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E02598: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Confessors (35), tells of several tombs in and around the church of *Venerandus (bishop of Clermont, ob. 423, S01261) in Clermont (central Gaul): at the tombs of *Alexander (monk with miraculous tomb in Clermont,S01267) and of an unknown person, miraculous things happen; at that of *Liminius (martyr of Clermont, S01193) there is no cult, although an account of his martyrdom survives. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 587/588.

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posted on 2017-03-23, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Confessors 35

There are many tombs of believers in and around the church of Venerandus in Clermont. On the left of the tomb of the *Anonymous girl (see E02595), there is a tomb with the inscription: 'SANCTAE. MEMORIAE. GALLAE.'

Est et illud nihilominus sepulchrum sculpti meritis gloriosum, inter egressum basilicae sancti Illidii et ingressum templi beati Venerandi in edito positum, in quo ferunt Alexandrum quendam religiosum fuisse sepultum. De quo frequens infirmorum necessitas, eraso pulvere, hausta delutione, extimplo consequitur sospitatem. Unde tam frequens exegitur medicamentum, ut pro assiduis beneficiorum commodis transforatum ab aspicientibus cernatur.

'Another tomb is no less noteworthy for the quality of its sculptures. It has been placed on a mound between the exit from the church of Illidius and the entrance to the church of the blessed Venerandus, in which it is said that a monk named Alexander was buried. Often the dire needs of the sick obtained health from this tomb immediately after they scratched off some dust and drank it in a potion. As a result, this medicine has been sought so often that [the tomb] seems to those who see it to have been perforated because of the constant profit from these benefits.'

E regione autem huius sepulehri, si ingrediaris per ostium in basilica sancti Venerandi, dextra de parte sepulchrum
parvulum contemplabis super terram situm, rusticiori formatum lapide, sed ignotum est omnibus, qui quiescat in eo. Nam haberi in eo divinum aliquid, res ipsa, quae dicturus sum, pandit. Mendicus quidam, ut ipsi oculis nostris inspeximus, super eum erat solitus consedere; sed credo eum, ut fragilitas humana praebet, in aliquod indignum facinus obvolutum, quia virtute quiescentis cum sonitu magno excussus, longe proiectus est, sepulchrumque medium erepuit, quod usque nunc, ita cernitur. Indignum sibi utputer hominem humatus exaestimans, qui super his artubus deberet facere sessionem. In hac enim basilica et beatus martyr Liminius est sepultus, cuius agonis historia cum ab incolis teneatur, nullus tamen ei cultus venerationis inpenditur.

'Leaving this tomb, if you walk through the door into the church of Saint Venerandus, you will see on the right side a small tomb placed above ground. This tomb is constructed from rougher stone, but no one knows who lies in it. The event that I am about to relate demonstrates that there is something divine in it. A beggar was accustomed to sit on top of the tomb, as I myself saw with my own eyes. But I believe that this man, led by human weakness, was involved in some improper misdeed, because with a loud explosion he was struck by the power of the man lying [in the tomb] and was tossed far away. The tomb split down the middle, as can still be seen. In my opinion, the buried man thought that the man who usually sat on his limbs was unworthy of himself. The blessed martyr Liminius is also buried in this church. Although the inhabitants possess the history of his contest, no ritual of veneration is offered to him.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 319-320. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 29, modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Venerandus, bishop in Clermont (central Gaul), ob. AD 423 : S01261 Illidius, bishop of Clermont (Gaul), ob. 384/5 : S00022 Alexander, monk buried in Clermont (central Gaul), ob. AD 5th/6th century : S01267 Liminius, martyr at Clermont (central Gau

Saint Name in Source

Venerandus Illidus Alexander Liminius

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 - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Oral transmission of saint-related stories

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Uncertainty/scepticism/rejection of a saint

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Healing diseases and disabilities Punishing miracle

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

The socially marginal (beggars, prostitutes, thieves) Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Contact relic - dust/sand/earth Eating/drinking/inhaling relics

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects



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)


This remarkable chapter tells us of two tombs, whose incumbents were wholly unknown (and in one case unnamed), where miraculous things occurred (seemingly frequently in the case of the tomb of Alexander), and a third tomb, of an established martyr, Liminius, that attracted no veneration. In the case of Liminius, the reference to 'the history of his contest' is certainly to a written Martyrdom, the process of martyrdom being frequently described as an athletic contest, in which the martyr triumphs over the persecutors. This Martyrdom is lost.


Edition: Krusch, B., Liber in gloria martyrum, in: Gregorii Turonensis Opera. 2: Miracula et opera minora (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum 1.2; 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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