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E04472: Gregory the Great, in his Dialogues (3.11), describes two miracles associated with *Cerbonius (bishop of Populonia, northern Italy, ob. c. 575, S01752). Written in Latin in Rome, c. 593.

online resource
posted on 2017-12-18, 00:00 authored by frances
Gregory the Great, Dialogues 3.11


One day, Cerbonius invited soldiers into his house. When some Goths arrived unexpectedly, he asked the soldiers to hide to save themselves. When Totila, the King of the Goths, heard of this, he ordered that the bishop be killed by a bear. The bear made to attack the bishop in front of the crowd, but quickly bent down in submission and licked Cerbonius’ hands and feet.

Cerbonius asked to be buried at Populonia, even though the Lombards were present there. When his body was being transported from Elba to Populonia on a boat, a storm began. Although this storm raged on both sides, not a single drop of rain wet the boat. They quickly buried his body and left with haste shortly before Grimaret, the cruellest of the Lombards, entered the place of burial. They had acted with haste because Cerbonius had ordered them to. Grimaret’s arrival showed the saint had foreknowledge of this threat.

Summary: Frances Trzeciak.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Cerbonius, Bishop of Populonia, ob. c. 575 : S01752

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

Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory the Great (pope)

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Miracle with animals and plants Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Foreigners (including Barbarians) Monarchs and their family Crowds Animals Soldiers

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


Gregory the Great (Pope, 590-604) wrote his Dialogues on the Lives and Miracles of the Italian Fathers (Dialogi de vita et miraculis patrum italicorum) in Rome around 593. Organised into four books, the first three are a collection of lives and miracles of various Italian saints. The longest is the Life of Benedict of Nursia, which comprises the entirety of book 2. The final book consists of an essay on the immortality of souls after death. As a whole, the work documents and explains the presence of the miraculous in the contemporary world and the ability of saints to effect miracles both before and after death. The attribution of the Dialogues to Gregory has been disputed, most recently by Francis Clark who argued that the work was created in the 680s in Rome. Others - such as Adalbert de Vogüé, Paul Meyvaert and Matthew dal Santo - have, however, strongly argued for Gregory's authorship and it is broadly accepted that Gregory was responsible for the Dialogues. For a discussion of Gregory's devotion in writing the Dialogues, see E04383, and for the role of the Dialogues as a tract justifying the nature of miracles and theorising on the immortality of souls, see E04506. Gregory's principal aim in collecting the miracle stories of the holy men and a very few women of sixth-century Italy was to show the presence of God's power on earth as manifested through them, rather than to encourage the cult of these individuals. Indeed, though posthumous miracles at the graves of a few individuals are recorded (and also a few miracles aided by contact relics of dead saints), there is very little emphasis in the Dialogues on posthumous cult; some of the miraculous events that Gregory records (e.g. E04429) are not even attributed to named individuals. Although very few of the holy persons in the Dialogues are 'proper' saints, with long-term cult, we have included them all in our database, for the sake of completeness and as an illustration of the impossibility of dividing 'proper' saints from more 'ordinary' holy individuals.


Totila reigned as king of the Ostrogoths 541-552, during Justinian's conquest of Italy; the Lombards invaded Italy in 568.


Edition: Vogüé, A. de, Grégoire le Grand, Dialogues, Sources chrétiennes 260 (Paris: Cerf, 1979). Translation: Zimmerman, O.J., Dialogues of Saint Gregory the Great, Fathers of the Church 39 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1959). Further Reading: Clark, F.,The 'Gregorian' Dialogues and the Origins of Benedictine Monasticism (Leiden: Brill, 2003). Dal Santo, M., "The Shadow of A Doubt? A Note on the Dialogues and Registrum Epistolarum of Pope Gregory the Great (590–604)," Journal of Ecclesiatical History, 61.1, (2010), 3-17. Meyvaert, P., "The Enigma of Gregory the Great’s Dialogues: A Reply to Francis Clark," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 39 (1988), 335–81. Vogüé, A. de, "Grégoire le Grand et ses Dialogues d’après deux ouvrages récents," Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique 83 (1988), 281–348.

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