University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E02119: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (5.2), records that Merovech, the disobedient son of King Chilperic, in 575 successfully sought sanctuary with Queen Brunhild, his wife, in a wooden church of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050), built on the walls of Rouen (northern Gaul). Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 575/594.

online resource
posted on 2016-12-14, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 5.2

Ipsi vero simolans ad matrem suam ire velle, Rodomago petiit; et ibi Brunichilde reginae coniungitur, ea quoque sibi in matrimonio sociavit. Haec audiens Chilpericus, quod scilicet contra fas legemque canonicam uxorem patrui accepisset, valde amarus dicto citius ad supra memoratum oppidum dirigit. At ille, cum haec cognovissent, quod eosdem separare decernerit, ad basilicam sancti Martini, quae super murus civitatis ligneis tabulis fabrecata est, confugium faciunt. Rex vero adveniens, cum in multis ingeniis eos exinde auferre niteretur et illi, dolosae eum potantes facere, non crederent, iuravit eis, dicens: 'Si', inquid, 'voluntas Dei foret, ipse hos separare non conaretur'. Haec illi sacramenta accipientes, de basilica egressi sunt; exosculatisque et dignanter acceptis, epulavit cum eis.

'Under the pretext of visiting his mother Audovera, he [Merovech] next moved to Rouen. There he joined Queen Brunhild and made her his wife. When Chilperic heard that in defiance of custom and canon law Merovech had married his uncle’s widow, he was bitterly angry and marched to Rouen quicker than I can say the word. As soon as Merovech learned that Chilperic had decided to separate them, they sought sanctuary in the church (basilica) of Saint Martin, which is built of wooden planks on the city walls (quae super murus civitatis ligneis tabulis fabrecata est). The King arrived and did all in his power to persuade them to come out. They knew that he was up to no good and they refused to believe him, but he swore that insofar as it was God’s will he would not try to separate them. When they heard his solemn oath, they came out from the church. Chilperic kissed them both and received them according to their rank, and dined with them.'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 195-196. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 255, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, 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

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Seeking asylum at church/shrine

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family


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 passage relates one of the many occasions recorded in Gregory's Histories of persons seeking sanctuary: in this case in what must have been a small wooden chapel (though described as a basilica) built on the walls of Rouen (ancient Rotomagus). Gregory is keen to show that his patron, Martin, could offer protection even in a minor ecclesiastical building, at some distance from his place of burial and major shrine in Tours. The small church of Martin was located near the west gate of Rouen that was later called porte Cauchoise (Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 245-246; Gauthier 1996, 33).


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., "Rouen,", in: N. Gauthier (ed.), Topographie chrétienne des cités de la Gaule des origines au milieu du VIIIe siècle, vol. 9: Province ecclésiastique de Rouen (Lungdunensis Secunda) (Paris, 1996), 19-35. 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