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E02147: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (5.32), tells the story of an oath sworn in 579 on the tomb of *Dionysius/Denis (bishop and martyr of Paris, S00349), in his church in Paris, which provoked fighting and bloodshed within the church. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 579/594.

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posted on 2016-12-19, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 5.32

Apud Parisius autem mulier quaedam ruit in crimine, adserentibus multis, quasi quod, relicto viro, cum alio misceretur. Igitur parentes illius accesserunt ad patrem, dicentes: 'Aut idoneam redde filiam tuam, aut certe moriatur, ne stuprum hoc generi nostro notam infligat'. 'Novi', inquit pater, 'ego filiam meam bene idoneam; nec est verum verbum hoc, quod mali homines proloquuntur. Tamen ne crimen consurgat ulterius, innocentem eam faciam sacramento'. Et illi: 'Si', inquiunt, 'est innoxia, super tumulum hoc beati Dionisi martyris sacramentis adfirma'. 'Faciam', inquit pater. Tunc inito placito ad basilicam martyris sancti conveniunt; elevatisque pater manibus super altarium, iuravitque, filiam non esse culpabilem. E contrario vero periurasse eum, alii a parte viri pronuntiant. His ergo altercantibus, evaginatis gladiis in se invicem proruunt atque ante ipsum altarium se trucidantur. Erant enim maiores natu et primi apud Chilpericum regem. Saucianturque multi gladiis, respergitur sancta humano cruore basilica, ostia iaculis fodiuntur et ensibus, atque usque ad ipsum sepulcrum tela iniqua desaeviunt. Quod dum vix mitigatur, locus officium perdidit, donec ista omnia ad regis notitiam pervenirent. Hi vero properantes ad praesentiam principis, non recipiuntur in gratia; sed et ad episcopum loci illius remissi, iussum est, ut, si de hoc facinus culpabiles non inveniebantur, sociarentur communioni. Tunc ab episcopo Ragnimodo, qui Parisiacae ecclesiae praeerat, componentes quae male gesserant, in communione ecclesiastica sunt recepti. Mulier vero non post multis diebus, cum ad iudicium vocaretur, laqueo vitam finivit.

'In Paris a woman who had left her husband was accused by a number of people of living with another man. The husband's relations went to the woman’s father and said: 'Either you must prove your daughter’s innocence or else let her die, lest this disgrace brand our family.’ ‘I know that my daughter is completely innocent,’ answered the father. 'There is no truth at all in this rumour which is being spread by malicious people. I will prove her innocence by an oath and so stop the accusation going any farther.’ If she really is innocent,’ they replied, ‘swear an oath to that effect on the tomb of the blessed Denis, the martyr.' 'I will do so,’ said her father. Having agreed to this, they went off together to the holy martyr’s church. The father raised his hands over the altar and swore that his daughter was not guilty. The husband’s supporters declared that he had perjured himself. An argument ensued, in which they all drew their swords, rushed at each other and started killing each other in front of the altar. These men were of noble birth and among the leaders of Chilperic’s court. Many received sword-wounds, the holy church was spattered with human blood, the portals were pierced with swords and javelins, and weapons were drawn in senseless anger at the very tomb of Saint Denis. Peace was restored with great difficulty, but services could not be held in the church until what had happened was brought to the notice of the king. Both parties rushed off to court, but Chilperic refused to exonerate any of them. He sent them to the local bishop with orders that only if they were found not guilty were they to be admitted to communion. They paid a fine for their offences, and so were readmitted to communion by Bishop Ragnemod, who had charge of the church in Paris. A few days later the woman in question was summoned to trial, but she strangled herself with a rope.'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 237. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 294-295, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Denis, Dionysius bishop of Paris and martyr, ob. c.250 : S00349

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

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Destruction/desecration of saint's shrine

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Aristocrats Officials Ecclesiastics - bishops


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.


Gregory's thinking behind this story is unclear: was the woman guilty (as the final sentence perhaps implies), and, if so, why was her father's perjury not immediately punished by the saint? Gregory was perhaps more willing to tell such an open-ended story about Denis, the patron of Paris, than he would have been about his own patron, Martin of Tours.


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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