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E00627: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (83), tells how his father acquired, in 533, relics of unnamed saints and was protected by them; how his mother repelled fire with them; and how he himself was saved from a storm by them, and was subsequently taught a lesson in humility. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

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posted on 2015-07-24, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 83

Gregory relates three stories of the relics that were the personal possession of his family; how they offered protection first to his father, then to his mother, and finally to Gregory himself:

Quid vero et de his reliquiis, quas quondam genitor meus secum habuit, fuerit gestum, edicam. Tempore, quo Theodobertus Arvernorum filios in obsidatum tolli praecepit, pater meus nuper iunctus coniugio, voluit se sanctorum reliquiis communiri, petivitque a quodam sacerdote, ut ei aliquid de hisdem indulgeret, quo scilicet in viam longinquam abiens tali praesidio tutaretur. Tunc inclusos in lupino aureo sacros cineres circa eum posuit; sed ignarus vir nominum beatorum. Referre enim erat solitus, se a multis tunc periculis eruto; nam et violentias latronum et pericula fluminum, inprobitates seditiosorum et adsultus ensuum saepius se evasisse horum virtutibus, testabatur.

'I will now narrate what happened with regard to the relics (reliquiae) that my father once carried with him. At the time when Theudebert ordered the sons of Clermont to be sent off as hostages, my father had been recently married. Because he wished himself to be protected by relics of saints, he asked a cleric to grant him some of these, so that with their protection he might be kept safe as he set out on this long journey. He put the sacred ashes (cineres) in a gold locket (lupinus aureus) and carried it with him. Although he did not even know the names of the blessed men, he was accustomed to recount that he had been rescued from many dangers. He claimed that often, because of the powers of these relics, he had avoided the violence of bandits, the dangers of floods, the threats of turbulent men, and attacks from swords.'

The next miracle, involving Gregory's mother, is set in the Limagne, a fertile plain in the territory of Clermont:

Quid tamen ego de his viderim, non silebo. Post genitoris mei obitum mater mea haec pignora super se habebat. Igitur segitum advenerat sectio, et congregati in areis frugum acervi fuerant magni. In illis autem diebus, cum iam semina triturarentur, et sicut Lemane vestitum segitibus nudum habetur a silvis, intercedente gelu, cum non esset unde ignis accenderetur, ab ipsis paleis focos sibi adhibuerant excussores. Interea recedent omnes ad capiendum cibum. Et ecce inter incrementa sua coepit per paleas paulatim ignis spargi. Nec mora, flante notho, acervi ab igne conprehenduntur; fit magnum incendium, insequitur clamor virorum strepitusque mulierum, ululatus infantum. Haec autem agebantur in agro nostro. Quod sentiens mater mea, quae haec pignora collo adpensa gestabat, exilit de convivio, elevatisque sacris pignoribus contra ignium globos, ita omne cessit incendium de momento, ut vix inter moles exustarum palearum vel semina ignis invenirentur; nihil tamen fruges quas adprehenderat nocens.

'I will not be silent about what I witnessed regarding these relics. After the death of my father, my mother carried these relics with her (haec pignora super se habebat). It was the time for harvesting the crops, and huge piles of grain had been collected on the threshing floors. The Limagne though clothed in crops is bare of trees, so in those days when the seeds were being threshed, when a frost came, the threshers made fires for themselves of the straw, since there was no wood there to burn. Then everyone retired to eat. And behold, the fire gradually began to be spread through the straw bit by bit. At once, fanned by the wind, the fire spread to the piles of grain. The fire became a huge blaze and was accompanied by the shouts of men, the wails of women, and the crying of children. This happened in our field. When my mother, who was wearing these relics around her neck (collo adpensa), learned of this, she rushed from the meal and held the sacred relics in front of the balls of flames. In a moment the entire fire so died down that no sparks were found among the piles of burned straw and the seeds. The grain the fire had touched had suffered no harm.'

The third and final miracle relates to Gregory himself, and includes a lesson in humility:

Post multos vero annos has reliquias a genetrice suscepi; cumque iter de Burgundia ad Arvernum ageremus, oritur contra nos magna tempestas, coepitque crebris ignibus micare caelum validisque tonitruorum fragoribus resonare. Tunc extractas a sinu beatas reliquias, manu elevo contra nubem; quae protinus divisa in duabus partibus, dextra laevaque praeteriens, neque nobis neque ulli deinceps nocuit. At ego, ut iuvenilis fervor agere solet, vanae gloriae inflari supercilio coepi et tacitus cogitare, non haec tantum sanctorum meritis quam mihi propriae fuisse concessum, atque ad socios itineris iactans, ac proferre, quae innocentiae meae Deus praestiterit, ut haec mererer. Nec mora, elapsus subito sub me equus, ad terram elisit; in quo casu tam graviter sum contractus, ut vix surgere possim. Intellexi enim, mihi ista a vanitate evenisse, satisque fuit dehinc observare, ne me ultra vanae gloriae stimularet aculeus. Nam, si evenit ut mererer deinceps aliqua de sanctorum virtutibus contemplare, Dei illa munere per sanctorum fidem praestita praeconavi.

'Many years later I received these relics from my mother. While I was travelling from Burgundy to Clermont, a huge storm appeared in my path. The storm frequently flashed with lightning in the sky and rumbled with loud crashes of thunder. Then I took the holy relics from my breast (a sinu) and raised my hand before the cloud. The cloud immediately divided into two parts and passed by on the right and the left; it threatened neither me nor anyone else. Then, as a presumptuous young man is expected to behave, I began to be inflated by the arrogance of vainglory. I silently thought that this concession had been made especially for me, rather than because of the merits of the saints. I boasted to my travelling companions and insisted that I had deserved that which God had bestowed upon my naiveté. Immediately my horse suddenly slipped beneath me and threw me to the ground. I was so seriously bruised during this accident that I could hardly get up. I understood that this accident had happened because of my pride; and it was sufficient to note that afterwards the urge of vainglory did not bother me. For if it happened that I was worthy to observe some manifestations of the powers of saints, I have proclaimed that they were due to the gift of God through the faith of the saints.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 83. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 79, modified in part.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Saints, unnamed or name lost : S00518

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 - Miracles

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

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Women Aristocrats

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Privately owned relics Reliquary – privately owned

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Precious material objects


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 very important testimony to relics owned privately and inherited within a family, which (the family being Gregory's own) contains much reliable detail. Curiously, even though the relics are extremely powerful, Gregory's father, and Gregory himself, have no idea which saints they relate to. The passage is clear about how they were worn and carried: around the neck and under the clothing (brought out only when needed), and contained in something described as a lupicinus aureus, an obscure term, but presumably a gold locket. When used to effect a miracle, there can have been no invocation of the relevant saints, since their names were unknown. This reliquary was certainly different from the gold cross with relics of the Virgin Mary, Martin of Tours and unnamed Apostles, that Gregory wore on another occasion while travelling, as related in Glory of the Martyrs 10 (E00383). That story probably relates to a time when Gregory was bishop, and so had access to important identifiable relics, while our story here is explicitly set in Gregory's youth, when he only had this somewhat unprestigious (if powerful) family reliquary. The date when Gregory's father acquired these relics can be established as 533 (Van Dam 2004, p.74, note 96). The third miracle includes a classic moral tale, teaching the humility necessary for those with access to miracle-working relics.


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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