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E00626: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (82), tells of a miracle through relics obtained in Rome by his deacon: the ship carrying the deacon to Marseille was saved from shipwreck when he lifted up the relics and invoked their saints by name; Gregory lists the relics as of unnamed *Apostles (S00084), *Paul (the Apostle, S00008), *Laurence (deacon and martyr of Rome, S00037), *Chrysanthus and Daria (chaste couple and martyrs of Rome, S00306), and *Iohannes and Paulus (brothers and eunuchs, martyrs of Rome under the emperor Julian, S00384). Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

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posted on 2015-07-22, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 82

Per hanc enim confessionem martyres gloriosi ineffabilia semper salutarium munerum beneficia meruerunt ac petentibus se hoc praestiterunt virtute, quod eisdem domino inpertitum est Creatore, sicut nobis nuper a diacono nostro relatum, ita gestum esse cognovimus. Hic autem diaconus, a papa urbis Romanae Pelagio quorundam martyrum confessorumque adsumpta pignora, cum grandi psallentio vel clericorum officio ac populi inmensi obsequio usque ad Portum deductus est. Et ingressus navem, erectis velis ac per illum antemnae, quae modolum crucis gestat, apparatum extensis, flante vento, pelagus altum arripiunt. Qui dum navigant, ut Massiliensis urbis portum attingant, adpropinquare coeperunt ad locum quendam, de quo a litore maris lapideus mons exsurgens ac paulatim decedens, summa tenus unda in mari distenditur. Cumque inpellente vento carina magno impetu ferretur in praeceps, ut scilicet scopulo inlisa quassaretur, ac nautae discrimen intuentes exitu vociferarent, diaconus, elevatam cum sanctis pignoribus capsam, invocare nomina singulorum cum gemitu et voce maxima coepit, deprecans, ut eorum virtute ab hoc periculo perituri liberarentur. Iam iamque adpropinquabat navis, ut praefati sumus, ad scopulum; et statim in sanctorum contemplatione reliquiarum ab ipso loco commotus cum violentia maiori ventus huic vento contrarius fluctum elisit ventumque diversum repulit ac, navem in pelagus profundum revocatam, cunctos a mortis periculo liberavit. Sicque gyrata mole periculi, portum quem desiderabant cum Domini gratia ac sanctorum patrocinio contigerunt. Erant enim reliquiae sanctorum, quorum sacra vestigia Domini manibus sunt abluta, cum Pauli Laurentique atque Pancrati, Chrysanti Dariaeque virginis, Iohannis atque alterius Pauli, fratris eius, quorum certamina ac palmae victoriarum ipsa caput orbis urbs Roma devotae concelebrat.

'Through their confession the glorious martyrs have earned the unspeakable benefits of gifts that are always salutary. To petitioners they have revealed themselves by this power that the Lord Creator shared with them. From what my deacon recently told me, I know that this happens. This deacon received relics (pignora) of some martyrs and confessors from pope Pelagius of the city of Rome. A large chorus of monks who were chanting psalms and a huge crowd of people escorted him to Portus. After he boarded a ship the sails were unfurled and hoisted over the rigging of a mast that presented the appearance of a cross. As the wind blew, they set out on the high seas. While they were sailing to reach the port of Marseille, they began to approach a place where a mountain of stone rose from the shore of the sea and, sinking a bit, stretched into the sea to the top of the water. As the wind forced them on, the ship was lifted by a mighty blast into danger. When the ship was shaken as if struck by the rock, the sailors recognised their peril and announced their death. The deacon lifted the reliquary with the holy relics (cum sanctis pignoribus capsa). He groaned and in a loud voice began to invoke the names of the individual saints. He prayed that their power might liberate from danger those who were about to die. The ship, as I said, sailed closer and closer to the rock. Suddenly, out of respect for the holy relics (reliquiae), a wind blew from that spot with great force against the other wind. It crushed the waves and repulsed the opposing wind. By recalling the ship to the deep sea, the wind freed everyone from the danger of death. So they circumvented this impending danger, and by the grace of the Lord and the protection of the saints they arrived at the port they had hoped for. For these were relics of the saints whose sacred feet had been washed by the hands of the Lord [i.e. the Disciples], and of Paul, Laurentius, Pancratius, Chrysanthus, the virgin Daria, and John and his brother, the other Paul. Rome, the capital of the world, piously celebrates their struggles and the prizes of their victories.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 93. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 78.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Apostles (unspecified) : S00084 Paul, the Apostle : S00008 Laurence/Laurentius, deacon and martyr of Rome : S00037 Chrysanthus and Daria, martyrs in Rome, ob. c.283 and martyrs buried with them : S00306 Iohannes and Paulus, brothers and eunuchs,

Saint Name in Source

sancti, quorum sacra vestigia Domini manibus sunt abluta Paulus Laurentius Chrysantus Dariaque Iohannes et Paulus

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

  • Procession

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Miraculous protection - of people and their property Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Merchants and artisans

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries Reliquary – institutionally owned


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 expedition to Rome, returning with relics, by a deacon of Tours (always described as 'our deacon', diaconus noster) is also mentioned by Gregory in Life of the Fathers 8.6 (E00065), where we are told that the deacon was called Agiulf, and in Histories 10.1 (E07784), where we learn that the journey happened in 590. Agiulf certainly returned well equipped with relics, and obtaining these was probably the principal purpose of his expedition, but he may also have had other business in Rome. Gregory kept a store of suitable relics in the church house at Tours, bringing them out for use when necessary - see Glory of the Martyrs 33 (E00516). Assuming there was not an earlier journey to Rome to collect relics by a different diaconus noster (or an earlier journey by the same Agiulf), which seems unlikely, this chapter in Glory of the Martyrs must have been written in 590 at the earliest.


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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