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E00585: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (60), tells of a man struck dead in 577/593 after taking a golden belt offered to *Nazarius (martyr of Milan, S00281) in a church with his relics in a village of the territory of Nantes (north-west Gaul). Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

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posted on 2015-06-03, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 60

In territurio quoque urbis ipsius, in vico quodam supra alveum Ligeris beati Nazari reliquiae contenentur. Igitur quodam tempore homo devotus baltheum, ex auro purissimo cum omni apparatu studiosissime fabricatum, super altare basilicae illius posuit, orans, ut in causis suis martyris virtus dignaretur adesse. Quo recedente, Britto quidam ex satellitibus Warochi Brittanorum comitis et primus cum eo adfuit, ablatoque violenter apparatu balthei, ipsum quoque baltheum repetit. Renitente presbitero ac dicente: "Dei res hae sunt et ad reficiendos pauperes sancto martyri sunt conlatae, ne famem pessimam patiantur, qui huic templo fideli devotione deserviunt; unde tu potius hic aliqua inferre, non auferre debebas". Non mollivit hominis avari animum abbatis illius praedicatio; sed potius succensus, minare ei coepit ac dicere: "Nisi sine mora refuderis baltheum, manu mea interimeris". Tunc victus abba, speciem super altare, quo sancta teguntur pignora, collocavit, dicens: "En ipsam quam petis reiculam; si metus de virtute martyris nullus est, aufer. Erit enim, ut confidimus, de vestigio iudex, si ea auferre praesumpseris". At ille nihil metuens, abstulit, iubens sibi equum ante ipsam basilicae porticum praeparari. Cui ait sacerdos: "Nullus umquam in hoc loco equum praesumpsit ascendere. Da, quaeso, gloriam Deo et honora martyrem, ne mali aliquid patiaris". Ille vero mandata neglegens sacerdotis, ascenso in atrio sancto equite. At ubi egredi venit, percussum ad portae limen superius caput, ad humum, testo disrupto, corruit, manibusque suorum deportatus, ut tugurium cuiusdam pauperculi, quod erat proximum, est ingressus, protinus spiritum exalavit. Quod Warochus audiens, et res quas hic abstulit restituit et de suo proprio multa contulit, pavore perterritus.

'There are relics of the blessed Nazarius within the territory of the same city [Nantes] in a village on the bank of the Loire river: Once a pious man placed on the altar of this church a belt that had been most carefully crafted out of pure gold and its fittings. He prayed that the power of the martyr might deign to assist in his affairs. After he left, a man named Britto, the most influential of the retainers of count Waroch of Brittany, came, forcibly seized the fittings of the belt, and then coveted the belt itself. A priest resisted and said: 'These things belong to God and were presented to the holy martyr to assist the poor, so that those who serve with faithful devotion at this church do not suffer terrible hunger. Rather than removing them, you ought instead to present something here.' The speech of this cleric (abbas) did not soften the heart of this greedy man. Instead, all the more aroused he began to threaten him and said: 'If you do not immediately hand over the belt, you will die by my hand.' The cleric was overwhelmed and placed the ornamented [belt] on the altar in which the holy relics were kept. He said: 'Here is the worthless object that you covet. If you have no fear for the power of the martyr, take it. If you dare to take it, we believe that the martyr will be a judge on your heels.' But Britto had no fear and took the belt. He ordered his horse to be saddled in front of the porch of the church (ante ipsam basilicae porticum). The priest said to him: 'No one has ever dared to mount a horse in that spot. I ask you, give glory to God and honour the martyr, so that you do not suffer any misfortune.' Britto ignored the advice of the priest and mounted his horse within the holy forecourt (in atrio sancto). But when he came to leave, he struck the top of his head on the lintel of the gate and fell to the ground with a fractured skull. He was carried off by his servants and brought into the nearby cottage of a poor man; immediately he died. When Waroch heard of this, he was shaken with fear, restored the things that Britto had taken, and made many donations from his own possessions.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 79. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 58-59, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Nazarius, martyr of Milan (Italy), companion of *Celsus, ob. before 312 : S00281

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


Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Destruction/desecration of saint's shrine

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Punishing miracle

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Aristocrats Peasants

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries


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 church can, very reasonably, be identified as that of Saint-Nazaire near Nantes (and therefore well known to Gregory from nearby Tours), see Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, p. 269-70. The dates of this incident and the people involved are discussed by Van Dam 2001, p. 85, n 72. Nazarius (S00281) is one of the saints discovered by Ambrose in Milan in the later 4th c. Ambrose himself widely distributed relics of these saints, but there is unfortunately no indication in our text when Nazarius' relics reached this rural church. The story is a classic account of a person seeking the help of a saint in return for a gift (which was displayed on the altar, rather than immediately turned into disposable cash), and also a classic story of how people who stole from the church were miraculously punished. It is also very interesting that the atrium in front of the church is treated as a sacred space needing to be treated with respect (for instance not to be entered on horseback).


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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