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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world

Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (8.40), tells the story of a perjurer, mentioning a church of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) in the village of Candes (north-west Gaul), and a church of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033) in Tours, where the false oath was sworn in 586. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 586/594.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Tours

Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 8.40

[Pelagius] disposuerat enim sibi sepulchrum in basilica sancti Martini vici Condatensis, quod detectum sui effractum in frustra repperierunt. Sic postea in porticum ipsius basilicae est sepultus. Vasa quoque echini, qua periuraverat, post obitum illius ab eius prumtuario sunt delata. Manifesta est autem virtus beatae Mariae, in cuius basilicam miser sacramentum protullit mendax.

'Pelagius [the perjurer] had constructed a tomb for himself in Saint Martin’s church (
basilica) in the village of Candes, but when his men went to look at it they found it broken in pieces. In the end he was buried in the porch of that same church (basilica). The pots which had contained the sea-urchins, concerning which he had perjured himself, were removed from his storehouse after his death. Thus was made manifest the miraculous power of the Blessed Mary, in whose church (basilica) in Tours this miserable liar had proffered his oath.'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 407. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 472.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)


Punishing miracle

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives



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).

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.


For details about this church of Martin and the problem of its foundation, see Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 74-76.

The church of Mary was located inside the city walls of Tours to the north of the cathedral. The construction was begun by Ommatius, the twelfth bishop of Tours, between 524 and 527 (
Histories 10.31, see E02403) and finished by Iniuriosus, the fifteenth bishop, between 529 and 546 (Histories 10.31, see E02405). For more information, see Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 327, Pietri 1983, 358-362, and Pietri 1987, 29-30.


Krusch, B., and Levison, W., Gregorii episcopi Turonensis Libri historiarum X (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum I.1; 2nd ed.; Hannover, 1951).

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.

Pietri, L., La ville de Tours du IVe au VIe siècle: naissance d’une cite chrétienne (Collection de l’École française de Rome 69; Rome 1983).

Pietri, L., "Tours," in: N. Gauthier and J.-Ch. Picard (eds.),
Topographie chrétienne des cités de la Gaule des origines au milieu du VIIIe siècle, vol. 5: Province ecclésiastique de Tours (Lugdunensis Tertia) (Paris, 1987), 19-39.

Vieillard-Troiekouroff, M.,
Les monuments religieux de la Gaule d'après les œuvres de Grégoire de Tours (Paris, 1976).

Record Created By

Katarzyna Wojtalik

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristMariaCertain
S00050Martin, ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397MartinusCertain

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