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E00541: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (43), tells of the tombs of *Agricola and Vitalis (master and slave, martyrs of Bologna, S00310), in Bologna (northern Italy), which are above ground and touched and kissed by many; a man who attempted to steal from the tombs was punished; a tax collector who had lost his takings recovered them after appealing to the saints. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

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posted on 2015-05-25, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 43

Gregory relates two miracles at the tomb of Agricola and Vitalis:

Agricola et Vitalis apud Bononiam Italiae urbem pro Christi nomine crucifixi sunt, quorum sepulchra, ut per revelationem fidelium cognovimus, quia nondum ad nos historia passionis advenit, super terram sunt collocata. Quae cum a multis, ut fit, vel tangerentur manu vel ore oscularentur, admonitus est aedituus templi, ut inmundi ab his arcerentur. Quidam audax atque facinorosus operturium unius tumuli removet, ut scilicet aliquid de sacris auferret cineribus; missoque introrsum capite, obpraessus ab eo, vix ab aliis liberatus, confusus abscessit; nec accipere meruit, quod temerario ausu praesumpsit, sed cum maiori deinceps reverentia sanctorum adivit sepulchra.

'Agricola and Vitalis were crucified for the name of Christ at Bologna, a city in Italy. Because I have no extant history of their suffering, I have learned from an account of trustworthy men that their tombs were placed above ground. Since, as happens, many people either touched the tombs with their hands or kissed them with their lips, the custodian of the church was warned to keep impure people from the tombs. One audacious scoundrel lifted the lid from one tomb in order to steal something from the sacred ashes. After putting his head inside the tomb, he was crushed by the lid and barely freed by other people. He left in a state of confusion, for he did not deserve to acquire what he had presumptuously and rashly attempted. Later he approached the tombs of the saints with greater respect.'

Alius quoque tributa publica deferens, sacculum pecuniae, dum iter ageret, neglegenter amisit. Adpropinquans autem civitati, recognoscit, se amisisse publicum quod ferebat. Tunc prostratus coram sepulchris beatorum, cum lacrimis deprecatur, ut perditum eorum virtute reciperet, ne ipse coniuxque ac liberi ob id captivitati subigerentur. Egressus autem foris in atrio, virum, qui hanc pecuniam in via iacentem repererat, nanctus est; scrutatusque diligenter, illius horae tempore hic sacculum invenisse se dixit, quo iste martyrum auxilium flagitavit.

'Another man collected the public taxes, but while he was travelling he carelessly lost a bag of money. As he approached the city [of Bologna], he realized that he had lost the public funds he was carrying. Then he knelt before the tombs of the saints and tearfully prayed that by means of their power he might recover what he had lost; otherwise he, his wife, and their children would be reduced to captivity for this loss. As he went outside into the courtyard, he met a man who had found the money lying next to the road. During careful questioning the man said that he had found this sack of money at precisely the hour when the tax collector had requested the assistance of the martyrs.

Text: Krusch 1969, 67. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 42-43, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Agricola and Vitalis, master and slave, martyrs of Bologna : S00310

Saint Name in Source

Agricola, Vitalis

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

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Oral transmission of saint-related stories

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Power over objects Punishing miracle Finding of lost objects, animals, etc. Freeing prisoners, exiles, captives, slaves

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Officials Family

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Touching and kissing relics Theft/appropriation of relics


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 an overview of the Glory of the Martyrs see E00367.


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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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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