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E01530: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (1.30), describes how seven bishops were sent to seven cities in Gaul in the reign of Decius (249-251) and became martyrs or confessors: *Saturninus of Toulouse (S00289), *Dionysius/Denis of Paris (S00349), *Trophimus of Arles (S00617), *Gatianus of Tours (S01175), *Paulus of Narbonne (S00503), *Stremonius of Clermont (S01255), and *Martialis of Limoges (S01168). Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 575/594.

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posted on 2016-06-07, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 1.30

Huius tempore septem viri episcopi ordenati ad praedicandum in Galliis missi sunt, sicut historia passiones sancti martyres Saturnini denarrat. Ait enim: Sub Decio et Grato consolibus, sicut fideli recordationem retenitur, primum ac summum Tholosana civitas sanctum Saturninum habere coeperat sacerdotem. Hic ergo missi sunt: Turonicis Catianus episcopus, Arelatensibus Trophimus episcopus, Narbonae Paulos episcopus, Tolosae Saturninus episcopus, Parisiacis Dionisius episcopus, Arvernis Stremonius episcopus, Lemovicinis Martialis est distinatus episcopus. De his vero beatus Dionisius Parisiorum episcopus, diversis pro Christi nomine adfectus poenis, praesentem vitam gladio inminente finivit.

Saturninus vero, iam securos de martyrio, dicit duobus presbiteris suis: 'Ecce ego iam immolor et tempus meae resolutiones instat. Rogo, ut, usque dum debetum finem impleam, a vobis paenitus non relinquar'. Cumque conpraehensus ad Capitulium duceretur, relictus ab his, solus adtrahitur. Igitur cum se ab illis cerneret derelictum, orasse fertur: 'Domine Iesu Christe, exaudi me de caelo sancto tuo, ut numquam haec eclesia de his civibus mereatur habere ponteficem in sempiternum'. Quod usque nunc in ipsa civitate ita evenisse cognovimus. Hic vero tauri furentes vestigiis allegatus ac de Capitulio praecipitatus, vitam finivit.

Catianus vero, Trophimus Stremoneusque et Paulos atque Marcialis, in summa sanctitate viventes, adquisitus eclesiae populos ac fidem Christi per omnibus dilatatam, felice confessione migrarunt. Et sic tam isti per martyrium quam hii per confessionem relinquentes terras, in caelestibus pariter sunt coniuncti.

'At this time [the reign of Decius, 249-251] seven men who had been consecrated as bishops were sent to preach among the Gauls, as we learn from the story of the holy martyr Saturninus, where we read the following sentence: "The record has been carefully kept of how, when Decius and Gratus were consuls, the city of Toulouse received Saint Saturninus as its first and greatest priest." The seven Bishops were sent to their sees: Bishop Gatianus to the men of Tours; Bishop Trophimus to the men of Arles; Bishop Paulus to Narbonne; Bishop Saturninus to Toulouse; Bishop Dionysius to the men of Paris; Bishop Stremonius to the men of Clermont-Ferrand; and Martialis was made Bishop of Limoges. Of these Saint Dionysius, Bishop of Paris, suffered repeated torture in Christ’s name and then ended his earthly existence by the sword.

When he saw that he was about to be martyred, Saturninus said to two of his priests: "Now I am about to be sacrificed and the moment of my immolation is at hand. Stand by me, I beg you, until I meet my end." He was seized and led off to the Capitol, but he was dragged there alone, for the two priests deserted him. When he saw that they had run away, he is said to have prayed in the following words: "Lord Jesus Christ, hear me from where You are in heaven: may this church never to the end of time have a bishop chosen from its own citizens." We know that this has never happened in the city down to our own days. Saturninus was tied to the heels of a wild bull and driven out from the Capitol, ending his life in this way.

Gatianus, Trophimus, Stremonius, Paulus and Martialis passed their lives in great holiness, winning many people over to the church and spreading the faith of Christ among all whom they met; then they died in joyous confession of their belief. They passed away from earthly existence, some in martyrdom, others in full confession, and now they are reunited in heaven.'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 22-23. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 86-87.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Trophimus, first bishop of Arles : S00617 Saturninus, bishop and martyr of Toulouse (Gaul), ob. 250/1 : S00289 Denis, Dionysius bishop of Paris and martyr, ob. c.250 : S00349 Paul, bishop of Narbonne (Gaul), ob. mid-3rd c. : S00503 Gatianus, bish

Saint Name in Source

Trophimus Saturninus Dionisius Paulos Catianus Martialis Stremonius

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • 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 - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops


Gregory of Tours wrote the Histories (Historiae) during his episcopate in Tours (573–594). They constitute the longest and most detailed historical work of the post-Roman West. Gregory's focus is Gaul under its Frankish kings, above all the territories of Tours and (to a lesser extent) Clermont, where he had been born and brought up. Much of his work tells of the years when, as bishop of an important see, he was himself centrally involved in Frankish politics. The Histories are often wrongly referred to as a History of the Franks. Although the work does contain a history of the rulers of Francia, it also includes much hagiographical material, and Gregory himself gave it the simple title the 'ten books of Histories' (decem libri historiarum), when he produced a list of his own writings (Histories 10.31). The Histories consist of ten books whose scope and contents differ considerably. Book 1 skims rapidly through world history, with biblical and secular material from the Creation to the death in AD 397 of Martin of Tours (Gregory’s hero and predecessor as bishop). It covers 5596 years. In Book 2, which covers 114 years, the focus moves firmly into Gaul, covering the years up to the death of Clovis in 511. Books 3 and 4, which cover 37 and 27 years respectively, then move fairly swiftly on, closing with the death of king Sigibert in 575. With Book 5, through to the final Book 10, the pace slows markedly, and the detail swells, with only between two and four years covered in each of the last six books, breaking off in 591. These books are organised in annual form, based on the regnal years of Childebert II (r. 575-595/6). There continues to be much discussion over when precisely Gregory wrote specific parts of the Histories, though there is general agreement that none of it was written before 575 and, of course, none of it after Gregory's death, which is believed to have occurred in 594. Essentially, scholars are divided over whether Gregory wrote the Histories sequentially as the years from 575 unfolded, with little or no revision thereafter, or whether he composed the whole work over the space of a few years shortly before his death and after 585 (see Murray 2015 for the arguments on both sides). For an understanding of the political history of the time, and Gregory's attitude to it, precisely when the various books were written is of great importance; but for what he wrote about the saints, the precise date of composition is of little significance, because Gregory's attitude to saints, their relics and their miracles did not change significantly during his writing-life. We have therefore chosen to date Gregory's writing of our entries only within the broadest possible parameters: with a terminus post quem of 575 for the early books of the Histories, and thereafter the year of the events described, and a terminus ante quem of 594, set by Gregory's death. (Bryan Ward-Perkins, David Lambert) For general discussions of the Histories see: Goffart, W., The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550–800): Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon (Princeton, 1988), 119–127. Murray, A.C., "The Composition of the Histories of Gregory of Tours and Its Bearing on the Political Narrative," in: A.C. Murray (ed.), A Companion to Gregory of Tours (Leiden and Boston, 2015), 63–101. Pizarro, J.M., "Gregory of Tours and the Literary Imagination: Genre, Narrative Style, Sources, and Models in the Histories," in: Murray, A Companion to Gregory of Tours, 337–374.


Gregory's passage about the seven bishops sent to Gaul during the reign of Decius is related to a complex of stories about the origins of Gallic episcopal sees, which appear to have emerged in the 4th century or even earlier, and would continue to develop through the Carolingian era and beyond, with the claimed origins pushed ever backwards in time, the prized goal being 'apostolicity', in other words foundation at the mandate of an Apostle. In this passage, Gregory does not say where the seven bishops were consecrated, nor who sent them. Elsewhere in his works, however, he is explicit that were they sent by the pope from Rome: in Histories 10.31, for instance, he writes of Gatianus the first bishop of Tours, that 'Bishop Gatianus was sent by the pope of the Roman see in the first year of the rule of Decius' (Catianus episcopus anno imperii Decii primo a Romanae sedis papa transmissus est), and he makes similar statements about the Roman origins of the missions of Martialis of Limoges and Stremonius of Clermont in Glory of the Confessors 27 and 29 (E02580 and E02582), and of that of Saturninus of Toulouse in Glory of the Martyrs 47 (E00545). Here, in Histories 1.30, Gregory cites and quotes a passage from a Martyrdom of Saturninus as evidence for the mission of all seven bishops, but the quotation, and indeed the extant Martyrdom of Saturninus (E05623), while clearly referring to the origins of Saturninus' episcopate in the consulship of Decius and Gratus (AD 250), make no reference to the other six bishops (nor indeed to the Roman origins of Saturninus). We must assume that Gregory derived his story of seven bishops sent from Rome in the 3rd century from some other (unidentifiable) source, seizing on this snippet from the Martyrdom of Saturninus as validation of all its details. (For more on Gregory's use of the Martyrdom, see below.) There were other traditions in Gaul about the foundations of its sees: in particular Arles, while agreeing with Gregory that its first bishop was Trophimus and that he was sent from Rome, dated his mission very much earlier, claiming that he was sent by Peter himself (see, e.g., E00957). Gregory either did not know what Arles claimed, or chose to ignore it, perhaps because he knew that the see of Tours could not push its origins earlier than the 3rd century, and was therefore reluctant to accept Arles' apostolicity. In the case of Lyon, evidence from Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History established beyond doubt that its church and bishops predated the 3rd century, which Gregory fully accepted and repeated (E00548) – Lyon is not one of the seven bishoprics mentioned here. It seems likely that, subsequent to writing this passage in Histories 1.30, Gregory learned of other traditions that pushed the origins of several Gallic churches earlier in time: in particular, in Glory of the Martyrs 47 (E00545), he attributes the mission of Saturninus not, as here, to the 3rd century, but to the very early years of the Church, stating that he was sent 'by disciples of the apostles'. Similar early missions are mentioned for Eutropis of Saintes in Glory of the Martyrs 55 (E00581), and for Ursinus of Bourges in Glory of the Confessors 79 (E02711). This latter story also contradicts what Gregory wrote in the Histories – compare Gregory's account of the coming of Christianity to Bourges in Histories 1.31 (E02013), where it is attributed to the period just after the arrival of the seven bishops, with what he wrote in Glory of the Confessors 79 (E02711), where he attributes it another bishop sent by 'disciples of the apostles'. Gregory's use of the Martyrdom of Saturninus (E05623): The sentence quoted by Gregory from the Martyrdom that dates the arrival of Saturninus to the consulship of Decius and Gratus, can indeed be found in this text as it has come down to us (with some insignificant variations in the wording – see E05623). However, several details in Gregory's subsequent account of Saturninus' martyrdom show that he had a version of the text that differed from the one that has survived. While the general outline of Saturninus' martyrdom is the same, the words of Saturninus before his martyrdom quoted by Gregory, the claim that Saturninus prayed that no native of Toulouse would ever become bishop of the city, and the words of his prayer quoted by Gregory, are all absent from the extant version of the Martyrdom.


Edition: Krusch, B., and Levison, W., Gregorii episcopi Turonensis Libri historiarum X (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum I.1; 2nd ed.; Hannover, 1951). Translation: Thorpe, L., Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks (Penguin Classics; London, 1974). Further reading: Murray, A.C., "The Composition of the Histories of Gregory of Tours and Its Bearing on the Political Narrative", in: A.C. Murray (ed.), A Companion to Gregory of Tours (Leiden-Boston 2015), 63-101. Vieillard-Troiekouroff, M., Les monuments religieux de la Gaule d'après les œuvres de Grégoire de Tours (Paris, 1976).

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