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E04595: Gregory the Great, in his Dialogues (4.54-56), describes how the bodies of sinners buried in churches dedicated to *Faustinus (martyr of Brescia, S01845) in Brescia (northern Italy), *Syrus (bishop and martyr of Genoa, S01846) in Genoa (northern Italy), and *Ianuarius (deacon and martyr of Rome, S00204) in Rome, are miraculously ejected from the churches. Written in Latin in Rome, c. 593.

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posted on 2018-01-12, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Gregory the Great, Dialogues 4.54–56


Gregory describes three instances in which sinners who sought to be buried in the vicinity of saints’ tombs or churches were miraculously expelled.

Valerianus, a patrician of Brescia, was buried in the local church of Faustinus in Brescia. Faustinus appeared in a vision to the sacristan, demanding he tell the bishop to remove the body of Valerianus. If he did not do so, he would die (ch. 54).

Valentinus, a lawyer (defensor) of the church of Milan, was buried in the church of Syrus in Genoa. Two spirits bound Valentinus' feet and dragged him from the church. In the morning, it was found that he was no longer in his tomb, but his body was placed in a grave outside with the feet still bound (ch. 55).

A craftsman of Rome was buried in the church of Ianuarius which is near the gate of Laurence (porta sancti Laurentii). The sacristan heard a voice shouting from his burial place 'I burn!'. The next day, when the tomb was opened, his clothes were found untouched but his body was gone (ch. 56).

Gregory tells his interlocutor, Peter, that this demonstrates how sinners cannot redeem themselves by being buried in holy places, but instead will be punished for their presumption (ch. 55).

Ex qua re, Petre, college quia hii quos peccata grauia deprimunt, si in sacro loco sepeliri se faciant, restat ut etiam de sua praesumptione iudicentur, quatenus eos sacra loca non liberent, sed etiam culpa temeritatis accuset.

'Learn from this, Peter, that those weighed down by heavy sins, if they arrange to be buried in a holy place, will still be judged for their presumption, since holy places will not free them; rather the guilt of their recklessness will also accuse them.'

Text: de Vogüé (1978). Summary and translation: Frances Trzeciak.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Felicissimus and Agapitus, and four other deacons of Xystus II, all martyrs of Rome : S00202 Laurence/Laurentius, deacon and martyr of Rome : S00037 Faustinus (martyr, ob. 120) : S01845 Syrus, bishop of Genoa, ob. 381 : S01846

Saint Name in Source

Ianarius Laurentius Faustinus Syrus

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

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Places Named after Saint

  • Gates, bridges and roads

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Burial ad sanctos

Cult Activities - Miracles

Punishing miracle Miracle after death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Other specified miracle Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Other lay individuals/ people Women Ecclesiastics – unspecified


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.


These chapters are an interesting comment on burials 'ad sanctos', pointing out that the practice of burial near a saint does not guarantee sinners preferential treatment in the hereafter.


Edition: Vogüé, A. de, Grégoire le Grand, Dialogues, Sources chrétiennes 265 (Paris: Cerf, 1980). 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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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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