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E02901: Gregory of Tours, in his Miracles of Martin (1.23), recounts how, in 558 in Tours, a certain Wiliachar was freed from chains by *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050). Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/576.

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posted on 2017-06-02, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Miracles of Martin (Libri de virtutibus sancti Martini episcopi) 1.23

Dignum exaestimavi et illud non omittere in relatu, quid Wiliacharium presbiterum referentem audivi. Tempore, quo propter perfidiam Chramni Chlotharium regem incurrerat, ad basilicam sancti Martini confugit, atque ibi in catenis
positus custodiebatur, sed virtute beati praesolis comminutae catenae stare non potuerunt. Nescio qua autem inminente neglegentia foris atrio conprehensus est. Quem oneratum ferro, vinctis post tergum manibus, ducebant ad regem. At ille voce magna clamare coepit et, ut sibi beatus Martinus misereretur, orare, nec eum sineret ire captivum, cuius devotus expetierat templum. Statimque in eius vocibus, orante beato Eufronio episcopo de muro civitatis contra basilicam, dissolutae sunt manus eius, et omnes bacae catenarum confraetae caeciderunt. Perduetus autem usque ad regem, ibi iterum in compedibus et catenis constrictus retenebatur. Sed invocato nomine saepe dicti patroni, ita omne ferrum super eum comminutum est, ut putaris eum fuisse ceu figulum. Hoc tantum erat in spatiis, ut non solveretur a vinculo, quoadusque nomen illud sacratissimum invocasset; invocato autem, omnia solvebantur. Tunc rex altioris ingenii videns virtutem sancti Martini ibidem operari, et absolvit eum ab
onere vinculi et pristinae restituit libertati.

'I thought it appropriate not to omit from this account a story that I heard the priest Wiliachar tell. Once when he had offended King Chlothar on account of the treachery of Chramn, he fled to the church of Saint Martin. There he was bound in chains and kept under guard; but the chains could not withstand the power of the blessed champion and were broken. Through some kind of carelessness, he was seized outside the courtyard. The men loaded him with irons, bound his hands behind his back, and led him to King Chlothar. But Wiliachar began to cry out in a loud voice and to pray that the blessed Martin have pity on him and not allow a man who had piously come to his church to leave as a captive. The blessed bishop Eufronius was praying on the wall of the city opposite the church. As Wiliachar shouted, immediately his hands were freed, and all the chains fell away as their links were broken. But he was led to King Chlothar and there again bound and held in fetters and chains. After he had repeatedly called upon the name of his oft-mentioned patron, all the iron on him was shattered so [completely] that you might have thought it was pottery. During this time this was the situation: he was not released from his bonds until he had called upon that most sacred name, but once he invoked it, all his bonds were released. Then King Chlothar, being of superior intelligence, realised that the power of St. Martin was at work here; so he released Wiliachar from the burden of his chains and restored him to his original freedom.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 150. Translation: Van Dam 1993, 218-219, lightly modified (de Nie 2015, 491-493).


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Collections of miracles


  • 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 - Miracles

Miracle after death Freeing prisoners, exiles, captives, slaves

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - bishops


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's Miracles of Martin (full title Libri de virtutibus sancti Martini episcopi, 'Books of the Miracles of Saint Martin the Bishop'), consists of four books of miracles, 207 chapters in all, effected by Martin, primarily at his grave and shrine in Tours. Most of them occurred at the time of the saint's festivals, on 4 July and 11 November. Gregory tried to record the miracles in chronological order, so historians have been able to calculate quite precisely the dates of the events and miracles mentioned in the work. This fairly precise chronology has enabled scholars to determine the dates of completion of each book. There have been three main dating schemes proposed for the composition of the four books. The oldest was suggested by Monod in 1872, another by Krusch in 1885, and then one by Van Dam in 1993 (for fuller discussion, see Shaw 2015, 103-105). Their datings of the individual books do not vary substantially, and in our entries we have given only those of Van Dam. Shaw 2015 convincingly demolishes an earlier theory, that Gregory wrote the Miracles in two distinct stages: a first stage that was written during a particular period, and a second stage in the early 590s, in which Gregory revised the whole work. Book 1, with 40 chapters, was written between 573 and 576. In the prologue, Gregory mentions that he started writing after he became bishop of Tours in August 573. Book 1 must have been completed by 576, since Venantius Fortunatus in a letter to Gregory of that year referred to it (Epistula ad Gregorium 2, prefatory letter to Fortunatus' Life of Martin, MGH Auct. ant. 4.1, p. 293). Book 2 consists of 60 chapters. It must have been finished before November 581, because the last miracles it mentions occurred in November 580, while the first ones recorded in Book 3 happened in November 581. Using the same methodology, the completion of Book 3, which also covers 60 chapters, can be dated between 587 and July 588. Book 4, which consists of 47 chapters, seems never to have been completed, presumably because of Gregory’s death. There are two main arguments in support of the idea that it is unfinished. Firstly, Book 4 has no conclusion and no tidy number of chapters, while each of Books 1 to 3 has these elements. Secondly, the last story recorded in Book 4 is not about Gregory himself, unlike the final stories of Books 2 and 3. Book 1 covers miracles that occurred before Gregory’s episcopate in Tours. The next three books are a running chronicle of Martin’s miracles under Gregory’s episcopate. Some of the miracles are recorded in very summary form, while others are much more elaborately presented: because of this, it has been argued that Gregory first jotted down notes, and only subsequently gave the stories full literary treatment (which in some cases, he was never able to do). The three completed books of the Miracles of Martin were probably released as they were completed, rather that published together. In this sense they are the exception amongst Gregory's writings, since the rest of his work was not finally completed and seems to have been unpublished at the time of his death. For discussion of the work, see: Krusch, B. (ed.), Gregorii episcopi Turonensis miracula et opera minora (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum 1,2; 2nd ed.; Hannover, 1969), 2–4. Monod, G., Études critiques sur les sources de l’histoire mérovingienne, 1e partie (Paris, 1872), 42–45. 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. Van Dam, R., Saints and Their Miracles in Late Antique Gaul (Princeton, 1993), 142–146, 199.


Gregory in his Histories 4.20 (see E02066), tells the story of Wiliachar seeking sanctuary at St Martin's church, but with none of the miraculous detail recounted here.


Editions and translations: Krusch, B. (ed.), Gregorii episcopi Turonensis miracula et opera minora (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum 1,2; 2nd ed.; Hannover, 1969), 134–211. Van Dam, R. (trans.), Saints and Their Miracles in Late Antique Gaul (Princeton, 1993), 200–303. de Nie, G. (ed. and trans.), Lives and Miracles: Gregory of Tours (Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 39; Cambridge MA, 2015), 421–855. Further reading: Murray, A.C. (ed.), A Companion to Gregory of Tours (Leiden-Boston, 2015). Shanzer, D., "So Many Saints – So Little Time ... the Libri Miraculorum of Gregory of Tours," Journal of Medieval Latin 13 (2003), 19–63.

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