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E02334: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (9.12), mentions a church of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) in Fresnes-en-Woëvre (north-east Gaul), where in 587 two Frankish rebels sought sanctuary. One of these, later seeks sanctuary in an oratory with relics, inside the bishop's house of Verdun (north-east Gaul), and is murdered there. 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) 9.12

King Childebert assembles an army against the rebellious Ursio and Berthefried, and pursues them to the Woëvre region, where there is an estate dominated by a high hill.

In huius cacumine basilicam in honore sancti ac beatissimi Martini construxit. Ferebant enim ibi castrum antiquitus fuisse; sed nunc non cura, sed natura tantum monitus erat. In hac ergo basilica cum rebus atque uxoribus vel familia se antedicti concluserant.

'On the top of this hill there had been built a church in honour of the blessed Saint Martin. In former times, or so they say, there used to be a strong-point here; but nowadays the site is protected more by nature than by art. In this church, then, the two men [Ursio and Berthefried] whom I have named had shut themselves up, together with their wives and families and all their possessions.'

The army raised by the King burns to the ground every building they come to which belongs to Ursio and Berthefried, stealing all their goods. When the troops reach the hill, they climb up and encircle the church. They try to set fire to it, but Ursio exits the church and kills many of the besiegers with his sword. Someone strikes him in the thigh and Ursio dies. All the men start looting the goods from the church. Thereupon Berthefried escapes to Verdun and stays in the oratory inside the church-house there. Godigisel, the leader of King Childebert's army puts a cordon round the church-house. Armed men climb on the roof, drop tiles down on Berthefried, and kill him.

Multum ex hoc episcopus dolens, quod eum non solum defensare non potuit, verum etiam locum, in quo orare consueverat et in quo sanctorum pignora adgregata fuerant, sanguine humano pollui vidit.

'The Bishop Ageric was greatly grieved by what had happened, for not only had he proved powerless to protect Berthefried, but now he saw the very spot on which he was accustomed to say his prayers, the place moreover where the relics of the saints were kept, polluted with human blood.'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 426-427. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 494-496.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050 Anonymous saints : S00518

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)



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

Seeking asylum at church/shrine

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Destruction/desecration of saint's shrine

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Aristocrats Officials Soldiers Women Slaves/ servants

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.


The church of Martin mentioned in this chapter was located in Fresnes-en-Woëvre, about 18 kilometres from Verdun(Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 122-123). In Verdun, the oratory must have been located in the church-house (domus ecclesiae) that was near the cathedral as was customary (Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 336).


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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