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E00544: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (46), narrates the discovery of the bodies of *Gervasius and Protasius (martyrs of Milan, S00313) by Bishop Ambrose, the construction of their church there, and the distribution of relics of their blood all over Italy and Gaul; an explanation is offered for the large quantity of blood distributed. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

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posted on 2015-05-26, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 46

In hac enim urbe beatorum martyrum Gervasi Protasique victricia corpora retenentur, quae diu, sicut ipsa passionis narrat historia, sub fossa latuerunt. Quae beato Ambrosio revelata atque ab eodem reperta, in basilicam, quam ipse proprio aedificavit studio, ostensis miraculis, sunt sepulta. De quorum reliquiis quia maxime Turonica urbs seniores eclesias contenet inlustratas, sed et per totum Galliarum ambitum Deo propitio dilatatae sunt.

Sermo quadam vice de his quibusdam religiosis est habitus, vel qua de causa antedictae reliquiae tam condensae fuerint per loca singula distributa. Et quae super his quodam referente audivi, absurdum non putavi inserere lectioni, quia non contenetur in historia passionis. Aiebat enim, quod, quando haec gloriosa corpora translata in eclesia illa fuerunt, dum in honore ipsorum martyrum missarum solemnia celebrarentur, cecidisse e camera tabulam unam, qui inlisa capitibus martyrum, rivum sanguinis elicuerit. De quo infecta lenteamina vel pallulae sive vela eclesiastica, beatus cruor collectus est; qui usque adeo confluxisse fertur, quoadusque lenteamina, qui susciperent, sunt reperta. Ex hoc enim eorum reliquiae affatim collectae per universam Italiam vel Gallias sunt dilatae. Ex quibus et sanctus Martinus multa suscepit, sicut Paulini beatissimi narrat epistola.

'In this city [of Milan] there are the victorious bodies of the blessed martyrs Gervasius and Protasius. According to the history of their suffering, for a long time their bodies were concealed underground. Their location was revealed to the blessed Ambrose, who found the bodies. After a display of miracles, the bodies were buried in a church that Ambrose had built by his own effort. Tours in particular has some older churches distinguished with relics (reliquiae) of these saints, although by God's grace their relics were also scattered throughout the entire compass of Gaul.

Once some monks were talking about these saints, [and wondered] why the aforementioned relics had been so thickly distributed to various places. I do not think it irrelevant to insert in this selection what I heard someone say on this matter, because it is not found in the history of their suffering. For this man said that when their glorious bodies were moved into the church, during the celebration of mass in honour of the martyrs a board fell from the vault. The board struck the heads of the martyrs and drew a flow of blood. The holy blood was collected after linen cloths, robes, and even the curtains of the church were stained with it. The blood was said to have continued flowing until linen cloths were found to soak it up. Thereafter, since so many relics [of the blood] of the martyrs were gathered, they were sent throughout the whole of Italy and Gaul. Saint Martin received many of these relics, as the letter of the most blessed Paulinus states.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 69. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 45.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Gervasius and Protasius, martyrs of Milan (Italy), ob. 1st/4th c. : S00313

Saint Name in Source

Gervasius, Protasius

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

  • Eucharist associated with cult

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Transmission, copying and reading saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Unspecified miracle Miraculous behaviour of relics/images

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Construction of cult building to contain relics Myrrh and other miraculous effluents of relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries Bodily relic - blood

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Cloth over/near the shrine


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 reference to a written Martyrdom of Gervasius and Protasius is presumably to the Martyrdom and Invention of Gervasius and Protasius, written sometime in the fifth or sixth century and claiming to be an authentic letter of Ambrose (E02498) The perplexity of the monks at the large number of relics of Gervasius and Protasius to be found in different places is very interesting, as is the explanation for this provided by an anonymous individual. When Ambrose discovered the bodies he did send out relics of the saints - perhaps for the most part dirt stained with the blood of the saints. This extract from Glory of the Martyrs is a testimony to his successful efforts. But by the end of the sixth century, churches seem to have wanted these relics to be of a higher quality than what they had actually received - hence the elaboration of a story that produced very real blood. The letter of Paulinus of Nola which Gregory mentions at the end of this extract, as proof that Martin received relics of Gervasius and Protasius, has not been identified; Gregory also refers to it in his Histories 10.31 (E02390).


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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