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E02419: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (10.31), recounts how he, the nineteenth bishop of Tours, sought relics of the *Theban Legion (soldiers and martyrs of Agaunum, S00339); found the reliquary with their relics and the relics of unnamed *Martyrs (S00060) and *Saints (S00518) in the church of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) in Tours; kept vigils and masses to honour the saints; placed some of these relics in the cathedral of Tours; placed relics of *Cosmas and Damianus (brothers, physician martyrs of Syria, S00385) in Martin’s cell adjoining the cathedral; decorated the walls of Martin’s church; built the new baptistery there and placed in it relics of *John the Baptist (S00020) and *Sergius (soldier and martyr of Rusafa, S00023); placed relics of *Benignus (martyr of Dijon, S00320) in the old baptistery at Martin's church; and wrote seven books of Miracles and The Life of the Fathers. AD 573-594. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 591/594.

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posted on 2017-02-22, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 10.31

In qua [ecclesia urbis Turonicae], sicut a longevis aevo presbiteris conperi, beatorum ibidem reliquiae Acaunensium ab antiquis fuerant collocatae. Ipsam etiam capsulam in thesauro basilicae sancti Martini repperi, in qua valde putredine erat pignus dissolutum, quod pro eorum religionis est virtute delatum. Ac dum vigiliae in eorum honore celebrarentur, libuit animo haec iterum, praeluciscente cereo, visitare. Quae dum a nobis attente rimantur, dicit aedis aedituus: 'Est hic', inquit, 'lapis opertorio tectus, in quo quid habeat, prorsus ignoro, sed nec praecessores ministros huius custodiae scire comperi. Deferam eum et scrutamini diligenter, quid contineat infra conclusum'. Quem delatum reseravi, fateor, et inveni in eum capsulam argenteam, in qua non modo beatae legionis testium, verum etiam multorum sanctorum tam martyrum quam confessorum reliquiae tenebantur. Nancti etiam sumus et alios lapides, ita ut hic erat concavos, in quibus sanctorum apostolorum cum reliquorum martyrum pignora tenebantur. Quod munus ego divinitus indultum admirans et gratias agens, celebratis vigiliis, dictis etiam missis, haec in ecclesia collocavi. In cellula sancti Martini ecclesiae ipsi contigua sanctorum Cosmae et Damiani martyrum reliquias posui. Basilicae sanctae parietes adustos incendio repperi, quos in illo nitore vel pingi vel exornari, ut prius fuerant, artificum nostrorum opere imperavi. Baptisterium ad ipsam basilicam aedificare praecepi, in quo sancti Iohannis cum Sergii martyris reliquias posui; et in illo priore baptisterio sancti Benigni martyris pignora collocavi. In multis vero locis infra Turonicum terminum et ecclesias et oratoria dedicavi sanctorumque reliquiis inlustravi; quae memorare ex ordine prolixum censui. Decem libros Historiarum, septem Miraculorum, unum de Vita Patrum scripsi.

'I [Gregory, the nineteenth bishop of Tours] was told by certain very elderly priests that the relics of the Agaune martyrs had been deposited there [in Tours cathedral] by the men of long ago. In the treasury of Saint Martin’s church I came upon the reliquary (capsula). It had been taken there because of the miraculous power of the martyrs. The relics themselves were in a terrible state of decay. While vigils were being celebrated in their honour, I took it into my head to pay them another visit, carrying a lighted taper. As I was examining the relics with great care, the church sacristan said to me: ‘There is a stone here with a lid on it. I don’t know what it contains. I found that those who were sacristans here before me did not know either. I will bring it, and you can examine it carefully and see what is inside.’ He fetched the stone and I, of course, opened it. Inside I found a silver reliquary (capsula), which contained not only the relics of those who had actually seen the Holy Legion but also the remains of many saints, martyrs and holy men. I took charge of it, and at the same time I also took a number of other hollowed-out stones in which had been preserved the relics of other holy apostles and martyrs. I was delighted with this gift sent by God. In my gratitude to Him I kept a number of vigils and said masses. Then I placed in the cathedral all that I had found, except that I put the relics of the martyrs Saint Cosmas and Saint Damianus in Saint Martin’s cell, which adjoins the cathedral. I found the walls of Saint Martin’s church damaged by fire. I ordered my workmen to use all their skill to paint and decorate them, until they were as bright as they had previously been. I had a baptistery built adjacent to the church, and there I placed the relics of Saint John and Saint Sergius the martyr. In the old baptistery I put the relics of Saint Benignus the martyr. In many other places in Tours and its immediate neighbourhood I dedicated churches and oratories, and these I enriched with relics of the saints. It would be too long to give you a complete list. I, Gregory, have written the ten books of this History, seven books of Miracles and one on the Lives of the Fathers.'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 534-536. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 601-603.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Theban Legion, soldiers commanded by *Maurice, martyred in Gaul, ob. 286 : S00339 Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050 Kosmas and Damianos, brothers, physician martyrs of Syria : S00385 Sergios, martyr in Syria, ob. 303-311

Saint Name in Source

Martinus Cosmas, Damianus Sergius Iohannes Benignus

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 - Liturgical Activity

  • Eucharist associated with cult

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics – unspecified

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Reliquary – institutionally owned Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics


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.


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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