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E02320: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (8.30), recounts how in 585 military commanders of King Guntram, whose troops had ravaged the area around Clermont, sought sanctuary from the king's wrath in Autun (central Gaul), in the church of *Symphorianus (martyr of Autun, S00322). Guntram condemns their evil actions, which had included the scattering and destruction of relics of the saints. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 585/594.

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posted on 2017-02-02, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 8.30

Gregory describes how the armies sent by King Guntram to attempt to conquer Septimania from the Visigoths were defeated by the Goths, but ravaged and plundered the towns and countryside they passed through.

Quibus reversis, magna Gunthchramno regi amaritudo cordis obsedit. Duces vero supradicti exercitus ad basilicam sancti Symphoriani martyris expetierunt. Veniente itaque rege ad eius solemnitatem, repraesentati sunt sub conditione audientiae in postmodum futurae. Post dies vero quattuor, coniunctis episcopis necnon et maioribus natu laicorum, duces discutere coepit, dicens: 'Qualiter nos hoc tempore victuriam obtenere possumus, quia ea quae patres nostri secuti sunt non costodimus? Illi vero aeclesias aedificantes, in Deum spem omnem ponentes, martyres honorantes, sacerdotes venerantes, victurias obtinuerunt gentesque adversas, divino opitulante adiutorio, in ense et parma saepius subdiderunt. Nos vero non solum Deum non metuemus, verum etiam sacra eius vastamus, ministros interficimus, ipsa quoque sanctorum pignera in ridiculo discerpimus ac vastamus. Non enim potest obtenere victuria, ubi talia perpetrantur ...

'On their return King Guntram was bitterly angry. Those who had led the army sought the church of Saint Symphorianus the martyr. When the King visited the church for the Saint’s feast-day, they were allowed to appear before him, on condition that they should explain their actions on some later occasion. Four days afterwards he summoned the bishops and the more highly born of the laity, and began to criticize his commanders. "How can we expect to win a victory nowadays,’ he asked, ‘when we no longer keep to the conventions of our forefathers? They used to build churches, for they placed all their hope in God, doing honour to His martyrs and respecting His priesthood: the result was that, with God’s help, they won victories and were frequently able to conquer hostile peoples with sword and shield. Not only do we not fear God, but we lay waste His holy places, we slaughter His ministers, and in our contempt we scatter the relics of the saints in ridicule and destroy them. As long as such deeds are being done, we can never expect to be victorious ...'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 395. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 460-461, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Symphorianus, martyr at Autun (Gaul), ob. 2nd/3rd c. : S00322 Saints, unnamed : S00518

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 - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Seeking asylum at church/shrine

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Destruction/hostile attempts to prevent veneration of relics

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Soldiers Monarchs and their family

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic


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.


As Gregory records in Histories 2.15 (see E02024), the church of Symphorianus was built by Eufronius before he became bishop of Autun about AD 450 (Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 44-45; Pietri 1986, 44).


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. Pietri, C., "Autun," in: N. Gauthier and J.-C. Picard (eds.), Topographie chrétienne des cités de la Gaule des origines au milieu du VIIIe siècle, vol. 4: Province ecclésiastique de Lyon (Lugdunensis Prima) (Paris, 1986), 37-45. 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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