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E07728: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (1.28-29), describes the martyrdom of the *Martyrs of Lyon (E00316), and of Irenaeus (bishop and martyr of Lyon, S02832). Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 575/594.

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posted on 2019-08-15, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 1.28-29

Sed et in Galleis multi pro Christi nomine sunt per martyrium gemmis caelestibus coronati; quorum passionum historiae apud nos fideliter usque hodie retinentur. Ex quibus et ille primus Lugdunensis ecclesiae Photinus episcopus fuit, qui plenus dierum, diversis adfectus suppliciis, pro Christi nomine passus est. Beatissimus vero Hireneus, huius successor martyris, qui a beato Policarpo ad hanc urbem directus est, admirabili virtute enituit; qui in modici temporis spatio praedicatione sua maxime in integrum civitatem reddidit christianam. Sed veniente persecutione, talia ibidem diabulus bella per tyrannum exercuit, et tanta ibi multitudo christianorum ob confessione dominici nominis est iugulata, ut per plateas flumina currerent de sanguine christiano; quorum nec numerum nec nomina collegere potuimus, Dominus enim eos in libro vitae conscripsit. Beatum Hirenaeum diversis in sua carnifex praesentia poenis adfectum Christo domino per martyrium dedicavit. Post hunc et XXXXVIII martyres passi sunt, ex quibus primum fuisse legimus Vectium Epagatum.

'In Gaul, too, many were crowned with heavenly gems and received martyrdom in Christ’s name. The story of their persecution is still faithfully preserved among us to this day. The first among these was Photinus, Bishop of the church of Lyon, who was tortured repeatedly when he was a very old man and suffered death in the name of Christ. Saint Irenaeus, next in the line after the martyred Photinus, and who had been sent to the town of Lyon by Saint Polycarp, made a great name for himself there by his remarkable powers. In a very short time, particularly by his preaching, he converted the whole city to Christianity. Then the persecution began again: and by the hand of a tyrant the Devil made such assaults and so great a number of Christians was put to death for confessing our Lord’s name that rivers of Christian blood ran through the streets. We cannot tell how many were killed or what their names were; but our Lord has written them down in the Book of Life. After having had him tortured repeatedly in his presence, the executioner dedicated Saint Irenaeus in martyrdom to Christ our Lord. After Irenaeus forty-eight other martyrs suffered death, the first of them, so we have read, being called Vettius Epagatus.'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 21-22. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 86 (lightly modified).


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martyrs of Lyon : S00316 Irenaeus, bishop and martyr of Lyon : S02832 Polykarpos/Polycarp, bishop and martyr of Smyrna, and his companion martyrs : S00004

Saint Name in Source

Photinus, Vectius Epagatus Hireneus Policarpus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • 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

Transmission, copying and reading saint-related texts


Gregory of Tours wrote the Histories (Historiae) during his episcopate in Tours (573–594). They constitute the longest and most detailed historical work of the post-Roman West. Gregory's focus is Gaul under its Frankish kings, above all the territories of Tours and (to a lesser extent) Clermont, where he had been born and brought up. Much of his work tells of the years when, as bishop of an important see, he was himself centrally involved in Frankish politics. The Histories are often wrongly referred to as a History of the Franks. Although the work does contain a history of the rulers of Francia, it also includes much hagiographical material, and Gregory himself gave it the simple title the 'ten books of Histories' (decem libri historiarum), when he produced a list of his own writings (Histories 10.31). The Histories consist of ten books whose scope and contents differ considerably. Book 1 skims rapidly through world history, with biblical and secular material from the Creation to the death in AD 397 of Martin of Tours (Gregory’s hero and predecessor as bishop). It covers 5596 years. In Book 2, which covers 114 years, the focus moves firmly into Gaul, covering the years up to the death of Clovis in 511. Books 3 and 4, which cover 37 and 27 years respectively, then move fairly swiftly on, closing with the death of king Sigibert in 575. With Book 5, through to the final Book 10, the pace slows markedly, and the detail swells, with only between two and four years covered in each of the last six books, breaking off in 591. These books are organised in annual form, based on the regnal years of Childebert II (r. 575-595/6). There continues to be much discussion over when precisely Gregory wrote specific parts of the Histories, though there is general agreement that none of it was written before 575 and, of course, none of it after Gregory's death, which is believed to have occurred in 594. Essentially, scholars are divided over whether Gregory wrote the Histories sequentially as the years from 575 unfolded, with little or no revision thereafter, or whether he composed the whole work over the space of a few years shortly before his death and after 585 (see Murray 2015 for the arguments on both sides). For an understanding of the political history of the time, and Gregory's attitude to it, precisely when the various books were written is of great importance; but for what he wrote about the saints, the precise date of composition is of little significance, because Gregory's attitude to saints, their relics and their miracles did not change significantly during his writing-life. We have therefore chosen to date Gregory's writing of our entries only within the broadest possible parameters: with a terminus post quem of 575 for the early books of the Histories, and thereafter the year of the events described, and a terminus ante quem of 594, set by Gregory's death. (Bryan Ward-Perkins, David Lambert) For general discussions of the Histories see: Goffart, W., The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550–800): Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon (Princeton, 1988), 119–127. Murray, A.C., "The Composition of the Histories of Gregory of Tours and Its Bearing on the Political Narrative," in: A.C. Murray (ed.), A Companion to Gregory of Tours (Leiden and Boston, 2015), 63–101. Pizarro, J.M., "Gregory of Tours and the Literary Imagination: Genre, Narrative Style, Sources, and Models in the Histories," in: Murray, A Companion to Gregory of Tours, 337–374.


Gregory's general account of the Martyrs of Lyon follows that in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, which Gregory knew from the Latin translation by Rufinus. However, he alters Eusebius' account, notably in relation to Irenaeus, who is not claimed as one of the martyrs of Lyon, or indeed as a martyr at all, by Eusebius. The details that Irenaeus succeeded Photinus/Pothinus as bishop of Lyon, and that he knew Polycarp, come from Ecclesiastical History 5.5, but the idea that he was sent to Lyon by Polycarp and that he was among the martyrs of 177 are Gregory's additions. Gregory refers to 48 martyrs, but does not name them all here, as he does in Glory of the Martyrs 48 (E00548). He mentions two figures by name, Photinus/Pothinus and Vettius Epagatus, both mentioned in the original account in Eusebius. Gregory believed that he was descended from Vettius Epagatus (Life of the Fathers 6.1).


Edition: Krusch, B., and Levison, W., Gregorii episcopi Turonensis Libri historiarum X (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum I.1; 2nd ed.; Hannover, 1951). Translation: Thorpe, L., Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks (Penguin Classics; London, 1974). Further reading: Murray, A.C., "The Composition of the Histories of Gregory of Tours and Its Bearing on the Political Narrative", in: A.C. Murray (ed.), A Companion to Gregory of Tours (Leiden-Boston 2015), 63-101.

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