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E02032: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (2.37), tells how, in 507, Clovis, king of the Franks, marching to confront the Arian Visigoths at Vouillé, out of respect for *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) and *Hilary (bishop of Poitiers, ob. 367, S00183), protected the property of Tours and Poitiers (both in western Gaul), and received favourable omens from both saints. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 575/594.

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posted on 2016-11-21, 00:00 authored by robert
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 2.37

Igitur Chlodovechus rex ait suis: 'Valde molestum fero, quod hi Arriani partem teneant Galliarum. Eamus cum Dei adiutorium, et superatis redegamus terram in ditione nostra'. Cumque placuisset omnibus hic sermo, conmoto exercitu, Pectavus dirigit. Ibi tunc Alaricus commorabatur. Sed quoniam pars hostium per territurium Turonicum transiebat, pro reverentia beati Martini dedit edictum, ut nullus de regione illa aliud quam herbarum alimenta aquamque praesumeret. Quidam autem de exercitu, inventum cuiusdam pauperis faenum, ait: 'Nonne rex herbam tantum praesumi mandavit, nihil aliud? Et hoc, inquid, 'herba est. Non enim erimus transgressores praecepti eius, si eam praesumimus'. Cumque vim faciens pauperi faenum vertute tulisset, factum pervenit ad regem. Quem dicto citius gladio peremptum, ait: 'Et ubi erit spes victuriae, si beato Martino offendimus?' Satisque fuit exercitui nihil ulterius ab ac regione praesumere. Ipsi vero rex direxit nuntius ad beatam basilicam, dicens: 'Ite et forsitan aliquod victuriae auspicium ab aedae sancta suscipitis'. Tunc datis muneribus, quod loco sancto exhiberent, ait: 'Si tu, Domine, adiutor mihi es et gentem hanc incredulam semperque aemulam tibi meis manibus tradere decrevisti, in ingressu basilicae sancti Martini dignare propitius revelare, ut cognuscam, quia propitius dignaberis esse famulo tuo'. Maturantibus autem pueris et ad locum accedentibus iuxta imperium regis, dum sanctam ingrederentur basilicam, hanc antefanam ex inproviso primicirius, qui erat, inposuit: Praecinxisti me, Domine, virtutem ad bellum, subplantasti insurgentes in me subtus me et inimicorum meorum dedisti mihi dorsum et odientes me disperdedisti. Quod psallentium audientes, Domino gratias agentes et vota beato confessori promittentes, laeti nuntiaverunt regi. Porro ille cum ad fluvium Vigennam cum exercitu advenisset, in quo loco eum transire deberit, paenitus ignorabat. Intumuerat enim ab inundationem pluviarum. Cumque illa nocte Dominum depraecatus fuisset, ut ei vadum quo transire possit dignaretur ostendere, mane facto cerva mirae magnitudinis ante eos nuto Dei flumine ingreditur, illaque vadante, populus quo transire possit agnovit. Veniente autem rege apud Pictavus, dum eminus in tenturiis commoraret, pharus ignea, de basilica sancti Helari egressa, visa est ei tamquam super se advenire, scilicet ut, lumine beati confessoris adiutus Helarii, liberius hereticas acies, contra quas saepe idem sacerdos pro fide conflixerat, debellaret. Contestatus est autem omni exercitu, ut nec ibi quidem aut in via aliquem expoliarent aut res cuiusquam direperent.

'"I find it hard to go on seeing these Arians occupy a part of Gaul," said Clovis to his ministers. "With God's help let us invade them. When we have beaten them, we will take over their territory." They all agreed to this proposal. An army was assembled and Clovis marched on Poitiers. Some of his troops passed through land belonging to Tours. In respect for Saint Martin Clovis ordered that they should requisition nothing in this neighbourhood except fodder and water. One of the soldiers found some hay belonging to a poor man. The king commanded that nothing should be requisitioned except fodder, didn’t he?’ said this man. ‘Well, this is fodder. We shan’t be disobeying his orders if we take it.’ He laid hands on the poor man and took his hay by main force. This was reported to Clovis. He drew his sword and killed the soldier on the spot. "It is no good expecting to win this fight if we offend Saint Martin," said he. This was enough to ensure that the army took nothing else from this region. The king sent messengers to the church of Saint Martin. "Go," he said, "and perhaps you will bring back some auspices of victory from the holy house." He loaded them with gifts which they were to offer to the church. "Lord God," said he, "if You are on my side and if You have decreed that this people of unbelievers, who have always been hostile to You, are to be delivered into my hands, deign to show me a propitious sign as these men enter Saint Martin’s church, so that I may know that You will support your servant Clovis." The messengers set out on their journey and came to Tours as Clovis had commanded. As they entered the church, it happened that the precentor was just beginning to intone this antiphon: "For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle: thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me. Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies: that I might destroy them that hate me." When the messengers heard this psalm, they gave thanks to God. They made their vows to the Saint and went happily back to report to the King. When Clovis reached the River Vienne with his army, he was at a loss to know where to cross, for the river was swollen with heavy rains. That night he prayed that God might deign to indicate a ford by which he might make the crossing. As day dawned an enormous doe entered the water, as if to lead them at God’s command. The soldiers knew that where the doe had crossed they could follow. The King marched towards Poitiers, and while he and his army were encamped there a pillar of fire rose from the church of Saint Hilary. It seemed to move towards Clovis as a sign that with the support of the blessed Saint he might the more easily overcome the heretic host, against which Hilary himself had so often done battle for the faith. Clovis forbade his troops to take any booty as they marched in, or to rob any man of his possessions.'

After a passage describing the miracle of the Abbot Maxentius (E02029), Gregory gives his account of the Battle of Vouillé and Clovis's victory over the Goths. The passage concludes:

Post haec, patrata victuria, Turonus est regressus, multae sanctae basilicae beati Martini munera offerens.

'With his victory consolidated he then returned to Tours. There he gave many gifts to the church of Saint Martin.'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 85-86, 88. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 151-152, 154, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050 Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, ob. 368 : S00183

Saint Name in Source

Martinus Helarus

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 - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Visiting graves and shrines

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Miracle with animals and plants Miraculous interventions in war

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family Soldiers Animals


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.


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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