University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E04209: Gregory of Tours, in his Miracles of Martin (4.26), describes how *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) freed prisoners in Reims (north-east Gaul) shortly before his festival in July 591. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 591/594.

online resource
posted on 2017-10-23, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Miracles of Martin (Libri de virtutibus sancti Martini episcopi) 4.26

Fuerat nobis causa quaedam Childeberthi regis adire praesentiam. Pergentibus quoque nobis, iter per pagum Remensem adgressi sumus, repperimusque hominem quendam, qui nobis relatu suo, patefactum carcerem huius urbis, in quo inter reliquos vinctos huius famulus tenebatur, Martini virtute fuisse, vinctosque ab ergastulo absolutos liberos abscessisse.

Erat enim huiusmodi carcer, ut super struem tignorum axes validi superpositi pulpitarentur, ac desuper, qui eosdem obpremerent, insignes fuerant lapides collocati. Nihil minus et ostium carceris, sera ferro munita, obducto clave pessulo obserabatur; sed virtus antistitis, ut ipse relator asseruit, lapides dimovet, disicit pulpita, catenas confregit et trabem, quae vinctorum coartabat pedes, aperuit ac, nec reserato ostio, homines per aera sublevatos foris tecto patente produxit, dicens: 'Ego sum Martinus, miles Christi, absolutor vester. Abscedite cum pace et abite securi!

Sed cum nos ad regem accedentes huius virtutis diffamaremus miraculum, adfirmavit rex, quosdam ex his qui absoluti fuerant ad se venisse, atque conpositionem fisco debitam, quam illi fretum vocant, a se fuisse reis indultam. Hoc autem factum est ante quattuor festivitatis dies in anno memorati regis sexto et decimo.

'I had occasion to visit the presence of King Childebert. During my journey I approached on a road through a district [in the territory] of Reims and [there] met a man. In his own account he [told] me that the prison in Reims in which this man’s slave was being held with other captives had been opened by Martin’s power, and that the captives had been released from prison and departed as free men.

For the prison had been constructed in this way: thick logs had been positioned on top of a foundation of beams and covered with planks, and huge stones were then placed on top to press down on the logs. The door to this prison was furthermore locked, its bar strengthened by iron and its bolt shut with a key. But the bishop’s power moved these stones, as the man claimed in his account. He demolished the platform, broke the chains, and opened the stocks that held the captives’ feet; since the door had not been opened, he then lifted the men in the air and brought them outside through the open roof. He said: 'I am Martin, a soldier of Christ and your liberator. Depart in peace and leave with your freedom!'

After I had come to the king and told him the miracle worked by this power, the king confirmed that some of the men who had been released had come to him, and that he had forgiven the fee these accused men owed the [royal] treasury; those [Franks] call this fee a fredus. This miracle happened four days before the festival in the sixteenth year [of the reign] of the aforementioned king.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 205-206. Translation: Van Dam 1993, 295 (= de Nie 2015, 815-817).


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours, 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 - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Oral transmission of saint-related stories

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Freeing prisoners, exiles, captives, slaves Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Monarchs and their family Other lay individuals/ people Slaves/ servants Prisoners


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 festival recounted in this chapter was celebrated on 4 July 591, so the miracle can be dated to 30 June or 1 July (depending on Gregory's counting method). According to Van Dam and Krusch, Gregory went to Reims after he took part in the baptism of Chlothar II (Van Dam 1993, 295, n. 106). The fredus was a fine imposed for infringements on royal authority or a fee paid to a king or his representative for his arbitration in judicial disputes or for his release of prisoners (Van Dam 1993, 295, n. 106).


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.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager