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E02097: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (4.19), tells of the death of Bishop *Medard (S00168) in 557/558, his burial by King Chlothar at Soissons (northern Gaul), the church built over his grave (completed by Chlothar's son, Sigibert), and the broken chains preserved by the tomb as proof of his miraculous freeing of prisoners. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 575/594.

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posted on 2016-12-09, 00:00 authored by robert
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 4.19

Tempore quoque Chlothari regis sanctus Dei Medardus episcopus, consummato boni operis cursu et plenus dierum, sanctitate praecipuus, diem obiit. Quem Chlotharius rex cum summo honore apud Sessionas civitatem sepelivit et basilicam super eum fabricare coepit, quam postea Sigiberthus, filius eius, explevit atque conposuit. Ad cuius beatum sepulchrum vidimus vinctorum conpedes atque catenas disruptas confractasque iacere; quae usque hodie in testimonium virtutis eius ad ipsum beati sepulchrum reservantur.

'At this time, while Chlothar was still reigning as king, the holy man of God Bishop Medard ended a lifetime of good works and died full of days and famous for his holiness. King Chlothar had him buried with great honour at Soissons, and began to build over his remains the church (basilica) which his son Sigibert later completed and embellished. At Medard’s holy tomb I myself have seen the chains and shackles of prisoners burst asunder and lying broken on the ground; to this day they are preserved at the tomb of the blessed man as testimony his miraculous power.'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 152. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 215, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Medard of Soissons, bishop of Vermandois/Noyon in Gaul, ob. 557/558 : S00168

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

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Freeing prisoners, exiles, captives, slaves Specialised miracle-working

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


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 story perhaps suggests that Medard displayed a particular power in the freeing of prisoners. Before the church of Medard built by Chlothar and completed by his son Sigibert, there was a chapel constructed from small branches over the bishop's tomb (Glory of the Confessors 93, see E02751). The church was a very important funerary monument for the Merovingians (Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 289-290; Gaillard 2006, 56).


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: Gaillard, M., "Soissons," in: N. Gauthier, B. Beaujard, and F. Prévot (eds.), Topographie chrétienne des cités de la Gaule des origines au milieu du VIIIe siècle, vol. 14: Province ecclésiastique de Reims (Belgica Secunda) (Paris, 2006), 47-57. 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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