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E07805: Gregory of Tours, in the prologue to Book 1 of his Miracles of Martin, describes how he was commanded by his mother in a dream to record the miracles of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) in spite of his lack of skill as a writer. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/576.

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posted on 2019-10-18, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Miracles of Martin (Libri de virtutibus sancti Martini episcopi), Book 1, prologue

Ego vero fidem ingerens libri illius, qui de eius vita ab anterioribus est scriptus, praesentes virtutes, de quanto ad memoriam recolo, memoriae in posterum, Domino iubente, mandabo. Quod non praesumerem, nisi bis et tertio admonitus fuissem per visum. Tamen omnipotentem Deum testem invoco, quia vidi quadam vice per somnium media die in basilica domni Martini debiles multos ac diversis morbis obpraessos sanari, et vidi haec, spectante a matri meae, quae ait mihi: 'Quare segnes es ad haec scribenda quae prospicis?' Et aio: 'Non tibi latet, quod sim inops litteris et tam admirandas virtutes stultus et idiota non audeam promulgare? Utinam Severus aut Paulinus viverent, aut certe Fortunatus adesset, qui ista discriberent! Nam ego ad haec iners notam incurro, si haec adnotare temptavero'. Et ait mihi: 'Et nescis, quia nobiscum propter intellegentiam populorum magis, sicut tu loqui potens es, habetur praeclarum? Itaque ne dubites et haec agere non desistas, quia crimen tibi erit, si ea tacueris'. Ego autem haec agere cupiens, duplicis taedii adfligor cruciatu, maeroris pariter et terroris. Maeroris, cur tantae virtutes, quae sub antecessoribus nostris factae sunt, non sunt scriptae; terroris, ut adgrediar opus egregium rusticanus. Sed spe divinae pietatis inlectus, adgrediar quod monetur.

'In order to increase confidence in that book that earlier authors wrote about [Martin’s] life, at God’s command I will entrust his present miracles, so far as I [can] recall them, to the memory of posterity. I would not presume to do this if I had not been warned a second and then a third time in a dream. For I call omnipotent God as my witness, because once at noon I happened to see in a dream many disabled people and others suffering from various diseases being cured in the church of lord Martin. As I watched these cures, my mother who was also a spectator said to me: “Why do you delay to write down these cures that you see?” I replied: “Is it not obvious to you that I am untrained in literary culture and that I do not dare to publicize such marvelous miracles because I am ignorant and uneducated? If only Severus or Paulinus were still alive, or indeed if only Fortunatus were here to describe these events! If I attempt to record these events, I will be criticized as ignorant about these matters.” My mother said to me: “Do you not know that because of people’s ignorance the manner in which you can speak is considered [to be] more comprehensible to us? Therefore do not hesitate and do not stop recording these events, because you would commit a crime if you were silent about them.” Although I want to record these events, I am tormented by anxiety over two concerns, namely sorrow and fear. I grieve because the great miracles that happened during the tenures of my predecessors have not been recorded in writing; and I am afraid because I approach this important task without any training. But because I am inspired by the hope of the Lord's goodwill, I will follow this advice.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 135-6. Translation: Van Dam 1993, 200-201.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397 : S00050

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Collections of miracles


  • 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

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Family


Gregory, of a prominent Clermont family with extensive ecclesiastical connections, was bishop of Tours from 573 until his death (probably in 594). He 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. Gregory's Miracles of Martin (full title Libri de virtutibus sancti Martini episcopi, 'Books of the Miracles of Saint Martin the Bishop'), consists of four books of miracles, 207 chapters in all, effected by Martin, primarily at his grave and shrine in Tours. Most of them occurred at the time of the saint's festivals, on 4 July and 11 November. Gregory tried to record the miracles in chronological order, so historians have been able to calculate quite precisely the dates of the events and miracles mentioned in the work. This fairly precise chronology has enabled scholars to determine the dates of completion of each book. There have been three main dating schemes proposed for the composition of the four books. The oldest was suggested by Monod in 1872, another by Krusch in 1885, and then one by Van Dam in 1993 (for fuller discussion, see Shaw 2015, 103-105). Their datings of the individual books do not vary substantially, and in our entries we have given only those of Van Dam. Shaw 2015 convincingly demolishes an earlier theory, that Gregory wrote the Miracles in two distinct stages: a first stage that was written during a particular period, and a second stage in the early 590s, in which Gregory revised the whole work. Book 1, with 40 chapters, was written between 573 and 576. In the prologue, Gregory mentions that he started writing after he became bishop of Tours in August 573. Book 1 must have been completed by 576, since Venantius Fortunatus in a letter to Gregory of that year referred to it (Epistula ad Gregorium 2, prefatory letter to Fortunatus' Life of Martin, MGH Auct. ant. 4.1, p. 293). Book 2 consists of 60 chapters. It must have been finished before November 581, because the last miracles it mentions occurred in November 580, while the first ones recorded in Book 3 happened in November 581. Using the same methodology, the completion of Book 3, which also covers 60 chapters, can be dated between 587 and July 588. Book 4, which consists of 47 chapters, seems never to have been completed, presumably because of Gregory’s death. There are two main arguments in support of the idea that it is unfinished. Firstly, Book 4 has no conclusion and no tidy number of chapters, while each of Books 1 to 3 has these elements. Secondly, the last story recorded in Book 4 is not about Gregory himself, unlike the final stories of Books 2 and 3. Book 1 covers miracles that occurred before Gregory’s episcopate in Tours. The next three books are a running chronicle of Martin’s miracles under Gregory’s episcopate. Some of the miracles are recorded in very summary form, while others are much more elaborately presented: because of this, it has been argued that Gregory first jotted down notes, and only subsequently gave the stories full literary treatment (which in some cases, he was never able to do). The three completed books of the Miracles of Martin were probably released as they were completed, rather that published together. In this sense they are the exception amongst Gregory's writings, since the rest of his work was not finally completed and seems to have been unpublished at the time of his death. For discussion of the work, see: Krusch, B. (ed.), Gregorii episcopi Turonensis miracula et opera minora (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum 1,2; 2nd ed.; Hannover, 1969), 2–4. Monod, G., Études critiques sur les sources de l’histoire mérovingienne, 1e partie (Paris, 1872), 42–45. 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. Van Dam, R., Saints and Their Miracles in Late Antique Gaul (Princeton, 1993), 142–146, 199.


Gregory begins each book of the Miracles of Martin with a prologue briefly referring to Martin's miracles and giving general reflections on the nature of sainthood, miracles, and the relationship between saints and those who venerate them. In the prologue to Book 1, Gregory's account of his dream follows a general reflection on Martin's miracles (E07804). The profession of rusticity by ancient or medieval writers was usually a cliché of modesty, but the very personal nature of Gregory's reminiscence here suggests that he may have been genuinely troubled by the idea that his works' seeming lack of literary polish (which was evidently understood by him as adherence to the norms of classical literary Latin) implied disrespect for the saints he wrote about, especially Martin. He emphasises that it was only after repeatedly experiencing the dream he describes that he ventured to write about the saints, a dream which provided justification for communicating in a manner more accessible to those without a literary education, and also imposed on him the duty of recording Martin's miracles to ensure that they were not forgotten. The authors Gregory mentions as his superiors are Sulpicius Severus, the author of the Life of Martin (E00692), Paulinus of Périgueux (whom Gregory seems to have confused with Paulinus of Nola – see E02802), who put this into verse (E06355), and his contemporary Venantius Fortunatus, who also produced a verse life of Martin (E06356).


Editions and translations: Krusch, B. (ed.), Gregorii episcopi Turonensis miracula et opera minora (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum 1,2; 2nd ed.; Hannover, 1969), 134–211. Van Dam, R. (trans.), Saints and Their Miracles in Late Antique Gaul (Princeton, 1993), 200–303. de Nie, G. (ed. and trans.), Lives and Miracles: Gregory of Tours (Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 39; Cambridge MA, 2015), 421–855. Further reading: Murray, A.C. (ed.), A Companion to Gregory of Tours (Leiden-Boston, 2015). Shanzer, D., "So Many Saints – So Little Time ... the Libri Miraculorum of Gregory of Tours," Journal of Medieval Latin 13 (2003), 19–63.

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