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E02756: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Confessors (97), tells how *Avitus (abbot of Le Perche, ob. c. 525, S01307) was buried at Orléans (north-west Gaul), and a church built over his tomb; a man who went to work on the feast day of the saint was immediately punished with a twisted neck, but released after praying assiduously at the shrine. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 587/588.

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posted on 01.05.2017, 00:00 by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Confessors 97

Avitus abba Carnoteni pagi, quem Pertensim vocant, saepius inminere dissolutionem sui corporis, Spiritu sancto revelante, praedixit. Qui recedens a corpore, honorifice apud Aurilianensim urbem humatus est; super quem fideles christiani eclesiam construxerunt. Post cuius obitum anniversarius adsumptionis eius dies cum summo coleretur honore, unus e civibus, aliis ad missarum spectanda solemnia euntibus, accepto rastro vineam pastinare direxit, increpitusque a multis, cur huic festivitati deesset, redire noluit, dicens: "Et hic quem colitis operarius fuit". Verum, ubi ingressus vineam primo ictu terram aperuit, protinus, retorta cervice, facies eius ad tergum conversa est. Tunc tremens, spectantibus populis, cum fletu magno basilicam sancti ingreditur. Post paucos vero dies, orans in eodem loco assidue, directa cervice, convaluit.

'Avitus was an abbot in a district of Chartres that people call Le Perche. Through the revelation of the Holy Spirit he often predicted the destruction of his body. When he departed from his body, he was buried with honor in Orléans. The faithful Christians built a church over his tomb. After his death the day commemorating the anniversary of his ascension was venerated with great honor. When the others went to the solemn celebration of mass one of the citizens took a hoe and went to trench his vineyard. Although many complained about why he was absent from this festival, he refused to return and said: ‘The man whom you venerate was also a working man.’ But when he entered the vineyard and opened the ground with his first blow, immediately his neck was twisted and his face was turned around to the back. The people were watching. Then he was afraid, and weeping loudly he went to the church of Saint Avitus. A few days later, after he prayed continuously in the same place, his neck was straightened and he was well.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 360-361. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 74.

History

Evidence ID

E02756

Saint Name

Avitus, abbot in Le Perche (central Gaul), ob. c. AD 525 : S01307

Saint Name in Source

Avitus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts

Language

Latin

Evidence not before

587

Evidence not after

588

Activity not before

525

Activity not after

588

Place of Evidence - Region

Gaul and Frankish kingdoms

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Tours

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 - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Punishing miracle Healing diseases and disabilities

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body

Source

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)

Discussion

In his Histories 8.2 Gregory tells how in 585 King Guntram visited him when he was staying near this church of Avitus in Orléans (E07779).

Bibliography

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).

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