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E02136: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (5.14), tells of how, in 577, Merovech joined Guntram Boso in sanctuary at the church in Tours of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050); how King Chilperic sought to have him expelled; how both Merovech and Chilperic sought (by different means) answers from Martin about the future, while Guntram Boso consulted a soothsayer; and how, after leaving Tours, Merovech sought sanctuary in the church of *Germanus (bishop of Auxerre, ob. 448, S00455) in Auxerre (central Gaul). Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 577/594.

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posted on 2016-12-16, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik, dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 5.14

Merovech, the rebellious son of King Chilperic, seeks sanctuary in the church of Martin at Tours, joining there Guntram Boso who had already sought refuge there (see E02121). Chilperic threatens to devastate the region of Tours if Gregory refuses to expel these men from the church, while his queen, Fredegund, attempts to use Guntram Boso in order to trick Merovech out of sanctuary.

Merovech prays that Martin will help him to win power:

Et ingressus basilicam, dum vigilias ageret, res quas secum habebat ad sepulchrum beati Martini exhibuit, orans, ut sibi sanctus succurrerit atque ei concederit gratiam suam, ut regnum accepere possit.

'He came into the church during vigils, bringing with him everything that he possessed. He placed it all beside the tomb of Saint Martin and prayed that the Saint might succour him and grant him this favour that he might win the kingdom.'

When threats and tricks fail, Chilperic seeks to consult Martin as to whether he will achieve his aims:

Misit Chilpericus rex epistulam scriptam ad sepulchrum sancti Martini, quae habebat insertum, ut ei beatus Martinus rescriberet, utrum liceret extrahi Gunthchramnum de basilica eius an non. Sed Baudegyselus diaconus, qui hanc epistulam exhibuit, cartam puram cum eadem quam detulerat ad sanctum tumolum misit. Cumque per triduum expectasset et nihil rescripti reciperet, redivit ad Chilpericum

'King Chilperic wrote a letter and addressed it to the tomb of Saint Martin, asking that the saint should write back to him to say whether or not he could have Guntram forcibly ejected from the church. The deacon Baudegisl, who brought this letter, placed it on the saint's tomb, with a blank piece of paper (carta) beside it. He waited three days but received no answer, So he returned to Chilperic.'

Meanwhile Guntram Boso consults a soothsayer (phitonissa) and receives a glowing prophecy of how Merovech will become king the very same year, and how he, Guntram Boso, will flourish under him, eventually retiring from military life as a bishop. But Merovech, distrusting the soothsayer,

Tres libros super sancti sepulchrum posuit, id est psalterii, Regum, euangeliorum, et vigilans tota nocte, petiit, ut sibi beatus confessor quid eveniret ostenderet, et utrum possit regnum accepere an non, ut Domino indicante, cognuscerit. Post haec continuato triduo in ieiuniis, vigiliis atque orationibus, ad beatum tumolum iterum accedens, revolvit librum, qui erat Regum.

'... placed three books on the saint's tomb, the Psalter, the Book of Kings and the Gospels: then he spent the whole night in prayer, beseeching the holy confessor to show him what was going to happen, that he might know, through a sign from the Lord, whether or not he would be able to inherit the kingdom. He spent three days and nights in fasting, vigils and supplication: then he went up to the tomb and opened the first volume, which was the Book of Kings.'

The answers Merovech gets from the three books predict (correctly) his imminent downfall and death.

Eventually Merovech, accompanied by Guntram Boso, leaves Tours and heads to Auxerre. There he is captured, but escapes, seeking sanctuary in the church of Germanus in Auxerre, where he spends two months. Meanwhile an army sent by Chilperic devastates the region of Tours.

Exercitus autem Chilperici regis usque Toronus accedens, regionem illam in praedas mittit, succendit atque devastat nec rebus sancti Martini pepercit ...

'King Chilperic’s army now advanced as far as Tours. He sacked the whole neighbourhood, setting fire to it and ravaging it, and not sparing even the things which belonged to Saint Martin ...'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 207-213. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 267-272, modified. Summary: Katarzyna Wojtalik.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050 Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, ob. c. 448 : S00455

Saint Name in Source

Martinus Germanus

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 Aristocrats Ecclesiastics - bishops Officials


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 chapter must have been written, or at least revised, in 580 or later, since Gregory refers to the death of all the sons of Chilperic, one of whom died in 580. The chapter is a good example of the troubles that sanctuary could bring on a church – that two political enemies, Merovech and Guntram Boso, were given sanctuary in the church of Martin, brought the wrath of King Chilperic down on Tours. It also shows that taking sanctuary did not necessarily involve never leaving the precincts of the church – at one point in the story, Merovech and Guntram Boso go hunting in the countryside outside Tours. The church of Germanus in Auxerre was built by bishop Germanus himself outside the city walls. Originally it was dedicated to the martyrs of Agaune. But after Germanus was buried there, the place became his sanctuary. Heiric of Auxerre in his 9th c. Miracula Sancti Germani tells that Queen Clotild, wife of Clovis, at the beginning of 6th century replaced the old funerary church (the one built by Germanus) with a bigger and more splendid one (Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 47-48; Picard 1992, 58-59).


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. Picard, J.-Ch., "Auxerre," in: N. Gauthier and J.-Ch. Picard (eds.), Topographie chrétienne des cités de la Gaule des origines au milieu du VIIIe siècle, vol. 8: Province ecclésiastique de Sens (Lungdunensis Senonia) (Paris, 1992), 47-65. Vieillard-Troiekouroff, M., Les monuments religieux de la Gaule d'après les œuvres de Grégoire de Tours (Paris, 1976).

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