University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E02321: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (8.33), records a great fire in Paris in 585. A woman has a vision, in which the fire starts by the church of *Vincent (deacon and martyr of Saragossa and Valencia, S00290), but nobody believes her. Three nights later the conflagration begins. *Germanus (bishop of Paris, ob. 576, S01166) appears to prisoners in gaol, frees them, and saves them from the flames; they flee to the church of Vincent, where Germanus' tomb is situated. An oratory of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050), built where the saint during his lifetime had cured a leper, is miraculously spared the flames, along with its builder, his wife, and their property. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 585/594.

online resource
posted on 2017-02-02, 00:00 authored by mszada
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 8.33

Extetit igitur in his diebus apud urbem Parisiacam mulier, quae dicerit incolis: 'Fugite, o! ab urbe et scitote eam incendio concremandam'. Quae cum a multis inrideretur, quod haec aut sortium praesagio diceret aut vana aliqua somniasset aut certe daemonii meridiani haec instinctu proferret, respondit: 'Nequaquam est ita, ut dicitis; nam in veritate loquor, quia vidi per somnium a basilica sancti Vincenti veniente virum inluminatum, tenente manu caereum et domus negutiantum ex ordine succendentem'. Denique post tertiam noctem, quod haec mulier est effata, inchoante crepusculo, quidam e civibus, accenso lumine, in prumptuario est ingressus, adsumptoque olec hac ceteris quae necessaria erant, abscessit, lumine secus cupella olei derelicto. Erat enim domus haec prima secus portam, quae ad mediam diem pandit egressum. Ex quo lumine adpraehensa domus incendio concrematur, de qua et aliae adpraehendi coeperunt. Tunc deruente igne super vinctus carceris, apparuit eis beatus Germanus, et comminuens trabem atque catenis, quibus vincti tenebantur, reserato carceris osteo, vinctos abire permisit incolomis. Ille vero egressi, se ad basilicam sancti Vincenti, in qua sepulchrum habetur beati antestitis, contulerunt. Igitur cum per totam civitatem huc adque illuc flante vento flamma ferritur totisque viribus regnaret incendium, adpropinquare ad aliam portam coepit, in qua beati Martini oraturium habebatur, qui ob hoc aliquando factum fuerat, eo quod ibi lepram maculosi hominis osculo depulisset. Vir autem, qui eum intextis virgultis in sublime construxerat, confisus in Domino nec de beati Martini virtute diffisus, se resquae suas infra eius parietis ambivit, dicens: 'Credo enim et fides mea est, quod repellat ab hoc loco incendium, qui saepius incendiis imperavit et in hoc loco leprosi hominis cutem, osculu medente, purgavit'. Adpropinquante enim illuc incendium, ferebantur validi globi flammarum, qui percutientes parietem oraturii, protinus tepiscebant. Clamabat autem populus viro ac muliere: 'Fugite, miseri, ut evadere possitis. Ecce iam igneum pondus super vos diruit, ecce favillae incendii cum carbonibus tamquam validus imber ad vos usque distenditur! Egredimini ab oraturio, ne cum eodem incendio concremimini'. At illi orationem fundentes, numquam ab his vocibus movebantur. Sed nec mulier se umquam a fenestra, per quam interdum flammae ingrediebantur, amovit, quae erat spe firmissima de virtute beati antestitis praemunita. Tantaque fuit virtus beati pontificis, ut non solum hoc oraturium cum alumni proprii domo salvaret, verum etiam nec aliis domibus, qui in circuitu erant, nocere flammis dominantibus permisisset. Ibique cecidit incendium, quod ab una parte pontes coeperat desaevire. Ab alia vero parte tam valide cuncta conflagravit, ut amnis finem inponeret. Verumtamen aeclesiae cum domibus suis non sunt adustae. Agebant enim, hanc urbem quasi consecratam fuisse antiquitus, ut non ibi incendium praevaleret, non serpens, non gliris apparuisset. Nuper autem, cum cuniculum pontis emundaretur et coenum, de quo repletum fuerat, auferretur, serpentem gliremque aereum repperierunt. Quibus ablatis, et glires ibi deinceps extra numerum et serpentes apparuerunt, et postea incendia perferre coepit.

'About this time a woman resident in the town of Paris made the following pronouncement to the townsfolk: 'You must know that the whole of this town is about to be destroyed by a conflagration. You had better evacuate it.' They mostly laughed at her, saying that she had had her fortune told, or that she had dreamed it, or that she had been possessed by the noontide demon (daemonium meridianum). 'None of what you say is true,' she answered. 'What I tell you is what is really going to happen. I saw in a vision a man coming out of Saint Vincent’s church, radiant with light, holding a wax candle in his hand and setting fire to the merchants' houses one after another.’ Three nights after she had given this warning, just as twilight was falling, a worthy citizen lit a light, went into his storehouse to fetch some oil and other things which he needed, and then came out again, leaving the light behind quite near to the cask of oil. The house was the first one inside the city-gate, which was left open in the daytime. It caught fire from the light and was burnt to ashes. The flames spread to the other houses. Soon the town gaol was alight: but Saint Germanus appeared to the prisoners, broke the great wooden beam and the chains by which they were held fast, undid the prison gateway and made it possible for those who had been locked up to escape. As soon as they were out they fled into Saint Vincent’s church, where the tomb of Saint Germanus is to be found. The wind veered this way and that, so that the flames were carried through the whole city and the conflagration raged completely out of control. Soon it moved near to another city-gate, the one which had an oratory of Saint Martin, put up some time ago to commemorate the fact that it was there that he had cleansed the leprosy of some diseased individual by means of a kiss. The man concerned had constructed this oratory out of wattle-work (intextis virgultis). Putting his trust in God and his hope in Saint Martin’s miraculous power, he now moved all his worldly goods inside the oratory walls; 'It is my firm belief,’ he said, ‘and to this I pin my faith, that he who more than once overruled the flames and who on this very spot cleansed the skin of a leper with his healing kiss will drive the fire back from this place.’ The flames came nearer and nearer and great gobbets of fire were borne on the wind but as they struck against the oratory walls they immediately lost their heat. The townsfolk shouted to the man and his wife: 'Run, poor wretches, and escape while there is still time! Look! A great mass of fire is coming straight at yon! Can't you see? The burning sparks and red hot embers are spreading towards you like some great shower of rain. Come out of the oratory! If you don’t, you will be burnt to a cinder, and your oratory, too!' They took no heed of what was being said to them, but continued in prayer. The woman stood firm at the window, through which the flames kept entering, for she was protected by her invincible faith in the miraculous power of the saintly Bishop. This was so great that not only did he save the oratory and the house of his servant but he prevented any harm from being done by the relentless flames to the dwellings which stood all round it. The conflagration, which had begun to rage at one end of the bridge, stopped at this spot. On the other side it burned everything completely, so that only the river put an end to it. However, the churches and the houses belonging to them were not burned. It used to be said that this town of Paris was, as it were, hallowed from antiquity, so that no fire could overwhelm it, and no snake or rat appear there. Only a short time before, when a drain by the bridge was being cleaned out and the mud which blocked it was being taken away, they discovered a snake and a rat made of bronze. They removed them both: and from this time onwards an inordinate number of rats and snakes made their appearance. Subsequently the city began to be plagued with fires.'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 401-403. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 465-467.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Vincent, deacon and martyr of Saragossa and Valencia, ob. c. 305 : S00290 Germanus, bishop of Paris, ob. 576 : S01166 Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050

Saint Name in Source

Vincentius Germanus Martinus

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

Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miracle after death Freeing prisoners, exiles, captives, slaves Healing diseases and disabilities Miraculous protection - of people and their property Miraculous protection - of church and church property

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


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.


The church of Vincent in Paris was built by King Childebert, and dedicated in AD 557/558. It is probable that Childebert brought some relics (the tunic?) of Vincent from Saragossa after he besieged the city in AD 542. Later the church became Saint-Germain-des-Prés, because *Germanus (bishop of Paris; S01166) was buried there in AD 576. Like the church of the Holy Apostles (described also as dedicated to Peter and later Saint-Geneviève), the church of Vincent served as a funerary church for the Merovingian dynasty. In plan it had the form of a cross (Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 211-214; Duval et al. 1992, 119-122). This oratory of Martin of Tours is mentioned only by Gregory in this chapter. It was located near the north gate of Paris (Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 211; Duval et al. 1992, 114).


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: Duval, N. et al., "Paris," 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), 97-129. 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