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E02018: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (1.48), recounts the struggle between the people of Poitiers and Tours for the body of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050), after his death in 397 in the village of Candes, ending in its successful transfer to Tours; all in north-west Gaul. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 575/594.

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posted on 2016-11-18, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 1.48

Arcadi vero et Honori secundo imperii anno sanctus Martinus Turonorum episcopus, plenus virtutibus et sanctitate, praebens infirmis multa beneficia, octuaginsimo et primo aetatis suae anno, episcopatum autem vicissimo sexto, apud Condatinsem diocisis suae vicum excedens a saeculo, filiciter migravit ad Christum. Transiit autem media nocte, quae dominica habebatur, Attico Caesarioque consolibus. Multi enim in eius transitum psallentium audierunt in caelum, quod in libro virtutum eius primo plenius exposuemus. Nam cum primitus sanctus Dei apud Condatinsem, ut dixemus, vicum aegrotare coepisset, Pectavi populi ad eius transitum sicut Toronici convenerunt. Quo migrante, grandis altercatio in utrumque surrexit populum. Dicebant enim Pectavi: 'Noster est monachus, nobis abba extetit, nos requiremus commendatum. Sufficiat vobis, quod, dum esset in mundo episcopus, usi fuistis eius conloquium, participastis convivio, firmati fuistis benedictionebus, insuper et virtutibus iocundati. Sufficiant ergo vobis ista omnia, nobis liciat auferre vel cadaver exanimum'. Ad haec Toronici respondebant: 'Si virtutum nobis facta sufficere dicitis, scitote, quia vobiscum positus amplius est quam hic operatus. Nam, ut praetermittamus plurimum, vobis suscitavit duos mortuos, nobis unum; et, ut ipse saepe dicebat, maior ei virtus ante episcopatum fuit, quam post episcopatum. Ergo necesse est, ut, quod nobiscum non inplevit vivens, expleat vel defunctus. Vobis est enim ablatus, nobis a Deo donatus. Virum si mus antiquitus institutus servatur, in urbe qua ordenatus est habebit Deo iubente sepulchrum. Certe si pro monasthirio privilegio cupitis vindecare, scetote, quia primum ei monasthirium cum Mediolaninsibus fuit'. His ergo litigantibus, sol ruente nox clauditur, corpusque in medio positum, firmatis serra usteis, ab utroque populo costoditur, futurum ut mane facto a Pectavensibus per violentiam aufereretur. Sed Deus omnipotens noluit urbem Toronicam a proprio frustrari patrono. Denique nocte media omnes Pectava somno falanga conpraemitur, nec ullus superfuit, qui ex hac multitudine vigilaret. Igitur ubi Toronici eos conspiciunt obdormisse, adpraehensam sanctissimi corporis glebam, alii per fenestram eiciunt, alii a foris suscipiunt, positumque in navi, cum omni populo per Vingennam fluvium discendunt, ingressique Legeris alveum, ad urbem Toronicam cum magnis laudibus psallentioque dirigunt copioso. De quorum vocibus Pectavi expergefacti, nihil de thesauro quem costodiebant habentes, cum magna confusione ad propria sunt reversi.

'In the second year of the rule of Arcadius and Honorius, Saint Martin, Bishop of Tours, who had done so many good deeds for the sick, who was so holy and had performed so many miracles, died at Candes, a village in his own diocese, in the eighty-first year of his age and the twenty-sixth year of his episcopate, and so went happily to meet Christ. He died at midnight on a Sunday, during the consulship of Atticus and Caesarius. As he passed away, many heard a chanting of psalms in the sky, which I have described at greater length in the first book of his Miracles. As soon as this holy man was taken ill in the village of Candes, as I have said already, the people of Poitiers and Tours began to assemble at his death bed. When he was dead, a great altercation arose between the two groups. The men of Poitiers said: ‘He is our monk. He became an abbot in our town. We entrusted him to you but we demand him back. It is sufficient for you that, while he was a bishop on this earth, you enjoyed his company, you shared his table, you were strengthened by his blessing and above all you were cheered by his miracles. Let all these things suffice for you, and permit us at least to carry away his dead body.' To this the men of Tours replied: 'If you say that we should be satisfied with the miracles which he performed for us, then admit that while he was with you he did more than in our town. If all his other miracles are left out of the count, he raised two dead men for you and only one for us; and, as he himself used often to say, his miraculous power was greater before he was made bishop than it was afterwards. It is therefore necessary that what he did not achieve with us when he was alive he should complete now that he is dead. God took him away from you, but only so that He might give him to us. If the custom established by the men of old is observed, then by God's will he shall be buried in the town where he was consecrated. If you propose to claim him because you have his monastery, then you must know this, that his first monastery was in Milan.' They went on with their argument until the sun went down and night began to fall. The body was placed in the middle of the room, the doors were locked and he was watched over by the two groups. The men of Poitiers planned to carry off the body by force as soon as morning came, but Almighty God would not allow the town of Tours to be deprived of its patron (patronus). In the end all the men of Poitiers fell asleep in the middle of the night, and there was not one who remained on guard. When the men of Tours saw that all the Poitevins had fallen asleep, they took the mortal clay of the most holy body and some passed it out through the window while others stood outside to receive it. They placed it in a boat and all those present rowed down the River Vienne, As soon as they reached the River Loire, they set their course for the city of Tours, praising God and chanting psalms. The men of Poitiers were awakened by their voices and they went back home in great confusion, taking nothing of the treasure which they were supposed to be guarding.'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 32-33. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 97-99; lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050

Saint Name in Source


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 - Places

Burial site of a saint - other

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Ceremonies at burial of a saint

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Power over life and death

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Transfer, translation and deposition of relics


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.


This is the earliest surviving account of the dispute between Poitiers and Tours over possession of Martin's body.


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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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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