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E02751: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Confessors (93), tells of the broken fetters he has seen by the tomb of *Medard (bishop of Noyon buried at Soissons, ob. 557/558, S00168) at Soissons (north-east Gaul); a woman with crippled hands, inspired to visit by a book of the saint's miracles, was cured there; and slithers of wood from the original covering over his grave, and even a piece from the door of the current church, are effective in curing toothache. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 587/588.

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posted on 2017-04-30, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Confessors 93

Medardus vero gloriosus confessor iuxta urbem Sessionas quiescit. Ad cuius sepulchrum saepe conpedes miserorum confractos aspeximus. Post scriptum de mirabilibus eius librum mulier manu debilis devote expetiit beati praesidia sacerdotis. Denique cum reliquis vigilias fide integra caelebrat, confisa, ab eius virtute manus humore ligatas posse dissolvi, qui infelicium catenas potentia virtutis exemeret. Factum est autem, dum missae caelebrarentur, resolutis nervorum arentibus ligaturis, gratias confessori referens, ad sanctum altare accedens, gratiam benedictionis accepit incolomis.
Et quia, priusquam templum aedificaretur, erat super sepulchrum sancti cellula minutis contexta virgultis et, dedicato templo, haec fuit amota, dignum est, ut de ipsius ligni tenuetate magnum aliquid proferamus. Nam saepius de eo hastulae factae parumper acutae dolori dentium remedia contulerunt. Haec audiens Charimeris, qui nunc referendarius Childeberthi regis habetur, dum de hoc dolore laboraret, basilicam sancti expetiit, ut sumpturus ex ligno a virtute sancti medicinam mereretur accipere. Sed veniens, ostium repperit obseratum. Confisus ergo, quia virtus beati ubique sit praesens, extracto cultro, hastulam excutit ab ostio. Statimque ut dentes attigit, noxius dolor abscessit. Habetur apud nos et baculus eius, de quo plerumque infirmi medicamina sunt experti.

'The glorious confessor Medard rests next to the city Soissons. I have seen the fetters of wretched men often broken at his tomb. After a book about his miracles was written, a woman with crippled hands piously sought the assistance of the blessed bishop. With the other people she celebrated vigils with a pure faith. She was confident that her hands that were afflicted with swelling could be cured by the power of Medard who had released the chains of wretched men by the might of his power. It happened that while mass was being celebrated the withered bands of her nerves were loosened; she gave thanks to the confessor, approached the holy altar, and in good health received the grace of a blessing.
Before the church was built there was over the tomb of Saint Medard a chapel constructed from small branches. Because this chapel was removed after the dedication of the church, it is proper that I record a great event regarding small pieces of that wood. For often pointed toothpicks rapidly made from this wood have brought relief to toothaches. Charimeris, who is now the referendary of king Childebert was suffering from a toothache. When he heard about these toothpicks, he went to the church of Saint Medard to obtain [a piece of] the wood, so that he might deserve to receive medicine from the power of the saint. Upon his arrival he found the door closed. Because he was confident that the power of the blessed man was present everywhere, he took out his knife and cut off a sliver of wood from the door. As soon as it touched his teeth the aching pain vanished. I myself have the staff of Medard, from which the sick have often found medicine.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 357-358. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 71-72, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Medard of Soissons, bishop of Noyon (Gaul), ob. 557/558 : S00168

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 - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Transmission, copying and reading saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Healing diseases and disabilities

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Officials Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - other Making contact relics Contact relic - saint’s possession and clothes


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)


The cult of Medard was given royal patronage immediately after his death: Gregory in his Histories 4.19 (E02097) tells how King Chlothar began the building of the church over his grave, a building completed by his son Sigibert; and in Histories 4.51 (E02103) how both Chlothar and Sigibert were buried in the church. Gregory himself was an exponent of Medard's cult, with his ownership of the saint's staff (baculus) which he used for healing. As here in Glory of the Confessors, in Histories 4.19 Gregory also refers to the piles of fetters by Medard's grave. They perhaps suggest that the saint had a particular reputation for freeing prisoners. The story told here of the miraculous splinters of wood certainly reveals a particular specialisation in curing toothache. It is not certain what the 'book written about his miracles (scriptum de mirabilibus eius librum)' is, but it is probably a lost collection of miracle stories. There is a Life of Medard, attributed to Venantius Fortunatus, an attribution that is disputed (E06474); but, even if this is by Fortunatus and hence early, it is a Life, not a collection of miracles, and, when Gregory refers to books by Fortunatus, who was both a friend and a respected author, he refers to him by name (see, for example, E02753).


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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