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E07737: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (2.1), tells how *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) foresaw that *Bricius (bishop of Tours, ob. 444, S01170), would succeed him as bishop but suffer many things when in office. As bishop, Bricius is accused of fathering a child. He proves his innocence by two miracles, but is driven into extended exile, before he is eventually restored. Two bishops appointed in his place die through God's judgement. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 575/594.

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posted on 2019-08-21, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 2.1


Gregory describes how during Martin's lifetime, Bricius, then a young cleric, frequently treated him with disrespect. On one occasion, when a sick man asked Bricius for help in finding Martin, Bricius referred to Martin as 'mad' and 'deranged' (delerus and amens). Martin rebuked him, and announced that God had revealed to him that Bricius would succeed him as bishop but would suffer many things during his episcopate (te in episcopatu multa adversa passurum).

After Martin's death, Bricius is indeed chosen as his successor, and serves as bishop for many years. Gregory says that although arrogant and vain, he was considered to be chaste in the body (quia quamquam esset superbus et vanus, castus tamen habebatur in corpore). However, in the thirty-third year of his episcopate [= about 430], the woman who washed the bishop's clothes gave birth to a child. The people of Tours universally believed that Bricius was the father; they rose up and wished to stone (lapidare) him. Bricius ordered the baby to be brought to him and commanded it in the name of Jesus Christ to say if he was its father. The baby replied, 'You are not my father'. The crowd accused him of using magic to do this. To prove himself, Bricius then put burning coals in his cloak (byrrus). He went with the crowd to Martin's tomb, where he threw down the coals in front of the tomb, then showed the crowd that his cloak was undamaged. He announced that just as his cloak was unharmed by the coals, so his body was untouched by intercourse with women. However the crowd did not believe him, but seized him, insulted him, and threw him out of the city. Thus Martin's words were fulfilled.

After Bricius' expulsion from Tours, the citizens chose a bishop named Justinianus. Meanwhile Bricius travelled to Rome and sought out the Pope, to whom he confessed that he deserved his suffering because he had treated Martin with disrespect and had not believed in his miracles. Justinianus set out to follow Bricius to Rome, but died at Vercelli in northern Italy, 'struck by the judgement of God' (iudicio dei percussus). When the news reached Tours, the people chose a new bishop named Armentius. After spending seven years in Rome, Bricius returned to Tours, with the authority of the Pope. He stayed at a village named Laudiacum, about six miles from the city. One night it was revealed to Bricius in a vision (per visum revelatum est) that Armentius had just died of a fever. He roused his companions and they hurried to Tours, entering the city by one gate just as Armentius' body was carried out by another. Bricius then resumed the office of bishop, and held it until his own death seven years later.

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 37-38. Summary: David Lambert.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Bricius, bishop of Tours (north-west Gaul), ob. AD 444 : S01170 Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397 : S00050

Saint Name in Source

Brictius Martinus

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 - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Uncertainty/scepticism/rejection of a saint

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future) Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Punishing miracle Other specified miracle

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Children Crowds


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.


The rather mixed nature of Gregory's account of Bricius originates from the divisions in the church at Tours which existed during Martin's lifetime and in the aftermath of his death. It is evident from contemporary sources that Bricius represented a faction in the clergy at Tours which was hostile to Martin, and that he in turn was disliked by Martin's supporters: note in particular the extremely hostile depiction of Bricius in Sulpicius Severus' Dialogues (3.15-16). Nonetheless, although Gregory highlights Bricius' flawed character, he unambiguously treats him as the legitimate bishop of Tours, and the two bishops who held the see following his ejection as illegitimate interlopers, with the death of the first, Justinianus, explicitly characterised as a divine judgement (this is not stated explicitly of Justinianus' successor Armentius, though it is arguably implied). Ultimately, the implication of Gregory's narrative is that Bricius was guilty of sins of disrespect towards Martin before becoming a bishop, but innocent of the accusations made against him after he became bishop. His innocence of these is vindicated by two miracles, one of them at Martin's tomb, and by his endorsement by the see of Rome. Gregory repeats the main points of Bricius' story in Book 10 of the Histories, when he lists all the bishops of Tours (Histories 10.31). That passage states explicitly that at Rome Bricius was formally declared innocent of the charges against him, which is merely implied in Book 2.


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

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