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E00660: Gregory of Tours, in the final chapter of his Glory of the Martyrs (106), tells the story of a diabolical fly confounded by the sign of the Cross, and then presents his considerations on how we should imitate the martyrs and seek their patronage, to help us now and at the Day of Judgement. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

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posted on 2015-08-17, 00:00 authored by CSLA Admin
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 106

Pannichius Pictavensis termini presbiter, dum ad convivium cum amicis quos evocaverat resederet, poculum poscit. Quo accepto, musca inportunior circumvolans inquinare poculum nitebatur. Quod cum saepius manu presbiter abigisset, et illa paulum elevans rursus reverti niteretur, sensit esse insidiam inimici, susceptumque laeva poculum, de dextera crucem facit; mox in quattuor divisum partibus, liquor qui inerat, elevata in excelso unda, terrae diffunditur; patuit namque manifestissime fuisse haec insidiam inimici.

Ergo et tu, si viriliter et non tepide signum vel fronti vel pectori salutare superponas, tunc resistendo vitiis martyr habeberis, quia et ipsi martyres ea quae vicerunt non suis viribus, sed Dei haec auxiliis per signaculum crucis gloriosissime peregerunt, in quibus, ut saepe diximus, ipse Dominus et dimicat et triumphat. Unde oportet nobis eorum patrocinia expetere, ut eorum mereamur suffragiis adiuvari, vel, quod nostris digni non sumus meritis obtenere, eorum possimus intercessionibus adipisci, ut adiutorio sacratae Trinitatis usi, effici mereamur martyres, carnalibus desideriis abdicatis, ut ipse dicit, qui pro se fideliter dimicantes lapidibus pretiosis coronat in caelo; alumnos cultoresque amicorum suorum protegere dignetur in saeculo ac praestet, ut adsistant martyres invocati a suis, quos post victoriam paradisus beatitudinis retenet inmortales; ut in illo examinationis tempore, cum illos gloria aeterna circumdat, nos aut excuset mediatrix venia aut levis poena pertranseat; nec damnet reos pro criminis actione in perpetuo, quos pretiosi sanguinis commertio reparavit.

'A priest of from the borders of Poitiers named Pannichius asked for a cup when he sat down at a banquet with the friends whom he had invited. After he received it, an annoying fly buzzed around and tried to contaminate the cup. The priest often shooed the fly away with his hand. When the fly again flew up and tried to return, the priest knew that it was a trick of the enemy. He took the cup in his left hand and made the sign of the cross with his right hand. The cup shattered into four pieces, and the liquid in it, thrown up in a wave into the air, scattered on the ground. It was very clear that this was a trick of the enemy.

So you too, manfully and firmly placing the sign of salvation on your forehead or your chest, and then resisting vices, will be considered a martyr. For the martyrs themselves achieved their victories not by their own strength but with the assistance of God through the most glorious sign of the cross. As I have often said, the Lord himself struggles and triumphs in the martyrs. Therefore it is necessary for us to seek the patronage of the martyrs, so that we might be worthy to be helped by their assistance. What we are not worthy to obtain by our own merits, we can receive by their intercessions. Hence, by using the aid of the sacred Trinity and by rejecting the desires of the flesh we are worthy to become martyrs, as was said by Him who crowns with precious jewels in heaven those who faithfully struggle for Him. He deigns to protect in this world His pupils and those who respect his friends. He ensures that the martyrs whom he receives after their victory as immortals in the beauty of Paradise will be of assistance when invoked by his people. So that at the time of Judgement, when eternal glory surrounds the martyrs, either the mercy of their mediation may excuse us or a lenient penalty may pass over us, and He does not condemn for eternity those accused in the trial, whom he redeemed with the price of precious blood.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 110-111. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 101-102, modified.


Evidence ID


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 - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Considerations about the veneration of saints


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 passage closes Gregory's book, with a general consideration of our relationship with martyrs. After a somewhat bizarre story, demonstrating the power of the cross, Gregory states that through the sign of the cross, and by resisting vices, everyone can be a martyr. He then stresses the intercessionary powers of the martyrs, both on earth and at the moment of divine judgement.


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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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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