University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E02021: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (2.6), Gregory of Tours describes the miraculous survival of an oratory in Metz (eastern Gaul) with relics of *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030), when the city was burnt by the Huns in 451. In a vision, Stephen is seen seeking the help of the Apostles *Peter and *Paul (S00036 and S00008), to save the whole city, or at least his oratory. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 575/594.

online resource
posted on 2016-11-20, 00:00 authored by robert
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 2.6

Igitur Chuni a Pannoniis egressi, ut quidam ferunt, in ipsa sanctae paschae vigilia ad Mettinsem urbem reliqua depopulando perveniunt, tradentes urbem incendium populum in ore gladii trucidantes ipsusque sacerdotes Domini ante sacrosancta altaria perimentes. Nec remansit in ea locus inustus praeter oraturium beati Stefani primi martyres ac levitae. De quo oraturio quae a quibusdam audivi narrare non distuli. Aiunt enim, quia, priusquam hi hostes venerent, vidisse virum fidelem in visu quasi conferentem cum sanctis apostolis Petro ac Paulo beatum levitam Stefanum de hoc excidio ac dicentem: 'Oro, domini mi, ut non permittatis obtentu vestro Mettensim urbem ab inimicis exuri, quia locus in ea est, in quo parvitatis meae pignera contenentur; sed potius sentiant se populi aliquid me posse cum Domino. Quod si tantum facinus populi supercrevit, ut aliut fieri non possit, nisi civitas tradatur incendio, saltim vel hoc oraturium non cremetur'. Cui ille aiunt: 'Vade in pace, dilectissime frater, oraturium tantum tuum caribit incendium! Pro urbe vero non obtinebimus, quia dominicae sanctionis super eam sententia iam processit. Invaluit enim peccatum populi, et clamor malitiae eorum ascendit coram Deo; ideo civitas haec cremabitur incendio'. Unde procul dubium est, quod horum obtentu, urbe vastata, oraturium permansit inlaesum.

'The Huns migrated from Pannonia and laid waste the countryside as they advanced. They came to the town of Metz, so people say, on Easter Eve. They burned the town to the ground, slaughtered the populace with the sharp edge of their swords and killed the priests of the Lord in front of their holy altars. No building in the town remained unburnt except the oratory (oraturium) of Saint Stephen, Levite and first martyr. I will now tell you the story of this oratory as I heard it from various people. They say that, before these enemies arrived, one of the faithful in a vision saw Saint Stephen the Levite discussing this destruction with the holy Apostles Peter and Paul. 'I beg you, masters,' said he, 'that by your intervention you prevent the town of Metz from being burnt down by the enemy, for there is a spot there in which the relics (pignera) of my own humble existence are preserved. If you do this you will make the people realize that I have some influence with the Lord. If the wickedness of the inhabitants is too great, and nothing can be done to protect the town from a holocaust, at least stop my oratory from being burnt.' 'Go in peace, most beloved brother,' answered the Apostles, 'for your oratory alone will escape the flames. As for the town, we can do nothing, for the judgement of God has already been passed on it. The evil-doing of the inhabitants has reached such a point that the clamour of their wickedness has already come to God’s ears. The town must therefore be burnt to the ground.' There is no possible doubt, then, that it was thanks to their intercession that, when the town was destroyed, the oratory remained unscathed.'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 47-48. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 115-116.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030 Peter the Apostle : S00036 Paul, the Apostle : S00008

Saint Name in Source

Stefanus Petrus Paulus

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

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult Activities - Miracles

Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous protection - of church and church property Miraculous protection - of communities, towns, armies


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.


The story is interesting as an indication that Gregory perceived a hierarchy amongst the saints: even Stephen, the biblical first martyr, sought the help of greater (and apparently better informed) saints, the Apostles Peter and Paul, when requesting a major miracle, such as the salvation of a whole city. The oratory of Stephen was located near the cathedral of Metz, or on its site, and built some time after 415, when Stephen's body was discovered in Palestine. Gauthier argues that the oratorium mentioned by Gregory was transformed into the cathedral after its miraculous salvation from fire, thereby explaining why the cathedral was dedicated to Stephen. Certainly he was patron of the cathedral at the time of the death of Bertram, bishop of Le Mans, in AD 616. (Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 172-174; Gauthier 1986, 43).


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: Gauthier, N., "Metz," in: N. Gauthier and J.-Ch. Picard (eds.), Toppgraphie chrétienne des cités de la Gaule des origines au milieu du VIIIe siècle, vol. 1: Province ecclésistique de Trèves (Belgica Prima) (Paris, 1986), 33-53. 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).

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager