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E02604: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Confessors (39), tells how his father was twice cured from gout: in both cases Gregory, then a young boy, saw someone in a vision; the first time this person told him to put a small piece of wood with the name of *Joshua (Old Testament leader of the Israelites, S00258) under his father's pillow; the second time to burn the internal organs of a fish. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 587/588.

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posted on 2017-03-24, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Confessors 39

Nam recolo gestum in infantia, cum pater meus ab infirmitate humoris podagricie laboraret, et ardore febrium ac doloribus multis adtenuatus, lectulo decubaret, vidisse me in visu noctis personam dicentem mihi: 'Legisti', ait, 'librum Hiesu Navae? Cui ego: 'Nihil aliud litterarum praeter notas agnovi, in quorum nunc studio constrictus adfligor. Nam hic liber prorsus si sit ignoro'. Et ait: 'Vade', inquid, 'facitoque hastulam parvulam ex ligno, quod hoc nomen recipere possit, scriptumque ex atramento sub paterni capitis fulchrum colloca. Erit enim ei praesidium, si quod loquor impleveris'. Mane autem facto, matri quae videram indicavi; iubet impleri visionis praecepto. Quod cum fecissem, statim genitor ab infirmitate convaluit. Decurso quoque alterius anni curriculo, iterum ab hoc incommodo capitur. Accenditur febris, intumescunt pedes, dolore pessimo nervos intorquet. Haec. perferenter, dum cum magno gemitu in stratu decumberet, vidi iterum personam in visione interrogantem mihi, si librum Tobiae cognitum nunc haberem. Respondi, quod non legerem. Qui ait: 'Noveris, hunc fuisse caecum, cuius filius, angelo comite dum iter ageret, in flumine piscem coepit, cuius indice angelo cor iecorque sublatum, patris subfumicat oculos, qui statim, fugatis tenebris, lumen recepit. Vade igitur tu et fac similiter, et accipiet refrigerium dolorum genitor tuus'. Haec matri referens, confestim pueros ad amnem dirigit; piscis capitur, sublatisque de extis quae iussa fuerant, et prunis inposita. Ad ubi primum fumus odoris patrem attigit, protinus tumor dolorque discessit.

'For I recall what happened when I was a young boy. My father suffered from an affliction of gout and was weakened by the burning of fevers and many pains. While he lay on his bed, I saw in a vision during the night a person who spoke to me. He said: ‘Have you read the book of Joshua, the son of Nun?’ I replied to him: ‘I have learned no more than the letters of the alphabet (notae litterarum), in the study of which I am now diligently engaged. I do not know whether this book even exists.’ The person said: ‘Go and break from a piece of wood a small chip that is big enough to bear this name; after writing the name in ink put the chip beneath the pillow [under] your father’s head. The chip will protect him, if you do what I say.’ At daybreak I told my mother what I had seen; she ordered that the instructions of my vision be carried out. When I had done this, immediately my father recovered from his illness. After the cycle of another year went by my father again was seized by this affliction. A fever burned, his feet were swollen, and a severe pain twisted his nerves. As he endured these afflictions, he lay down on his bed with a loud groan. Again I saw the person in a vision, [this time] asking me whether I was now familiar with the book of Tobit. I replied that I had not read it. The person said: ‘[If you read it,] you would know that there was a blind man whose son had an angel as a companion while he journeyed. The son caught a fish in the river, and with his angel as guide he took out the heart and liver. He burned these beneath his father’s eyes; immediately the blindness vanished and the father regained his sight. Go therefore and do likewise, and your father will receive relief from his pains.’ I told these instructions to my mother, who immediately sent servants to the river. A fish was caught, and what had been commanded was taken from its internal organs and placed on coals. As soon as the smoky scent reached my father, immediately the swelling and the pain disappeared.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 322. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 31-32.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Joshua, Old Testament figure : S00258

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 - Miracles

Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Healing diseases and disabilities

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Children Aristocrats Women Slaves/ servants


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 was very young at the time of these miraculous cures. He was born in AD 538, and at the age of eight began studying literature with his great-uncle Nicetius bishop of Lyon, in Lyon.


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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