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E05472: Gregory of Tours, in his Life of *Nicetius (bishop of Trier, ob. c. 565, S01305), describes how, during the plague of 543, the city of Trier (north-east Gaul) was saved from further disaster by three of its bishops: the living Nicetius, and two acting from their graves, *Eucharius (bishop of Trier, ob. 250/300, S00469) and *Maximinus (bishop of Trier, ob. c. 347, S00465). From Gregory's Life of the Fathers, written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/594.

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posted on 2018-05-20, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers 17.4

Cum autem lues inguinaria Trevericum populum in circuitu civitatis valde vastaret, et sacerdos Dei pro ovibus conmissis Domini misericordiam inploraret assidue, factus est sonus de nocte magnus tamquam tonitruum validum super pontem amnis, ita ut putaretur urbs ipsa dehiscere. Cumque omnis populus exterritus in lectulis resedisset, letifero eis interitum operiens, audita est in medio rumoris vox una ceteris clarior, dicens: 'Et quid hic, o socii, faciemus? Ad unam enim portam Eucharius sacerdos observat, ad aliam Maximinus excubat, in medio versatur Nicetius; nihil hic ultra praevalere possumus, nisi sinamus hanc urbem eorum tuitioni'. Haec voce audita, statim morbus quievit, nullusque ab eo ultra defunctus est. Unde non ambigitur, virtutem memorati antestitis fuisse defensam.

'When the bubonic plague (lues inguinaria) was cruelly assailing the population within the walls of the city of Trier, the priest of God assiduously implored divine mercy for the sheep entrusted to him. Suddenly, in the night, a great noise was heard, like a violent clap of thunder which broke above the bridge over the river, so that one would have thought that the town was going to split in two. And all the people were lying in their beds, filled with terror and hiding from the coming of death. And one could hear in the midst of the noise a voice clearer than the others, saying 'What must we do, companions? For at one of the gates Bishop Eucharius watches, and at the other Maximinus is on the alert. Nicetius is busy in the middle. There is nothing left for us to do except leave this town to their protection.' As soon as this voice had been heard, the malady ceased, and from that moment no-one else died. Thus we cannot doubt that the town had been protected by the power of the bishop.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 281. Translation: James 1991, 110-111.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Nicetius, bishop of Trier (north-east Gaul), ob. c. AD 565 : S01305 Eucharius, bishop of Trier, ob. 250/300 : S00469 Maximinus, bishop of Trier, ob. c. 347 : S00465

Saint Name in Source

Nicetius Eucharius Maximinus

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 - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miraculous sound, smell, light Miraculous protection - of communities, towns, armies

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops


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.


For an overview of the Life of Nicetius of Trier, see E05466. The plague that features in this story was almost certainly the great ('Justinianic') plague that hit Gaul in 543. The church of Eucharius is now St Matthias and is located outside the north gate of Trier (Vieillard-Troiekouroff, 331-332), while the church of Maximinus is outside the south gate (Vieillard-Troiekouroff, 332-333).


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

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