University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E00573: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (50), tells of a large sarcophagus in Dijon (eastern Gaul), believed to be pagan, with cult practices held at it, which through a vision was revealed to belong to *Benignus (martyr of Dijon, S00320); Gregory [bishop of Langres, 506/507-539/540] refurbished the adjacent crypt and the sarcophagus was miraculously transported into it; a Martyrdom of the saint was acquired from Italy, miracles occurred, and a large church was built over the crypt. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

online resource
posted on 2015-05-28, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 50

Benignus autem ac dominici nominis testis apud Divionensim castrum martyrio consummatus est. Et quia in magnum sarcophagum post martyrium conditus fuit, putabant nostri temporis homines, et praesertim beatus Gregorius episcopus, ibi aliquem positum fuisse gentilem. Nam rustici vota inibi dissolvebant et quae petebant velociter inpetrabant. Ad hoc ergo beati sepulchrum quidam, dum exinde multa beneficia perciperet, cereum detulit; quo accenso, domi rediit. Puerulus enim parvulus haec observans, illo abeunte discendit ad tumulum, ut ardentem cereum extingueret et auferret. Quo discendente, ecce serpens mirae magnitudinis de alia parte veniens, cereum circumcingit. Puer autem timens, sursum rediit et bis aut tertio cereum auferre temptans, obsistente angue non potuit. Talia et his similia beato pontifici nuntiata nullo modo credebat, sed magis, ne ibidem adorarent, fortiter testabatur.

Tandem aliquando Dei martyr beato se confessori revelat et dicit: "Quid", inquid, "agis? Non solum quod tu dispicis, verum etiam honorantes me spernis. Ne facias, quaeso, sed tegmen super me velocius praepara". De qua ille visione concussus, beatum sepulchrum adit ibique diutissime pro ignorantia cum fletu veniam deprecatur. Et quia cripta illa, quae ab antiquis inibi transvoluta fuerat, diruta erat, rursum eam beatus pontifex reaedificavit, eleganti transvolvens opere. Sed sanctum sepulchrum, nescio qua causa faciente, foris evenit. Quod ille intus transferre cupiens, convocatis ad hoc obsequium abbates atque alios religiosos viros; in quo conventu grande miraculum beatus martyr et populis et suo praestetit confessori. Erat quippe validum, ut supra diximus, illud sarcophagum, ut talem in isto tempore nec tria paria bovum trahere possint. Cumque diutissime morarentur nec invenirent, qualiter eum intus inferrent, sanctus Gregorius, inluminatis cereis, cum grandi psallentio adprehensum a capite martyris sarcophagum, et duo presbiteri ad pedes moventes eum, in cripta habilissime detulerunt, et ubi ipsis fuit placitum, conposuerunt; quod non minimum populis spectaculum fuit.

Post paucos autem annos ab euntibus in Italiam passionis eius historiam adlatam beatus confessor accepit. Sed et deinceps sanctus martyr multis se virtutibus manifestavit in populis. Nec moratus, super criptam illam basilicam magnam iussit aedificari.

'Benignus, another witness to the name of the Lord, was perfected by martyrdom in the town of Dijon. After his martyrdom, because he was buried in a huge sarcophagus, men of our time and in particular the blessed bishop Gregorius always thought that some pagan had been buried there. For the countryfolk (rustici) fulfilled their vows there and quickly received what they sought. After one man noticed the many blessings there, he brought a candle to the tomb of the saint; after lighting it, he returned home. A young boy watched this, and after the man left he went down to the tomb to extinguish the burning candle and steal it. As he approached, behold, a huge serpent came from another direction and wrapped itself around the candle. The boy was afraid and turned back; even after trying a second and third time, he was unsuccessful because the serpent blocked him. Although these stories and others like them were reported to the bishop, in no way did he believe them, but all the more did he strongly encourage people not to worship there.

Finally the martyr of God once revealed himself to the blessed confessor (confessor) [Gregorius] and said: 'What', he asked, 'are you doing? Not only do you scorn this tomb, but you disdain those who honour me. Do not do this, I ask, but quickly prepare a shelter for me.' Gregorius was disturbed by this vision; he went to the sacred tomb and there at length wept and begged forgiveness for his ignorance. And because the crypt (cripta) that had been vaulted by the original builders was in disrepair, the blessed bishop rebuilt it and vaulted it with elegant workmanship. But for some unknown reason the holy sarcophagus remained outside. When Gregorius wished to transfer it inside, he gathered the abbots and other monks for the task. At this assembly the holy martyr performed a spectacular miracle for the people and for his own confessor Gregorius. This sarcophagus was in fact so large, as I said, that at the time three yoke of oxen were unable to budge it. They dallied for a long time and did not figure out how to carry the sarcophagus inside. So, in the spotlight of the candles and with the accompaniment of the loud chanting of psalms, St Gregorius picked up the sarcophagus at the end with the martyr's head and two priests moved it at the foot end. Effortlessly they brought the sarcophagus into the crypt and placed it where they had decided. For the people this was a fantastic sight.

A few years later the blessed confessor Gregorius acquired from men travelling to Italy a history of Benignus' suffering. Thereafter the holy martyr revealed himself to the people with many miracles. Without delay Gregorius ordered a large church to be constructed over the crypt.'

There follows an account of the miracles of Benignus (see $E00574).

Text: Krusch 1969, 72-73. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 49-50.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Benignus, martyr of Dijon (Gaul), ob.? : S00320

Saint Name in Source


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 - sarcophagus/coffin

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Uncertainty/scepticism/rejection of a saint

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Miracle with animals and plants Punishing miracle Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Saint aiding or preventing the translation of relics Power over objects

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Children Ecclesiastics - bishops Peasants

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Construction of cult building to contain 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. This is a fascinating account of the development of a fully successful cult: dubious rustic practices at a prominent sarcophagus are revealed to be veneration of a Christian martyr; the bishop of the time enhances the shrine and discovers a written Martyrdom; miracles are recorded and a large church is built. Saint Bénigne, patron of Dijon, is born. Gregory of Langres was Gregory of Tours' great-grandfather and was the subject of a saint's life in Gregory's Life of the Fathers (no. 7; E00049). Here we learn that his home-town was Dijon; so, although he was bishop of Langres, it is not surprising to find him promoting, indeed creating, a Dijon saint.


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.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager