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E00548: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (48), tells of the martyrdom of the 48 *Martyrs of Lyon (S00316), naming 45 of them; the scattering of their ashes in the Rhône; their apparition to the Christians of Lyon, leading to the recovery of their relics; and the construction of a great church in the district of Ainay; all in Lyon (central Gaul). Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

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posted on 2015-05-27, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 48

Quadraginta octo vero martyrum nomina, qui Lugduno passi dicuntur, haec sunt: Vettius Epagatus, Zaccharias, Macharius, Alcipiadis, Silvius, Primus, Alpius, Vitalis, Comminius, October, Philominus, Geminus, Iulia, Albina, Grata, Aemelia, Postumiana, Pompeia, Rodonae, Biblis, Quarta, Materna, Elpenipsa, Stamas. Hii autem bestiis traditi sunt: Sanctus et Maturus, Alexander, Ponticus, Blandina. Hii sunt qui in carcerem spiritum reddiderunt: Arescius, Photinus, Cornelius, Zotimus, Titus, Zoticus, Iulius, Aemelia, Gamnitae, Pompeia, Alumna, Mamilia, Iusta, Trifimae, Antonia et beatus Photinus episcopus. Quorum sancta corpora iudex iniquus igni tradi praecepit exustaque in Rodanum pulvera iussit spargi. Sed postquam haec gesta sunt, cum christiani maerorem maximum haberent, quasi deperissent beatae reliquiae, nocte apparuerunt viris fidelibus in eo loco quo igni traditi sunt stantes integri ac inlaesi. Et conversi ad viros, dixerunt eis: "Reliquiae nostrae ab hoc collegantur loco, quia nullus periit a nobis. Ex hoc enim translati sumus ad requiem, quam nobis promisit rex caelorum Christus, pro cuius nomine passi sumus". Haec renuntiantes viri illi reliquis christianis, gratias egerunt Deo et confortati sunt in fide, collegentesque sacros cineres, aedificaverunt basilicam mirae magnitudinis in eorum honore. Et sepelierunt beata pignora sub sancto altare, ubi se semper virtutibus manifestis cum Deo habitare declaraverunt. Locus autem ille in quo passi sunt Athanaco vocatur, ideoque et ipsi martyres a quibusdam vocantur Athanacenses.

'These are the names of the forty-eight martyrs who are said to have suffered at Lyon: Vettius Epagatus, Zaccharias, Macharius, Alcipiadis, Silvius, Primus, Alpius, Vitalis, Comminius, October, Philominus, Geminus, Julia, Albina, Grata, Aemelia, Postumiana, Pompeia, Rodonae, Biblis, Quarta, Materna, Elpenipsa, Stamas. These martyrs were condemned to the wild beasts: Sanctus and Maturus, Alexander, Ponticus, Blandina. These are the martyrs who gave up their lives in prison: Arescius, Photinus, Cornelius, Zotimus, Titus, Zoticus, Julius, Aemelia, Gamnitae, Pompeia, Alumna, Mamilia, Justa, Trifimae, Antonia, and the blessed bishop Photinus. A wicked judge decreed that their holy bodies be thrown on a fire and then ordered their burned ashes to be sprinkled on the Rhône river. After his orders were carried out, the Christians were very sad that the holy relics were lost. But during the night the martyrs, standing intact and unwounded, appeared to believers in that place where they had been thrown into a fire. They turned to the men and said to them: 'Let our relics be gathered from this place, because none of us died. For we have been transported from here to that repose promised us by Christ, the king of heaven, for whose name we suffered.' These men reported this [vision] to the other Christians, who thanked God and were restored in their faith. They gathered the holy ashes and built a church of astounding size in honour of the martyrs. They buried the sacred relics beneath the holy altar, where the martyrs revealed by their public miracles that they always live with God. The place where they suffered is called Ainay, and they are therefore called by some the martyrs of Ainay.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 71. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 47-48.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martyrs of Lyon (Gaul), ob. 177 : S00316

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

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives


Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - corporeal ashes/dust Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Construction of cult building to contain 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 the overview of the Glory of the Martyrs see E00367. The Martyrs of Lyon are already attested in the second-century Letter of the Churches of Lyon and Vienne, which is summarised, and partly quoted in full, in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History 5.1-3 (E00212); there ten martyrs are named, eight of them appearing in Gregory's list: Vettius Epagatus, Sanctus, Maturus, Blandina, Biblis, Alexander, Ponticus, and Bishop Photinus (or Potheinos). Eusebius also names Attalos of Pergamon and a certain Alkibiades, both of whom are missing from Gregory. Rufinus' Latin translation of Eusebius is certainly Gregory's principal source for the first part of his story, up to the dispersal of the martyrs' ashes in the Rhône, since his list of the martyrs who were condemned to the beasts (Sanctus, Maturus, Alexander, Ponticus and Blandina) agrees exactly with what Eusebius recorded, and since Eusebius recounts at length how the persecutors sought to prevent the Christians from recovering anything from the bodies of the dead, first burning the remains, and then scattering the ashes in the river. The story of the recovery of the relics of the martyrs is, however, entirely absent from Eusebius, and presumably developed in Lyon when its church felt the need to have good relics of these well-attested martyrs. Where Gregory got his other names from, and how he knew that the martyrs were exactly forty-eight in number, is unclear, and complicated by the fact that he actually names only forty-five here. In Histories 1.29 (E07728) Gregory also writes of 'Forty-Eight Martyrs' (XXXXVIII martyres) of Lyon, though in much less detail and naming only one - Vettius Epagatus (whom Gregory claimed as an ancestor) - telling us that he was the first to be martyred, a fact which also derives from Eusebius.


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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