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E00845: The Dialogues on *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050), presenting him as a monk, bishop, and above all miracle-worker, superior to monks of Egypt, are written in Latin by Sulpicius Severus in Primuliacum (south west Gaul), c. 404-406.

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posted on 2015-11-08, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Sulpicius Severus, Dialogues (Gallus)


Book 1
The Dialogues start with a meeting of some members of the monastic community, run by Sulpicius Severus, and their friends on the occasion of return of Postumianus, a Gallic monk who spent three years in the East, mostly in Palestine and Egypt. Postumianus tells about his travels and describes above all the way of life and miracles of monks of Egypt (chs. 9-22). Interestingly, although some of these monks can be identified thanks to other texts which mention them (especially the History of the Monks in Egypt) none of them is named, all are introduced as 'a certain man', 'a certain old monk' etc. The only exceptions are *Antony of Egypt (S00098) and *Paul of Thebes (S00098), but they were dead for a long time and Postumianus visited only their hermitages (ch. 27). There follows the comparison between the monks of Egypt and Martin (chs. 23-26). Finally, Gallus, another friend of Sulpicius and a disciple of Martin, undertakes the task of narrating the latter's virtues and miracles which were not already described in the Life of Martin. This text is advertised as a most popular book, read widely in diverse parts of the world (see $E00849)

Book 2
This book is devoted entirely to the good deeds and above all miracles of Martin who gives his garments to a poor (ch. 1), is accompanied by a ball of light when celebrating Mass, heals a boy bitten by a snake (ch. 2), and brings a child back to life. On this occasion Gallus adds that although this was an astonishing miracle, Martin performed his greatest miracles as a monk, before his episcopate (ch. 4). Martin efficiently intercedes with God's help at the imperial court (ch. 5) and, unlike other clerics, behaves with dignity before the emperor (chs. 6-8), expels a demon from a cow, is not touched by a fire (ch. 9), gives spiritual advices (chs. 10-11), advocates virginity (12), is visited by saints and demons (ch. 12, see $E00257).

Book 3
In this book Gallus continues his tale about Martin's miracles, this time before larger audience, since the group was joined by other monks, clerics and prominent lay people (ch. 1). Gallus describes the healing of a mute girl in Chartres, performed by some oil, blessed by Martin (ch. 2); a little bottle of oil, blessed by Martin, which never broke; a dog, whose barking was silenced by someone 'in the name of Martin' (ch. 3); Martin's efficient and miraculous interceding for prisoners with the count Avitianus and mitigating his cruelty (chs. 4-5 and 8); exorcisms performed by Martin (ch. 6); a village which he saved from a hailstorm (ch. 7); the miraculous destruction of a pagan shrine and statue (chs. 8-9); his orders given to a snake (ch. 9); miraculous fishing (ch. 10); Martin's opposition to sentencing Priscillian and his followers to death (chs. 11-13); a ship, saved from the storm by calling for help to 'God of Martin'; saving a family from a plague; Martin's clairvoyance (ch. 14); chasing a demon from Martin's adversary and successor, Brictio (ch. 15). The Dialogue ends with praise of Martin as greater than the philosophers of old, equal to martyrs, and one whose miracles and virtues were not inferior to those of the all monks of Egypt.

Summary: Robert Wiśniewski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050 Antony, 'the Great', monk of Egypt, ob. 356 : S00098 Paul, the First Anchorite : S00089

Saint Name in Source

Martinus Antonius Paulus

Type of Evidence

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)

Primuliacum Tours Tours Toronica urbs Prisciniacensim vicus Pressigny Turonorum civitas Ceratensis vicus Céré

Major author/Major anonymous work

Sulpicius Severus

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Miracle with animals and plants Punishing miracle Power over objects Healing diseases and disabilities Power over life and death Miraculous sound, smell, light Exorcism

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Aristocrats Children Other lay individuals/ people Ecclesiastics - bishops Pagans


Sulpicius Severus, an aristocrat and friend of Paulinus of Nola, was converted to the ascetic life under Martin's influence and founded a monastic community on his estate of Primuliacum in Aquitaine. There, c. 404/406 he wrote the Dialogues on Martin of Tours, known also as the Gallus, a few years after its hero's death (397). The Dialogues pretend to be a record of a two-day friendly talk held in Sulpicius' community by a small group of monks from the circle of Sulpicius and Martin. It was the final part of Sulpicius' writings about Martin, following the Vita (for an overview, see $E00692) and three letters (see $E00635, $E00691, $E00693). All these texts present Martin as a perfect monk, bishop and miracle-worker. Sulpicius Severus argues that there is no contradiction between being a good bishop and a monk, and even that only a monk makes a good bishop. This apology was needed, since ascetic monasticism was a novel and controversial idea, and the Gallic episcopacy was generally reluctant to accept it. The Dialogues also emphasise that Martin surpassed the famous monks of Egypt - he performed greater miracles living in more difficult condition, for he was living in a hostile environment and was deprived of the luxury of solitude.


Edition and French translation: Fontaine, J., Sulpice Sévère, Gallus. Dialogues sur les «vertus» de saint Martin (Sources Chrétiennes 510; Paris: Cerf, 2006). English translation: Roberts, A., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Second Series, vol. 11 (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894). Further reading: Stancliffe, C., Saint Martin and his Hagiographer: Miracle and History in Sulpicius Severus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983). Vogüé, A. de, Histoire littéraire du mouvement monastique dans l'antiquité. Vol. 4 (Paris: Cerf, 1997), 93-156.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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