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E02316: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (8.15), records how *Vulfilaicus (late 6th c. stylite and monastic founder, S01199) kept vigils in youth in the name of *Martin (ascetic and bshop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050), became a disciple of *Aredius (monk of Limoges, ob. 591, S00302), and visited with him the tomb of Martin in Tours, where Aredius gathered dust in a small box (capsula). This dust when placed in the oratory of a monastery near Limoges (western Gaul) increases in quantity. Vulfilaicus travels to the region of Trier (north-east Gaul), and on a column imitates the stylite *Symeon (probably the Elder, ob. 459, S00343; possibly the Younger, ob. 592, S00860). He destroys idols and converts the locals to Christianity; is cured of sores with oil brought from Saint Martin’s church in Tours; is ordered off his column by bishops; all in around 565-585. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 585/594.

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posted on 2017-02-02, 00:00 authored by Bryan, dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 8.15


While Gregory of Tours was in the monastery built by Vulfilaicus about eight miles from the fortress of Carignan (north-east Gaul), he asked Vulfilaicus to tell him about his conversion, and how he entered the service of the Church. He did not want to tell these events lest he seem vainglorious; but finally, told his story in secret.

Vulfilaicus, a Lombard by birth, said he was inspired by Saint Martin of Tours in his childhood, though he did not then know who Martin had been and what he had done; he kept vigils in Martin's name and gave money as alms. When he was older, he became a disciple of Aredius, and visited the church of Martin in Tours. Aredius gathered a little dust from Martin's tomb as a relic. He put it in a small box (capsula) and hung it round Vulfilaicus' neck. After they arrived at the monastery near Limoges, Aredius put the box in his oratory. A miracle occurred and the dust increased in quantity.

Vulfilaicus also told about his moving to the neighbourhood of Trier. He imitated there Symeon the Stylite, building a column and standing on it even through the harsh winters of the region; many local people came to see and hear him, to whom he preached against their worship of Diana. He prayed that God would cast down her statue and free the people from their false idolatry. Calling on the people to destroy the statue, they tied some ropes round it and began to pull, but were not able to pull it down; so Vulfilaicus hurried to the church and prayed. After his prayer the statue crashed to the ground. When Vulfilaicus returned home, he found his body covered with malignant sores. He went into the church, stripped himself naked by the altar, and anointed his body with oil brought in a flask from the church of Martin in Tours. A miracle occurred and Vulfilaicus found his body completely cured.

Subsequently, at the command of some bishops, who told him he was wrong to imitate Symeon, Vulfilaicus came down off his column, which was later destroyed, and lived instead with the followers he had attracted around him.

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 380-383. Summary: Katarzyna Wojtalik.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Vulfilaicus, late 6th c. stylite and monastic founder near Trier : S01199 Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050 Aredius, monk of Limoges (Gaul), ob. 591 : S00302 Symeon the Younger, stylite near Antioch, ob. 592. : S00860 S

Saint Name in Source

Vulfilaicus Martinus Aridius Symeon Symeon

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


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miraculous behaviour of relics/images Miracles experienced by the saint Healing diseases and disabilities

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Pagans Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - dust/sand/earth Contact relic - oil

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Ampullae, flasks, etc.


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 well-known story is the only evidence we have of a stylite in the West, seeking to emulate the ascetic practices of the stylites of the East: the bishops who order Vulfilaicus off his column refer to Symeon 'of Antioch', which would point to Symeon the Younger, whose column was close to Antioch and who was alive at the time (dying only in 592); but Gregory was probably referring to Antioch's broader region and to Symeon the Elder, who had died in 459 leaving a considerable reputation. Gregory does not condemn Vulfilaicus' extreme asceticism, but as a bishop himself and himself sometimes troubled by charismatic ascetics in his own diocese, he approves of the holy man's obedience when ordered by bishops off his column and into the safety of a monastery. The story is also interesting for the evidence of a cult growing around a still living ascetic: Vulfilaicus has attracted full-time followers who are living around his column, and attracts crowds of locals to whom he preaches about the evils of idolatry. Gregory, who was always very cautious about attributing sanctity to holy persons who were still alive, illustrates Vulfilaicus' closeness to God, in the story of how it was his prayers that brought about the final destruction of the statue of Diana, but he does not mention conventional miracles, such as healings of the sick or possessed. Vulfilaicus went on to have a successful posthumous cult, and as Saint Walfroy has a shrine in the southern Ardenne quite close to Luxembourg.


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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