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E02331: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (9.6), tells of the appearance in Tours in 587 of Desiderius, a false holy man. He pretended to work miracles, attracting many who sought to be cured, and claimed to be greater than *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) and equal to the Apostles *Peter(S00036) and Paul (S00008). He is accused of necromancy and expelled from the city. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 587/594.

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posted on 2017-02-05, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 9.6

Fuit eo anno in urbe Thoronica Desiderius nomine, qui se magnum quendam esse dicebat, adserens se multa posse facere signa. Nam et nuntius inter se atque Petrum Paulumque apostolos discurrere iactitabat. Ad quem, quia praesens non eram, rusticitas populi multa confluxerat, deferentes secum caecos et debiles, quos non sanctitate sanare, sed errore nigromantici ingenii quaerebat inludere. Nam hos, qui erant paralitici aut alia inpediti debilitate, iubebat valide extendi, ut, quos virtutis divinae largitione diregere non poterat, quasi per industriam restauraret. Denique adpraehendebant pueri eius manus hominis, alii vero pedes, tractumque diversis in partibus, ita ut nervi potarentur abrumpi, cum non sanarentur, demittebantur exanimis. Unde factum est, ut in hoc supplicio multi spiritum exalarent. Tantoque miser elatus erat, ut iuniorem sibi beatum Martinum esse diceret, se vero apostolis coaequaret. Nec mirum, si hic similem se dicat apostolis, cum ille auctor nequitiae, a quo ista procedunt, Christum se esse in fine saeculi fateatur. Nam de hoc animadversum est, ut superius diximus, errore nigromantiae artis fuisse inbutum, quia, ut adserunt qui eum viderunt, cum quisque de eo procul et abditae quicquam locutus fuisset mali, coram populo adstante inproperabat, dicens, quia: 'Hoc et illud de me effatus es, quae sanctitate meae erant indigna'. Et quid aliud nisi nuntiantibus daemoniis cognoscebat? Habebat autem cucullam ac tonicam de pilis caprarum, et in praesente quidem abstinens erat a cybis et potu, clam autem, cum in diversurio venisset, ita infercibat in ore, ut minister non occurrerit tantum poscenti porregere. Sed detecta dolositas eius et a nostris depraehensa, eiectus est extra urbis terminum. Nec cognovimus deinceps, quo abisset; dicebat tamen civem se esse Burdegalensem.

'That same year there appeared in Tours a man called Desiderius, who gave it out that he was a very important
person, pretending that he was able to work miracles. He boasted that messengers journeyed to and fro between himself and the Apostles Peter and Paul. I myself was not there, so crowds of the ignorant flocked to him (rusticitas populi multa confluxerat), bringing with them the blind and the infirm. He set out to deceive them by the false art of necromancy (errore nigromantici ingenii), and not through sanctity. Those who were paralysed or disabled by some other infirmity he ordered to be stretched forcibly, as if he could restore by his own brute strength men whom he was unable to cure by the intervention of divine power. Some of his helpers would seize a patient’s hands and some would tug at other parts of his body, until it seemed that his sinews must snap. When they were not cured, his servants sent them away half dead. The result was that many gave up the ghost under his treatment. The wretched man was so above himself that he gave it out that Saint Martin was lesser than he: for he imagined himself to be the equal of the Apostles. It is no wonder that this man Desiderius should say that he was the Apostles’ equal, when the author of all evil, he from whom all wrongs proceed, will, at the Last Trump, pretend that he is Christ. It is quite clear from what I have just told you that Desiderius practised the foul arts of necromancy. Those who actually saw him said that, if anyone had spoken ill of him secretly and in his absence, he would gather the people round him and reprove the man in question. ‘The things which you have said about me ill become the divinity which is mine,' he would say. How else could he know what had been said, unless his familiar demons had reported it to him? He wore a tunic and a hood of goat’s hair, and when anyone was present he was most sparing in his food and drink. When he was in private and had come to his lodging, he would stuff so much into his mouth that his servant could not keep pace with his demands. However, it became obvious that he was an impostor and, once the bogusness of his behaviour was comprehended by my people, he was expelled from the city boundaries. I have never discovered where he went. He used to say that he came from Bordeaux.'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 417-418. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 483-484; lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050 Paul, the Apostle : S00008 Peter the Apostle : S00036

Saint Name in Source

Martinus Paulus Petrus

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 - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Other lay individuals/ people


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.


For Gregory, Desiderius was a false holy man, a charlatan who also used black arts. But it is worth noting that many people apparently believed him, and sought his miraculous help.


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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