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E07789: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (3.5-6), states that the Burgundian king Sigismund went to the monastery of the *Theban legion (S00339) at Saint-Maurice d'Agaune (eastern Gaul) to pray for forgiveness after killing his son in 522, and established the custom of perpetual psalm-singing there. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 575/594.

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posted on 2019-09-17, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 3.5-6

Gregory describes how Sigismund had his son Sigiric killed, at the instigation of his second wife, Sigiric's stepmother. He is then overcome with grief and withdraws to the monastery of the Theban legion at Saint-Maurice d'Agaune (which he had founded a few years earlier, and whose foundation was described by Gregory earlier in the same chapter). He establishes the perpetual singing of psalms there.

Nihilominus ille ad sanctus Acaunenses abiens, per multus dies in fletu et ieiuniis durans, veniam praecabatur. Psallentium ibi assiduum instituens, Lugduno regressus est, ultione divina de vestigio prosequente.

'Nonetheless, he [Sigismund] went off to the saints of Agaune, and spending many days in weeping and fasting, he prayed for forgiveness. After establishing the perpetual singing of psalms there, he returned to Lyon, with divine vengeance following in his footsteps.'

In the next chapter (3.6), Gregory describes how a few months later the Frankish king Chlodomer attacked the Burgundian kingdom and defeated Sigismund and his brother Godomar. Godomar escapes.

Sigimundus vero, dum ad Sanctos Acaunos fugire nititur, a Chlodomere captus cum uxore et filiis captivus abducitur ...

'But Sigismund, while trying to flee to the Saints of Agaune, was captured and led away a captive with his wife and children by Chlodomer ...'

Chlodomer subsequently has Sigismund and his family killed, and their bodies thrown down a well.

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 101-102. Translation: David Lambert.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Theban Legion, commanded by *Maurice, martyrs of Agaunum, Gaul : S00339

Saint Name in Source

sancti Acaunenses; sancti Acauni

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 - Liturgical Activity

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - monastic

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family


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.


Sigismund (PLRE II, 'Sigismundus') was king of the Burgundians from 516 to 523. He converted from Arianism to Nicene orthodoxy, and in 515, just before becoming king, refounded the monastery dedicated to the Theban Legion at Acaunum, the supposed site of their martyrdom (present-day Saint-Maurice d'Agaune, Switzerland). The practice of perpetual psalm-singing for which the monastery was celebrated (see e.g. E05931, E05939) was probably established at this point, rather than after the killing of Sigiric, since it is alluded to in the homily preached on that occasion by Avitus of Vienne (E07115). Sigismund's repentance after the killing of his son in 522, his death the following year at the hands of the Frankish king Chlodomer, and his burial at Saint-Maurice d'Agaune are described at length by Gregory in Glory of the Martyrs 74 (E00621). A saint's cult around Sigismund (S00380) was well-established by Gregory's time, as illustrated by his account in Glory of the Martyrs. It is therefore interesting that in the Histories he conspicuously does not treat Sigismund as a saint. There is no reference to his cult, and his repentance at the monastery of Acaunum is only briefly mentioned in the passage quoted here. Instead, Gregory devotes most of his narrative of the killing of Sigiric to a dramatic depiction of the hatred borne towards him by Sigismund's unnamed second wife (explicitly depicted by Gregory according to the archetype of the wicked stepmother) and her incitement of Sigismund to murder him. Gregory also emphasises that Sigismund deserved punishment (as with his remark here about ultio divina).


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). Sigismund and the monastery of Agaune: Theurillat, J.-M., "L'Abbaye de St-Maurice d'Agaune des origines à la réforme canoniale, 515-830 environ," Vallesia 9 (1954), 1-128. Rosenwein, B.H., "Perpetual Prayer at Agaune," in: S. Farmer and B.H. Rosenwein (eds.), Monks and Nuns, Saints and Outcasts: Religion in Medieval Society. Essays in Honor of Lester K. Little (Ithaca, 2000), 37-56.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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