Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (102), tells of the church of *Polyeuktos (soldier and martyr of Melitene, S00325) in Constantinople, embellished with a golden ceiling by [Anicia] Juliana, to save her wealth from the emperor Justinian; Polyeuktos is a miracle-worker specialising in thwarting perjury. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.
Literary - Hagiographical - Collections of miracles
Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts
Gregory of Tours
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 102
Apud Constantinopolim vero magno cultu Polioctus martyr colitur, pro eo praecipuae quod, cum magnis virtutibus polleat, in periuribus tamen praesens ultor exsistit. Nam quicumque, ut adsolet, occultum scelus admiserit et data suspitione ad hoc perductus fuerit templum, aut statim quod admisit virtute martyris perterritus confitetur aut, si periuraverit, protinus ultione divina perculitur. Huius basilicae cameram Iuliana quaedam urbis illius matrona auro purissimo texit hoc modo.
'The martyr Polyeuktos, although he is noted for great miracles, is venerated with a great cult at Constantinople for this reason especially, that he takes immediate vengeance against perjurers. For whoever commits, as often happens, a secret crime and, after being put under suspicion, is brought to this church, either is frightened by the power of the martyr and immediately confesses what he did, or, if he commits perjury, is immediately struck down by divine vengeance. Juliana, a matron of that city, covered the ceiling of this church with pure gold, in this fashion.'
Gregory continues with a lengthy story of how the emperor Justinian coveted Juliana's wealth and how she tricked him out of it by using all her gold to make golden plates for the ceiling of the church of Polyeuktos.
Text: Krusch 1969, 105-106. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 93-95.
Cult building - independent (church) Non Liturgical Activity
Descriptions of cult places
Renovation and embellishment of cult buildings
Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings
Miracle after deathProtagonists in Cult and Narratives
WomenCult Related Objects
Monarchs and their family
Precious material objects
SourceGregory, bishop of Tours from 573 until his death (probably in 594), 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.
Internal references to datable events and to other work by Gregory, suggest that he wrote the greater part of his Glory of the Martyrs between 585 and 588, though there is one chapter (ch. 82), long before the end of the book, that describes an event that is most readily dated to 590. It is in fact likely that Gregory was collecting and recording these stories throughout his life, and, fortunately for our purposes, precise dating is not of great importance, since his views on the role of saints and the correct ways to venerate them do not seem to have changed during his writing life. The work was probably never fully completed and polished: the version we have closes with four very disparate chapters, including one (105) about the divine punishment of an avaricious woman that bears no obvious connection to the overall theme of the book. (For discussions of the dating, see Van Dam 2004, xi-xii; Shaw 2015, 104-105, 111.)
In his preface, Gregory states that his aim in the work is 'to publicise some of the miracles of the saints that have until now been hidden' (aliqua de sanctorum miraculis, quae actenus latuerunt, pandere), so, as in his Glory of the Confessors, his focus is not on the lives of the saints, nor on the details of their martyrdoms, but on miracles they have effected, particularly through their relics. Miracles are recorded from many places; but unsurprisingly the largest number is from Gaul.
The book opens, rather curiously, with a sizeable number of miracles and relics of Jesus and his mother Mary, neither of them conventional 'martyrs'. The explanation for this must be that Gregory's interest was really much more in relics and miracles in general than in martyrs specifically. Many of the Gallic saints he included are somewhat obscure, but outside Gaul he concentrates for the most part on major saints; towards the end of the book, however, he slips in a couple of lesser Syrian saints, probably because they had interesting specialisms: Phokas and Domitios, with, respectively, particular skills at curing snake bites and sciatica. In the case of the non-Gallic saints, it is not always clear whether they were attracting active cult in Gaul – Phokas and Domitios, for instance, almost certainly didn't. It is only when Gregory tells us of a church dedication or relic that we can be certain that the saint concerned had serious cult in Gaul: in the case of the martyrs of Rome, for instance, this is true of Clement and Laurence, but not of Chrysanthus and Daria, Pancratius, and John I.
Although each section contains extraneous material, the work can be broken down very roughly into the following sections:
*Chapters 1-7: Miracles and relics of Jesus (with some of Mary), including three chapters (5-7) on relics of the Passion. (For the most part, these chapters are not covered in our database.)
*Chapters 8-19: Miracles and relics of Mary and John the Baptist.
*Chapters 20-25: Miraculous images of Jesus, and a spring associated with Easter.
*Chapters 23-34: Miracles and relics of the Apostles and Stephen (i.e. New Testament saints).
*Chapters 35-41: Miracles and relics of the post-apostolic martyrs of Rome.
*Chapters 42-46: And of northern Italy.
*Chapters 47-77: And of Gaul (in no obvious order, except that the first three chapters are occupied by early martyrs). This is the longest section of the book.
*Chapters 78-87: Very miscellaneous, with only marginal references to saints: three anti-Arian stories (79-81); two stories regarding relics of Gregory's (82-83); four stories of the punishment of impure people (84-87).
*Chapters 88-102: Miracles and relics of martyrs of Spain, Africa (just one, Cyprian of Carthage), and the East, in that order.
*Chapters 103-106: Miscellaneous.
But tight structuring was never a great concern of Gregory's, so within this broad framework, he often wanders off his main theme. For instance, a clutch of miracle stories relating to John the Baptist (chs. 11-13) lead Gregory into a general discussion of the River Jordan (ch. 16), which then leads him to discuss some springs near Jericho (ch. 17), linked to the preceding chapter by the common theme of 'miraculous waters in the Holy Land', but with no connection to any martyr. Similarly, a miracle story involving relics of St Andrew and the punishment of an Arian count (ch. 78) leads Gregory into three stories against Arians with no relation to saints. These digressions did not bother Gregory and are part of the charm of his work.
Gregory very seldom tells us about his sources, which for the most part were certainly oral; he had a wide circle of acquaintances within the Gallic church, and also met and collected stories from travellers from abroad, including (if the source is to be believed) a man who had travelled to India (ch. 31). But Gregory also used a range of written texts, including Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History (chs. 20 and 48), the poems of Prudentius, Paulinus of Nola, and Venantius Fortunatus, and a substantial number of Martyrdoms (Van Dam 2004, xiv-xvi).
Because many of his stories are set abroad, Glory of the Martyrs is less informative about cult practices than Glory of the Confessors, with its very local and very Gallic focus, but it is still a gold-mine of information. To take just two examples: the story of Benignus of Dijon is a remarkably rich and detailed account of the discovery and enhancement of a previously unknown martyr (ch. 50), while that of Patroclus of Troyes shows the importance of a written Martyrdom, and the degree of scepticism that might greet a new one (ch. 63).
There is a good general discussion of Glory of the Martyrs in Van Dam 2004, ix-xxiii, and of Gregory's hagiography more widely in Shaw 2015.
DiscussionFor the overview of the Glory of the Martyrs see E00367.
The church of Polyeuktos in Constantinople was founded in 426/472 and rebuilt by Anicia Iuliana, a woman from the highest ranks of the aristocracy with close imperial family connections, before 527, as we learn from an epigram transmitted in the Greek Anthology (see discussion in E00553). Gregory mistakenly links the story of the refurbishing of the church with the emperor Justinian who reigned in 527-565, probably because he was the greatest figure of the sixth-century empire. We don't know how Gregory learned about the church of Polyeuktos, and of his specialised power (nor whether this latter piece of information is accurate), but his information is correct at least when it comes to the name of the benefactor of the church.
Gregory refers to Polyeuktos' special power in punishing those who swear false oaths also in his Histories 7.6, where Merovingian kings are said to have invoked him (along with Hilary of Poitiers and Martin of Tours) to uphold a treaty (see E06249).
Krusch, B., Liber in gloria martyrum, in: Gregorii Turonensis Opera. 2: Miracula et opera minora (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum 1.2; 2nd ed.; Hannover, 1969).
Van Dam, R., Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs (Translated Texts for Historians 4; 2nd ed., Liverpool, 2004).
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.
|ID||Name||Name in Source||Identity||S00325||Polyeuktos, soldier and martyr of Melitene||Polioctus||Certain|
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