University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E02452: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Confessors (2), tells first of miracles at the tomb of *Hilary (bishop of Poitiers, ob. 367, S00183) in Poitiers (western Gaul); then how, in the territory of Javols (southern Gaul), a church with relics of Hilary was built by a bishop of Javols to serve as an alternative place of worship for those who used to sacrifice and feast at a nearby lake. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 587/588.

online resource
posted on 2017-03-05, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Confessors 2

Hilary of Poitiers performed many miracles at his tomb, which are recorded in the book of his Life. Two lepers are cleansed there.

Mons enim erat in Gabalitono territurio cognomento Helarius, lacum habens magnum. Ad quem certo tempore multitudo rusticorum, quasi libamina lacui illi exhibens, lenteamina proieciebat ac pannos, qui ad usum vestimenti virili praebentur; nonnulli lanae vellera, plurimi etiam formas casei ac cerae vel panis diversasque species, unusquisque iuxta vires suas, quae dinumerare perlongum puto. Veniebant autem cum plaustris potum cibumque deferentes, mactantes animalia et per triduum aepulantes. Quarta autem die cum discendere deberent, anticipabat eos tempestas [immensa] cum tonitruo et corruscatione valida; et in tantam imber ingens cum lapidibus violentiam discendebat, ut vix se quisque eorum putaret evadere. Sic fiebat per singulos annos, et involvebatur insipiens populus in errore. Post multa vero tempora quidam sacerdos ex urbe ipsa, episcopatu adsumpto, accessit ad locum, praedicavitque turbis, ut absisterent ab his, ne caelesti ira consumerentur; sed nequaquam eius praedicatio a cruda rusticitate recipiebatur. Tunc, inspirante Divinitate, sacerdos Dei basilicama in honore beati Helarii Pictovensis eminus ab ora stagni aedificavit, in qua [et] reliquias eius locavit, dicens populo: 'Nolite, filioli, nolite peccare ante Deum! Nulla est enim religio in stagnum. Nolite maculare animas vestras in his ritibus vanis, sed potius cognoscite Deum et amicis eius venerationem inpendite! Adorate autem sanctum Helarium Dei antestitem, cuius hic reliquiae sunt conditae! Ipse enim potest pro vobis Domini misericordiam intercessor adsistere. Tunc homines conpuncti corde, conversi sunt, et relinquentes lacum, omnia quae ibidem proiecere erant soliti ad sanctam basilicam conferebant; et sic ab errore, quo vincti fuerant, relaxati sunt. Sed et tempestas deinceps a loco illo prohibite est nec ultra in hac solemnitate, quae Dei erat, nocuit, postquam beati confessoris ibidem sunt reliquiae collocatae.

'In the territory of Javols there was a mountain named after Hilary (mons ... cognomento Helarius) that contained a large lake. At a fixed time a crowd of rustics went there and, as if offering libations to the lake, threw [into it] linen cloths and garments that served men as clothing. Some [threw] pelts of wool, many [threw] cheeses (formae casei), blocks of wax and bread-loaves as well as various [other] objects, each according to his own means, that I think would take too long to enumerate. They came with their wagons; they brought food and drink, sacrificed animals, and feasted for three days. But before they were due to leave on the fourth day, a violent storm approached them with thunder and lightning. The heavy rainfall and hailstones fell with such force that each person thought he would not escape. Every year this happened this way, but these foolish people were tied up in their mistake. Much later a cleric from that city [of Javols] became bishop and went to the place. He preached to the crowds that they should cease this behavior lest they be consumed by the wrath of heaven. But their coarse rusticity rejected his preaching. Then, with the inspiration of the Divinity this bishop of God built a church in honor of the blessed Hilary of Poitiers at a distance from the banks of the lake. He placed relics (reliquiae) of Hilary in the church and said to the people: 'Do not, my sons, do not sin before God! For there is [to be] no religious piety to a lake. Do not stain your hearts with these empty rituals, but rather acknowledge God and direct your devotion to his friends. Respect Saint Hilary, a bishop of God whose relics are located here. For he can serve as your intercessor [for] the mercy of the Lord.' The men were stung in their hearts and converted. They left the lake and brought everything they usually threw into it to the holy church. So they were freed from the mistake that had bound them. Next the storm was banned from the place. After the relics of the blessed confessor were placed there, the storm never again threatened this festival of God.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 299-300. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 3-4.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, ob. 368 : S00183

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts


  • 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

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Activities Accompanying Cult

  • Feasting (eating, drinking, dancing, singing, bathing)

Cult activities - Places Named after Saint

  • Other

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Transmission, copying and reading saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Unspecified miracle Healing diseases and disabilities Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Crowds Ecclesiastics - bishops Pagans

Cult Activities - Relics

Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Bodily relic - unspecified


Gregory, of a prominent Clermont family with extensive ecclesiastical connections, was bishop of Tours from 573 until his death (probably in 594). He was the most prolific hagiographer of all Late Antiquity. He wrote four books on the miracles of Martin of Tours, one on those of Julian of Brioude, and two on the miracles of other saints (the Glory of the Martyrs and Glory of the Confessors), as well as a collection of twenty short Lives of sixth-century Gallic saints (the Life of the Fathers). He also included a mass of material on saints in his long and detailed Histories, and produced two independent short works: a Latin version of the Acts of Andrew and a Latin translation of the story of The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. Gregory probably wrote the greater part of the Glory of the Confessors (Liber in Gloria Confessorum) between late 587 and mid-588, since in ch. 6 he tells us that he has already written three books on the miracles of Martin (and the last datable miracle in Book 3 of his Miracles of Martin occurred in November 587), while in ch. 93 he tells us that Charimeris, who became bishop of Verdun in 588, was 'now' a royal referendary (so not yet a bishop). It is, however, likely that Gregory was collecting and recording these stories throughout his life, and for our purposes precise dating is not of great importance, since Gregory's views on the role of saints and the correct ways to venerate them do not seem to have changed during his writing life. (On the dating of the work, see Van Dam 2004, xii; Shaw 2016, 105.) The last two chapters (109 and 110), in which divine punishment falls on avaricious merchants in a manner that is not focused on a particular 'confessor', do not sit comfortably with the rest of the work, and, even more tellingly, near the end there are three chapters with headings but no content (105, 106 and 107, E02777). Consequently Krusch suggested (and this hypothesis has been widely accepted) that the work was left in an incomplete state, its final completion and editing being prevented by Gregory's death. As Gregory himself makes clear in his Preface (where he lists his eight works of hagiography), the Glory of the Confessors (just like his Glory of the Martyrs) is not about the lives of his saints, but is a collection of their miracle-stories: 'This, the eighth [book], we have written on the miracles of Confessors' (Octavum hunc scribimus de miraculis confessorum). Occasionally we do learn something about the lives of the men and women that he includes, but for the most part we are just given their name and, sometimes, religious status ('bishop', 'abbot', 'hermit', or whatever) and a description of a miracle (or miracles) that Gregory attributes to them. The large majority of these miracles are posthumous (in Life of the Fathers 2.2 Gregory expresses a preference for posthumous miracles, over miracles in life, as reliable indicators of sanctity - see E00023). Elsewhere in his work (in the preface to his Life of Illidius, in Life of the Fathers), Gregory provides a definition of a 'confessor': someone who had taken up 'various crosses of abstinence' (diversas abstinentiae cruces) to live the Christian life. But here in Glory of the Confessors, the category is in practice much more broadly drawn, to include any individual able to effect a miracle, who wasn't a martyr; in many cases Gregory knew nothing about the life of the confessor, only about one or more miracles, for the most part posthumous and at the tomb. For Gregory, anyone with an attested miracle (he would, presumably, have said 'reliably attested') was a 'confessor' and could be included in this work. Consequently, a remarkable number of extremely shadowy figures feature. To take a few examples: a man buried in a tomb in Clermont, from which scrapings of dust cured people (ch. 35, E02595); a chaste but loving couple of Clermont, whose sarcophagi miraculously moved to be next to each other (ch. 31, E02583); and three priests of the village of Aire-sur-l'Ardour, whose graves were slowly rising out of the ground (ch. 51, E02640). In all of these cases, and several more besides, Gregory could not even put reliable names to the confessors concerned. Gregory's interest was not in the people, but in the miraculous that manifested itself around holy individuals: for instance, in ch.96 (E02755) he tells the story of a hermit whose only recorded miracle was his ability to cook his food over a blazing fire in a wooden pot; Gregory uses the story as an example of how God makes even the elements of nature obey the needs of the holy. Only occasionally does Gregory name his informants. But it is clear that many of his stories derived from his own observations in Clermont and Tours, and from what he heard from visitors to Tours, and on his own travels; Gregory had visited large numbers of the shrines he described, had venerated many of these saints' relics, and had even been a participant at a few of the events described. Because Gregory was so inclusive in those he ranked as 'confessors', his text is rich in evidence of cults emerging around some very obscure figures, as long as people (including Gregory) believed they had miraculous powers from their graves. In many cases these cults were probably short-lived; but in a few cases they appear to have become at least semi-institutionalised: for instance, two otherwise wholly unknown virgins, buried on a hill in the Touraine, persuaded a man to build a stone oratory over their graves, and also persuaded the then bishop of Tours to come and bless it (ch. 18, E02561), and a young girl of the Paris region, about whom nothing but her name and pious epitaph were known, acquired a considerable reputation as a healer (particularly of toothache), and again a stone oratory over her grave (ch. 103, E02767). Unlike the Glory of the Martyrs, which includes many martyrs from beyond Gaul, almost all the saintly figures in Glory of the Confessors are Gallic: the sole exceptions are, from Syria, Symeon the Stylite (ch. 26, E02579), and, from Italy, Eusebius of Vercelli and Paulinus of Nola (chs. 3 and 108, E02453 and E02778). Within Gaul, after miracles involving angels, Hilary of Poitiers and Eusebius of Vercelli (chs. 1-3), the confessors are bunched together by their city-territory, in other words where they were buried (which in almost all cases is also where the recorded miracles occurred). There is no logic to the order in which Gregory presented these cities, beyond the fact that he placed the two cities he knew most about, Tours (chs. 4-25) and Clermont (chs. 29-35) very close to the start. At the end of the book, from ch. 90, saints appear from city-territories that have already been covered earlier in the work (chs. 90 and 100, Bourges; ch. 96, Autun; chs. 101-102, Limoges; ch. 103, Paris; ch. 104, Poitiers) – the most likely explanation is that these are saints that Gregory added after he had written the greater part of the book. There are some digressions in the book, as we would expect in a work by the discursive Gregory – for instance, a miracle story of Martin set in Visigothic Spain (ch. 12) leads Gregory into two stories on the spiritual powerlessness of Arian priests (chs. 13 and 14) – but there are fewer digressions than in Gregory's parallel work, the Glory of the Martyrs. There is a good general discussion of Glory of the Confessors in Van Dam 2004, ix-xxi, and of Gregory's hagiography more widely in Shaw 2015. (Bryan Ward-Perkins)


Van Dam (p. 3, note 4), citing earlier authors, explains that the lake in this chapter may be that of Saint-Andéol, in the Aubrac mountains (southern Gaul) (see Vieillard-Troiekouroff, p. 246), and the bishop who converted the pagans might have been Hilarus (Hilarius), bishop of Javols in the early sixth century, ob. c. AD 540. The book of Hilary of Poitiers' Life, that Gregory refers to, was probably the Vita Sancti Hilarii written by Venantius Fortunatus after his arrival in Gaul in AD 566 (E06713), though the story of the two lepers in fact derives from Fortunatus' Miracles of Hilary (E05414). This story, if true, offers an explicit case of the deliberate substitution of previous pagan worship by the introduction of a saintly cult. Unfortunately Gregory gives no indication as to when this is supposed to have happened (beyond the fact that it must have postdated the death of Hilary in 367). So far as we are aware, the mountain named after Hilary, is a unique case in this early period of a natural feature being named after a saint.


Edition: Krusch B., Gregorii Turonensis Opera: Liber in gloria confessorum (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum I.2; 2nd ed.; Hannover 1969). Translation: Van Dam, R., Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Confessors (Translated Texts for Historians 5; 2nd ed., Liverpool, 2004). Further reading: Shaw, R., "Chronology, Composition, and Authorial Conception in the Miracula", in A.C. Murray (ed.), A Companion to Gregory of Tours (Leiden-Boston 2015), 102-140. 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