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E02564: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Confessors (20), tells how he set up an oratory and deposited there relics of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050), *Saturninus (bishop and martyr of Toulouse, S00289), *Illidius (bishop of Clermont, ob. 384/385, S00022), and *Julian (martyr of Brioude, S00035); when the relics were transferred to the oratory, a terrifying flash of light filled the building, testifying to the power of the saints; AD 573/574. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 587/588.

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posted on 2017-03-12, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Confessors 20

De oratorio autem nostro, in quo reliquiae sancti Saturnini martyris ac Martini antestitis cum Illidio confessore vel reliquorum sanctorum collocatae sunt, pro instructione credentium narrare aliqua non pigebit, qualiter se virtus beati Martini revelatione revelavit, ita ut appareret multis ignitus globus ille terribilis, qui quondam solemnia celebranti emerserat paucis visibilis, a capite arce prorumpens. Concipit enim, inspirante divinae pietatis instinctu, animus, ut cellulam valde elegantem, quam sanctus Eufronius ad usum prumptuarii habuerat, ad opus orationis fideliter dedicarem. Quam diligenter conpositam, altare ex more locato, ad basilicam sanctam vigiliis noctem unam ducentes, mane vero venientes ad cellulam, altare quod erexeramus sanctificavimus.

Regressique ad basilicam, sanctas eius reliquias cum Saturnini Iulianique martyrum vel etiam beati Illidii exinde solemniter, radiantibus cereis crucibusque, admovimus. Erat autem sacerdotum ac levitarum in albis vestibus non minimus chorus et civium honoratorum ordo praeclarus, sed et populi sequentis ordinis magnus conventus. Cumque sacrosancta pignora palleis ac nafis exornata in excelso defereremus, pervenimus ad ostium oratorii. Ingredientibus autem nobis, subito replevit cellulam illam fulgor terribilis, ita ut prae timore et splendore nimio adstantium oculi clauderentur. Discurrebat autem per totam cellulam tamquam fulgor, non parvum nobis ingerens metum. Nec quisquam scire poterat, quid hoc esset, nisi omnes pavore prostrati solo iacebant. Tunc ego: "Nolite", inquid, "timere. Virtus est enim sanctorum, quae cernitis, et praesertim rememoramini librum vitae beati Martini et recolite, qualiter verba sacrata promenti de capite globus ignis egressus, usque ad caelos visus est conscendisse. Et ideo ne terreamini, sed ipsum nos cum sanctis reliquiis credite visitasse".

'With regard to my oratory, in which are located relics of the martyr St Saturninus, bishop Martin, the confessor Illidius, and other saints, it will not be out of place to narrate some stones for the instruction of believers. [I will tell] how the power of the blessed Martin displayed itself in a revelation, so that many saw that fearsome ball of fire that once was visible to a few as it rose from Martin while he was celebrating mass and burst from the top of his head.Inspired by divine piety, I formed the idea that I should faithfully dedicate for the task of prayer the very beautiful room that St Eufronius had used as a storeroom. The room was carefully arranged and the altar placed in the usual spot. One night I kept vigils in the holy church [of St Martin]; at dawn I went to the oratory and sanctified the altar I had set up.

I returned to the church and with the accompaniment of crosses and burning candles solemnly transferred the holy relics of Martin along with those of the martyrs Saturninus and Julian and of the blessed Illidius. A large group of clerics and deacons dressed in white was present, as well as the illustrious order of distinguished citizens and a large crowd of people of the next rank. After I lifted and carried the holy relics that were [placed] in wooden coffers and adorned in shrouds, I came to the door of the oratory. As I entered, suddenly a frightening flash filled the room, so that the eyes of the bystanders were closed out of fear and because of the great brightness. The flash flared through the entire oratory and made me very afraid. No one could know what this was, although everyone was prostrate with fear and lay on the ground. I said: "Do not be afraid. For it is the power of the saints that you see. In particular remember the book about the life of the blessed Martin and recall how a ball of fire rose from his head as he recited the sacred words [of the liturgy] and how it was seen to ascend all the way to heaven. Therefore, do not be afraid, but believe that he and the other saints have visited us."'

Gregory closes the chapter with a brief discussion of this sacred fire.

Text: Krusch 1969, 309-310. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 16-17, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050 Illidius, bishop of Clermont (Gaul), ob. 384/5 : S00022 Julian, martyr of Brioude (Gaul), ob. late 3rd/early 4th c. : S00035 Saturninus, bishop and martyr of Toulouse (Gaul), ob. 250/1 :

Saint Name in Source

Martinus Illidius Iulianus Saturninus

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 - Places

Cult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Saint aiding or preventing the translation of relics Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous sound, smell, light

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - bishops Aristocrats Crowds

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Transfer, translation and deposition of relics


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)


Gregory of Tours also refers to his dedication of this oratory in his Life of the Fathers 2.3 (E00027), there clarifying that it was in the bishop's residence (infra domum eclesiasticam). As Van Dam (p. 17, note 24) notes, three of the four saints named had special significance for Gregory: Martin as the patron of Tours, Julian as his own personal patron from his native region of Clermont, and Illidius as another Clermont saint, at whose tomb Gregory had been cured of illness when a boy (Life of the Fathers 2.2; E00024). The ball of fire that was seen emanating from the head of Martin, which Gregory cites as a parallel for the flash of light that he and others witnessed when the relics were carried into the oratory, refers to a story told in Book 2 of Sulpicius Severus' Dialogues (E00845).


Edition: Krusch B. (ed.), 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 Martyrs (Translated Texts for Historians 4; 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.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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