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E04042: Gregory of Tours, in his Miracles of Martin (3.42), tells how a book with the Life of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) survived a fire at a monastic cell in the territory of Tours; AD 584/585. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 584/588.

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posted on 2017-09-17, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Miracles of Martin (Libri de virtutibus sancti Martini episcopi) 3.42

Monachus igitur Maioris monasterii ex iussu abbatis ad cellulam aliam quasi quiddam operaturus accessit ac pro salute animae et vitae correctione librum vitae beati antestitis secum detulit. Adveniente vero nocte, in lectulum se diuturno oppletum stramine collocat, librum ad caput locans. Cui dormienti apparuit vir per somnum, dicens: 'Noli dormire in his paleis, sanguine enim aspersae sunt'. Credo ego, ut mortalitas habet, aliquod in his facinus perpetratum, et ob hoc non pateretur vir beatus, verba laudis suae inibi volutari. Facilis autem prima visio viro fuit, nec secunda commonitio valuit; tertia enim terribiliter monachum quatit. At ille surgens et ad operam diluculo progrediens, puerum iubet, ut paleas a lectulo detractas igni consumeret, nihil de libro commemorans. Puer vero ignarus inter paleas adprehensum foris eiecit et ignem accendit. Quibus in favillam redactis, cum nihil aliud nisi cineres remansissent, apparuit liber inlaesus, de quo non latera, non unum, ut veritas habet, folium est consumptum. Ita virtus divina custodire dignata est alumni quodadmodo proprii laudes, ut librum eius flamma non uriret, quem aculeus concupiscentiae in hoc saeculo non adussit. Sed ne cui incredibile videatur, codix ipse nobiscum hodie retenetur.

'A monk from the monastery at Marmoutier went at the command of his abbot to another small community, to do some work. For the salvation of his soul and for the correction of his life he took with him a book containing the Life of the blessed bishop. When night fell, he lay down on a bed filled with old straw and placed the book beneath his head. As he slept, a man appeared in a dream and said: 'Do not sleep on this straw, because it is tainted with blood.' I believe that, as is characteristic of mankind, some crime was committed on this straw and that the blessed man would therefore not allow the words praising himself to be buried in it. The monk dismissed this first vision, and a second warning was also ineffective; but the third upset him deeply. He got up, proceeded to his work at daybreak, and ordered a servant boy to take the straw from his bed and destroy it in a fire; but he forgot about the book. In ignorance the servant boy threw the book that was concealed in the straw outside and lit a fire. After the straw was reduced to ashes and nothing remained except cinders, the book appeared undamaged; to tell the truth, neither its covers nor a single page had been destroyed. Divine power thus deigned to safeguard this commendation of its own foster son [Martin] in such a way that a fire did not burn a book about a man whom the sting of lust did not inflame in this world. But lest this story seem unbelievable to anyone, I still have this book today.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 192-193. Translation: Van Dam 1993, 275-276, lightly modified (= de Nie 2015, 733-735).


Evidence ID


Saint Name

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

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 - Miracles

Miracle after death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous protection - other

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Slaves/ servants

Cult Activities - Relics

Miraculous books about saints Privately owned relics


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.


The monastery mentioned in this chapter was close to the monastery at Marmoutier, so it was certainly in the diocese of Tours (Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 447). The Life of Martin whose text survived the flames was certainly Sulpicius Severus' Life of the saint – it is interesting to note that a monk had a copy that he was able to take with him while undergoing his normal duties.


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. Vieillard-Troiekouroff, M., Les monuments religieux de la Gaule d'après les œuvres de Grégoire de Tours (Paris, 1976).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity