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E07840: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (1.26), mentions the story that *John (the Apostle and Evangelist, S00042) entered his tomb at Ephesus while still alive, and would remain there until the second coming of Christ. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 575/594.

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posted on 2019-12-19, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 1.26

Domicianus autem secundus post Neronem in christianis saevit, Iohannem apostolum in insolam Pathmos relegat in exilium et diversas crudilitates in populus agitat. Post cuius mortem beatus Iohannis apostolus et euangelista de exilio rediit; qui senex et plenus dierum perfectaeque in Deum vitae vivens se deposuit in sepulchro. Hic fertur non gustare morte, donec iteratis Dominus iudicaturus adveniat, ipso in euangeliis ita dicente: Sic eum volo manere, donec veniam.

'Domitian was the second Emperor after Nero to vent his rage upon the Christians, for he sent the Apostle John into exile on the island of Patmos and was responsible for many cruelties practised on the people. After Domitian’s death the blessed John, Apostle and Evangelist, returned from exile. When he was very old and had come to the end of his life, which he had spent in perfect communion with God, he climbed into the tomb while still alive. It is said that John will not experience death until our Lord shall come again at the Judgement Day, for he himself said in his Gospel: "I will that he tarry till I come." [John 21:23]'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 20. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 85.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

John, the Apostle and Evangelist : S00042

Saint Name in Source

Iohannes apostolus et euangelista

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 - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Oral transmission of saint-related stories

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracles experienced by the saint Changing abilities and properties of the body


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 tradition that John had not died but merely rested in his tomb until the second coming of Christ, together with its biblical justification by reference to Jesus' words If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? (John 21:23) was established by at least the early 5th century, when it is discussed by Augustine in Tractates on the Gospel of John 124 (E07861). According to Augustine, it was believed that John's breathing caused dust to rise from his tomb. Gregory mentions the tradition abut John twice: in Glory of the Martyrs 29 (E00498), he states that John entered his tomb while alive, and, without explicitly stating that John still lived, says that 'manna' (presumably the dust mentioned by Augustine) rose from the tomb and performed healing miracles. In this passage from the Histories, he says that John entered his tomb while alive, this time adding that 'it is said' (fertur) that John would not experience death until the second coming of Christ, and quoting John 21:23. He does not mention the miraculous dust. For a general account of John at Ephesus, see Finegan 1981, 36-49; on the tradition about John's tomb see Burnet 2014, 400, and on cult of John in late antique and medieval Ephesus, of which the traditions mentioned by Gregory remained a major feature, see Foss 1979, 36 and 126-7.


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. Burnet, R., Les Douze Apôtres: Histoire de la réception des figures apostoliques dans le christianisme ancien (Turnhout, 2014). Finegan, J., The Archeology of the New Testament: The Mediterranean World of the Early Christian Apostles (Boulder, Colorado, 1981). Foss, C., Ephesus after Antiquity: A Late Antique, Byzantine and Turkish City (Cambridge, 1979).

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