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E05466: Gregory of Tours writes the Life of *Nicetius (bishop of Trier, ob. c. 565, S01305): it presents the saint as a fearless reprimander of the powerful, including kings; set mainly in Trier (north-east Gaul). From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594. Overview of Gregory's Life of Nicetius of Trier.

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posted on 2018-05-19, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers, Book 17 (Life of Nicetius of Trier)


Preface: Gregory states that he has learned of many of the deeds of Nicetius from *Aredius (monk of Limoges, ob. 591, S00302), a close witness and himself a man able to effect miracles - and therefore not a source to be doubted.

§ 1: Nicetius was born with a ring of downy hair around his head, a sign that he would become a priest. As a child he was sent by his parents to the abbot of a monastery, to whose office he eventually succeeded. He was highly respected by King Theuderic [r. 511-533], who offered him the bishopric of Trier. When he arrived for his consecration, he admonished the dignitaries accompanying him to withdraw their horses from feeding in the fields of poor people, and threatened them with excommunication. Then he personally chased the horses from the fields. Once, while sitting on his episcopal throne, he felt a weight on his neck, which he realised was the burden of episcopal dignity, because it was accompanied by a sweet smell.

§ 2: Nicetius tried to reform the way of life of kings. He often berated Theuderic's successor, Theudebert [r. 533-548], for his unjust deeds and for not reproving people who had committed crimes. One Sunday the king entered church with people whom Nicetius had excommunicated. During the mass, Nicetius said that he would not continue the service until those who were excommunicated had left the church. The king resisted, but suddenly a young man seized by a demon, cried out and began to confess both the virtues of Nicetius and the crimes of the king, whom he called an adulterer (adulter). Theudebert demanded that the possessed man be sent out, but the bishop said that only if the malefactors left the church, would the man be silenced. The king gave the order for those who had been condemned by the bishop to leave the church, and the bishop ordered the demoniac to be expelled. But he clung to a column and ten men could not drag him away. But when the bishop made secretly under his clothing (sub vestimento suo) the sign of the cross, immediately the man fell to the ground and after a while was cured. After the ceremony nobody could find the man. Subsequently, Theudebert treated Nicetius with more respect. Nicetius reproved the evil ways of many people, willingly putting his own life in danger. One of the people he excommunicated several times was King Chlothar [r. 548-561].

§ 3: Nicetius was sent into exile, accompanied by only one loyal deacon [Aredius]; in exile he predicted his imminent return, which duly happened on the death of Chlothar and the accession of Sigibert [in 561]. While crossing the river Moselle, he was miraculously saved from drowning, and during another journey a frightful creature appeared to him when he entered some bushes to relieve himself, but vanished after Nicetius made the sign of the cross against it.

§ 4: At the church of *Maximinus (bishop of Trier, ob. c. 347, S00465), Nicetius healed three possessed men. During the plague, Trier was protected by three of its bishops: *Eucharius (bishop of Trier, ob. 250/300, S00469) and Maximinus, both from their graves, and the living Nicetius [see $E05472]. A broken fish-trap was found to be full of the fish needed by Nicetius.

§ 5: Nicetius had a vision foretelling the length of the reigns of the present and future kings of the Franks [see $E05474]. He calmed a storm on a river with the sign of the cross and dreamed that he cast nets over the world, aided only by Aredius. A man from Clermont told him how he had been saved from shipwreck when he convinced his pagan fellow travellers to invoke the help of Nicetius.

§ 6: Nicetius learnt in a vision of his salvation, died in Trier, and was buried in the church of Maximinus. Miracles occur at his grave [see $E05477].

Text: Krusch 1969, 277-283. Summary Katarzyna Wojtalik


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Nicetius, bishop of Trier (north-east Gaul), ob. c. AD 565 : S01305 Aredius, monk of Limoges, ob. 591 : S00302

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

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 - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Healing diseases and disabilities Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous protection - of communities, towns, armies Exorcism Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Monarchs and their family Aristocrats Slaves/ servants


Gregory, bishop of Tours from 573 until his death (probably in 594), 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. The Life of the Fathers by Gregory of Tours is different from his other hagiographical works (Miracles of Julian, Miracles of Martin, Glory of the Confessors and Glory of the Martyrs), which all concentrate on posthumous miracles of the saints. The Life of the Fathers, by contrast, describes the exemplary behaviour in life of twenty Gallic saints (for a list of the Lives, see E05870). Gregory himself draws this contrast in the opening words of his preface: 'I had decided to write only about what has been achieved with divine help at the tombs of the blessed martyrs and confessors; but I have recently discovered information about those who have been raised to heaven by the merit of their blessed conduct here below, and I thought that their way of life, which is known to us through reliable sources, could strengthen the Church' (trans. James 1991, 1). In this preface Gregory also explains why he chose to call the book Life of the Fathers, not Lives of the Fathers: because they all lived the same bodily life. The nineteen Lives of men, and the single Life of a woman (Life 19), all relate to holy people of Gaul, the majority living in the mid to later sixth century. Although this agenda is unspoken, there can be little doubt that Gregory wrote these Lives partly to show that holiness, and the miraculous, were not just things of the past, but very much present within the Gaul of his day (a message that he expressed explicitly in his Histories). Almost all the saints he describes were active within one or other of the two dioceses with which Gregory was most familiar (his native Clermont, and Tours, the city of his episcopate), or indeed were his relatives (all bishops - Life 6 is of an uncle, Life 7 of a great-grandfather, and Life 8 of a great-uncle). Although Gregory says in his preface that they all shared one bodily life, in reality his saints fall into one of two distinct categories: holy bishops who are effective leaders of their flocks but only moderately ascetic (Lives 2, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 17), and holy ascetics who have withdrawn from the world and sometimes engage in extreme mortification of the body (Lives 1, 3, 5, 9-16, and 18-20). Gregory's work was unquestionably didactic in purpose - teaching the correct way to lead a good Christian life, and it is notable, for instance, how, in this work written by a bishop, his ascetics accept episcopal correction when necessary (Lives 15.2 and 20.3, in both cases from Gregory himself), and might even delay their death to suit the timetable of a bishop (Life 10.4). Because the focus is on the lives of these holy people, there is much less emphasis on their cult after death than in Gregory's other hagiographical works; however, all the Lives close with an account of the burial of the saint, and in almost all cases with reference to posthumous miracles recorded there (the exceptions are Lives 10, 11 and 20, which have no reference to miracles at the tomb). Gregory probably collected material for the Life of the Fathers (and perhaps wrote individual Lives) over a long period of time. However, from the words of his preface (quoted above) and from other references within the text, it is evident that he assembled his material into the polished work we have today only towards the very end of his life, after he had already written much of his extensive hagiography recording the miracles of saints lying in their graves. Because Gregory's views on saints do not seem to have changed during his writing life, we have not here expended energy in exploring the possible dating of individual lives, merely recording them all as written some time between 573 and 594. For more on the text, and on its dating: James 1991, xiii-xix; Shaw 2015, particularly 117-120.


Gregory's Life of Nicetius of Trier is the seventeenth book (and so the seventeenth Life) included by him in his Life of the Fathers (for which see above). Nicetius became bishop of Trier in 525. In the another of his Lives, but not of course here, Gregory recounts that the Treveri (the people of Trier) wanted Gallus as their bishop rather than Nicetius (Life of the Fathers 6.3, see E00039). In the Preface, Gregory stresses how much of his knowledge derived from *Aredius (monk of Limoges, ob. 591, S00302), outlining in support of this testimony several miracles effected by Aredius himself. This allows us to date the Life of Nicetius, since Gregory only openly attributed miracles to Aredius after his death in 591 (see Histories 10.29, E02387). The very earliest the Life of Nicetius can have been written was therefore 591. While Nicetius is presented carrying out a number of conventional miracles, the aspect of his life which emerges most strongly from Gregory's account is his willingness to confront the great and powerful, including kings, and to suffer exile for this if necessary.


Edition: Krusch, B., Gregorii Turonensis Opera. 2: Miracula et opera minora (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum I.2; 2nd ed.; Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1969). Translation: James, E., Gregory of Tours. Life of the Fathers (Translated Texts for Historians 1; 2nd ed.; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1991). de Nie, G., Gregory of Tours, Lives and Miracles (Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 39; Cambridge MA, 2015). Further reading: 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.

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