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E07756: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (4.36), refers to posthumous miracles at the tomb of *Nicetius (bishop of Lyon, ob. 573, S00049), and describes the miraculous punishment of Nicetius' successor Priscus and others who disrespected his memory. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 575/594.

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posted on 01.09.2019, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 4.36

After describing Nicetius' saintly life, Gregory states:

Hic, xxii annis sacerdotio ministrato, migravit ad Dominum; qui nunc magna miracula ad suum tumulum exorantibus praestat. Nam de oleo cicindelis, qui ad ipsum sepulchrum cotidie accenditur, caecorum oculis lumen reddit, daemones de obsessis corporibus fugat, contractis membris restituit sanitatem et omnibus infirmis magnum in hoc tempore habetur praesidium.

'He died after holding his bishopric for twenty-two years: and now great miracles are wrought at his tomb for those who come to pray there. By means of the oil in the lamp which burns daily at his tomb he gives back their sight to the blind; he drives out evil spirits from the bodies of those possessed; he restores health to paralysed limbs; and in our time he is considered to be a ready source of help to all who are infirm.'

Gregory then describes how Nicetius' successor as bishop Priscus and his wife Susanna were consumed by envy of Nicetius, insulting his memory, spreading discreditable stories about him and befriending his enemies. Although women had always been barred from the bishop's house (domus ecclesiae), Susanna and her maids used to enter even Nicetius' cell. But God punished them for these sins: Susanna was possessed by a demon, and ran around the city confessing that Nicetius was a friend of Christ (amicum Christi) and asking him to spare her. Priscus was struck by a quartan fever which left him permanently trembling and stupid. His son and whole household were also left pale and stupid (decolor ... ac stupida), so that no one could doubt that they had been struck by the power of the holy man (ut nulli sit dubium, eos a sancti viri virtute percussos).

A deacon who had often been punished by Nicetius climbed on the roof of the bishop's house and began throwing tiles off the roof while insulting Nicetius; he promptly fell to his death. Nicetius appeared in a dream to a man and told him to warn Priscus to stop doing evil things, and to warn a presbyter named Martinus that he would be punished for supporting Priscus and would die unless he changed his ways. This man went to a deacon he knew and asked him to report the dream to the bishop. When the deacon failed to do so, Nicetius appeared in a dream to him too: he demanded to know why the deacon had not reported the dream to Priscus, and then began to punch him in the throat (clausis pugnis coepit guttur eius caedere). When the deacon woke up, his throat was painful and swollen. He immediately went to Priscus and Martinus and told them about the dream.

At illi parvi pendentes ea quae audierant, fantasiam somniorum esse dixerunt. Martinus vero presbiter statim inruit in febre et aegrotans convaluit; sed cum semper adolatorie episcopo loqueretur et consentiret in malis actibus ac blasphemiis, quae in sanctum evomebant, iterum in febre redactus, spiritum exalavit.

'They made light of what they had been told and pretended that it was all empty dreams. The priest Martin immediately became ill with a high temperature, but he recovered from his sickness. He continued to flatter the Bishop, supporting him in his evil deeds and the abuse which he heaped on Saint Nicetius. He fell ill a second time with a fever and so died.'


Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 168-169. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 230-233. Summary: David Lambert.

History

Evidence ID

E07756

Saint Name

Nicetius, bishop of Lyon, ob. 573 : S00049

Saint Name in Source

Nicetius

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Language

Latin

Evidence not before

575

Evidence not after

594

Activity not before

573

Activity not after

590

Place of Evidence - Region

Gaul and Frankish kingdoms

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Tours

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 - Miracles

Miracle after death Healing diseases and disabilities Exorcism Punishing miracle Power over life and death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - oil

Source

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.

Discussion

Priscus of Lyon (PCBE 4, 'Priscus 1') was a contemporary of Gregory, who disliked him (cf. the reference to him in Life of the Fathers 8.5). Similar stories of Nicetius appearing in visions to admonish sinners appear in Gregory's Life of the Fathers. See E00064 and E00156. The rival claims around Nicetius (saint or sinner?), documented by Gregory here and in Life of the Fathers, are a classic instance of how sanctity could be fiercely contested.

Bibliography

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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