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E01877: Gregory of Nyssa in his Life of *Makrina (ascetic S00899), composed in the early 380s, reports a dream vision he experienced, in which he was carrying relics of martyrs in his hands, a premonition of the death of his sister, Makrina. Written in Greek in Cappadocia (central Asia Minor).

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posted on 2016-10-01, 00:00 authored by erizos
Gregory of Nyssa, Life of *Makrina (CPG 3166, BHG 1012)

For the context of this passage, see E01660

ἐπειδὴ τοίνυν τὸ πολὺ τῆς ὁδοῦ διανύσας μιᾶς ἡμέρας ἀπεῖχον ὁδόν, ὄψις τις ἡμῖν ἐξ ἐνυπνίου φανεῖσα φοβερὰς ἐποίει τὰς ἐλπίδας τοῦ μέλλοντος. ἐδόκουν γὰρ λείψανα μαρτύρων διὰ χειρὸς φέρειν, εἶναι δὲ ἀπ᾽ αὐτῶν αὐγὴν οἵα ἐκ καθαροῦ γίνεται κατόπτρου, ὅταν πρὸς τὸν ἥλιον τεθῇ ἀντιπρόσωπον, ὥστε μοι τὰς ὄψεις πρὸς τὴν μαρμαρυγὴν τῆς λαμπηδόνος ἀμβλύνεσθαι. καὶ τῆς αὐτῆς μοι νυκτὸς εἰς τρὶς γενομένης τῆς τοιαύτης ὄψεως συμβαλεῖν μὲν οὐκ εἶχον καθαρῶς τοῦ ἐνυπνίου τὸ αἴνιγμα, λύπην δέ τινα τῇ ψυχῇ προεώρων καὶ ἐπετήρουν τῇ ἐκβάσει κρῖναι τὴν φαντασίαν.

‘Now, as I had covered most of the distance and was one day’s journey away, a certain vision appeared to us in a dream, filling us with dreadful forebodings of what was about to happen. I saw that I was carrying in my hands relics of martyrs, and that a radiance shone from them, as from a pure mirror facing the sun, so that my eyes were dazzled by the brilliance of the flash. I had that vision three times in that very night, and, although I could not resolve the riddle of the dream with clarity, I foresaw grief for my soul and was alert to interpret the dream by events.’

Text: Maraval 1971. Translation: Silvas 2008, modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Makrina the Younger, ascetic in Pontus, ob. 379 : S00899

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint Literary - Letters


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Nȳsa Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Nyssa

Cult Activities - Miracles

Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Relatives of the saint

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic


Gregory of Nyssa was born in the late 330s as one of the youngest of a leading Christian family of Cappadocia. His siblings included important figures of church life, namely Basil of Caesarea, the ascetic Makrina the Younger, and Peter of Sebaste. Gregory was trained in philosophy and rhetoric mainly by his brother Basil, who, in 371 or 372 ordained him bishop of the Cappadocian township of Nyssa. In 376, Gregory was deposed from his see, to which he was able to return in 378, and, from then onwards, he was one of the protagonists of church politics in the East Roman Empire. He played an important role during the Council of Constantinople (381) and was very close to the imperial family of Theodosius I. He was sent on missions to Armenia and Arabia in order settle problems in local churches. Gregory died after 394. He left a large literary heritage on philosophical, theological, ascetical, catechetical and homiletic works. Gregory probably wrote the Life of Makrina in winter 381/2, over three years after his sister’s death (which probably occurred on 19 July 378). The manuscript tradition of the text is analysed by Silvas 2008, 93-99. For a list of the 44 manuscripts see: (accessed 02/02/2017)


Here Gregory recounts a dream which he regarded as a premonitory vision of his sister’s death. The most interesting aspect is the fact that the author regards the relics of martyrs as transferable, attesting to the broad spread of this attitude among the Christians of Asia Minor. It may seem odd that a vision of shining relics is received by Gregory as a dark omen, but this may be part of the author’s strategy to convince us of the holiness of Makrina: his sister was soon to be received in heaven, and her body would become a holy relic.


Text and French Translation: Maraval, P. Grégoire De Nysse, Vie De Sainte Macrine. Sources Chrétiennes. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1971. English translation, comments, bibliography: Silvas, Anna. Macrina the Younger, Philosopher of God. Turnhout: Brepols, 2008. Further Reading: Elm, S., Virgins of God: the Making of Asceticism in Late Antiquity, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994, 78-105. Ludlow, M., Gregory of Nyssa, Ancient and (Post)modern, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, 202-219. On Gregory of Nyssa: Dörrie, H., “Gregor III,” in Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 12 (1983), 863-895. Maraval, P., ‘Grégoire, évêque de Nysse’, in Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques 22 (1988): 20–4. Silvas, A. M. Gregory of Nyssa. The Letters: Introduction, Translation and Commentary. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 83. Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2007, 1-57.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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