to drip on the floor.


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. Vieillard-Troiekouroff, M., Les monuments religieux de la Gaule d'après les œuvres de Grégoire de Tours (Paris, 1976).

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