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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 (10.1), quotes a sermon preached by Pope Gregory the Great after his election, ordering the Roman community to go in procession from seven churches in Rome: of *Cosmas/Kosmas and Damianus (brothers, physician martyrs of Syria, S00385), *Gervasius and Protasius (martyrs of Milan, S00313), *Petrus and Marcellinus (martyrs of Rome, S00577), *Iohannes and Paulus (brothers and eunuchs, martyrs of Rome, S00384), *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030), *Euphemia (martyr of Chalcedon, S00017), *Clement, (bishop of Rome, martyr of the Crimea, S00111). They met together at the church of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033); AD 590. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 590/594.

Evidence ID

E02397

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Tours

Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 10.1

ORATIO GREGORII PAPAE AD PLEBEM
...
Proinde, fratres karissimi, contrito corde et correctis operibus, ab ipso feriae quartae dilucolo septiformis laetaniae iuxta distributionem inferius designatam devota ad lacrimas mente veniamus, ut districtus iudex, cum culpas nostras nos punire considerat, ipse a sententia propositae damnationis parcat. Clerus igitur egrediatur ab eclesia sanctorum martyrum Cosmae et Damiani cum praesbyteris regionis sextae. Omnes vero abbatis cum monachis suis ab eclesia sanctorum martyrum Protasi et Gervasi cum praesbyteris regionis quartae. Omnes abbatissae cum congregationibus suis egrediantur ab eclesia sanctorum martyrum Marcellini et Petri cum praesbyteris regionis primae. Omnes infantes ab eclesia sanctorum martyrum Iohannis et Pauli cum praesbyteris regionis secundae. Omnes vero laici ab eclesia sancti protomartyris Stephani cum praesbyteris regionis septimae. Omnes mulieres viduae ab eclesia sanctae Eufimiae cum praesbyteris regionis quintae. Omnes autem mulieres coniugatae egrediantur ab eclesia sancti martyris Clementis cum praesbyteris regionis tertiae, ut, de singulis eclesiis exeuntes cum praecibus ac lacrimis, ad beatae Mariae semper virginis genetricis domini nostri Iesu Christi basilicam congregemur, ut, ibi diutius cum fletu ac gemitu Domino supplicantes, peccatorum nostrorum veniam promerire valeamus.

Haec eo dicente, congregatis clericorum catervis, psallere iussit per triduum ac depraecare Domini misericordiam. De hora quoque tertia veniebant utrique chori psallentium ad eclesiam, clamantes per plateas urbis Kyrie eleison. Asserebat autem diaconus noster, qui aderat, in unius horae spatio, dum voces plebs ad Dominum supplicationis emisit, octoaginta homines ad terram conruisse et spiritum exalasse. Sed non distitit sacerdos dandus praedicare populo, ne ab oratione cessarent.


'Pope Gregory's address to the people
...
Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, with contrite hearts and with all our affairs in order, let us come together, to concentrate our minds upon our troubles, in the order which I will explain in a minute, as day dawns on the Wednesday of this week, to celebrate the sevenfold processions (
septiformis laetaniae). When He sees how we ourselves condemn our own sins, the stern Judge may acquit us of this sentence of damnation which He has proposed for us. Let the clergy go in procession from the church of the holy martyrs Cosmas and Damianus, with the priests of the sixth region. Let all the Abbots with their monks process from the church of the holy martyrs Protasius and Gervasius, with the priests of the fourth region. Let all the Abbesses and their assembled nuns walk from the church of the holy martyrs Marcellinus and Peter, with the priests of the first region. Let all the children go from the church of the holy martyrs John and Paul, with the priests of the second region. Let all the laymen go from the church of the protomartyr Stephen, with the priests of the seventh region. Let all the widows go from the church of Saint Euphemia, with the priests of the fifth region. Let all the married women go from the church of the holy martyr Clement, with the priests of the third region. Let us all process with prayers and lamentations from each of the churches thus appointed, to meet together at the basilica of the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that there we may at great length make our supplication to the Lord with tears and groans, and so be held worthy to win pardon for our sins.

When he had finished speaking, Gregory assembled the different groups of churchmen, and ordered them to sing psalms for three days and to pray to our Lord for forgiveness. At three o’clock all the choirs singing psalms came into church, chanting the
Kyrie eleison as they passed through the city streets. My deacon, who was present, said that while the people were making their supplication to the Lord, eighty individuals fell dead to the ground. The Pope never once stopped preaching to the people, nor did the people pause in their prayers.'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 480-481. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 545-547.

Liturgical Activities

Procession
Chant and religious singing
Sermon/homily

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Non Liturgical Activity

Prayer/supplication/invocation

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops
Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy
Ecclesiastics - abbots
Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits
Women
Children
Other lay individuals/ people

Source

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.


Discussion

This sermon was brought to Gaul by Gregory of Tours' deacon Agiulf, who was in Rome to obtain relics (on which see E07784). Agiulf either obtained a text of the sermon or transcribed it himself. It only survives as incorporated into the Histories, but there is no doubt about its essential authenticity.

In the sermon, Pope Gregory commands the people of Rome to seek God's intercession by processing from seven churches to the basilica of Mary (Santa Maria Maggiore). Each procession was to consist of the presbyters from one of the regions into which the city of Rome was divided, together with a particular section of the Christian community, organised as follows:

From the church of Cosmas and Damianus (= Santi Cosma e Damiano, on the Roman Forum): clergy, presbyters of the sixth region.
From the church of Protasius and Gervasius (= present-day San Vitale, west of Santa Maria Maggiore): monks, presbyters of the fourth region.
From the church of Petrus and Marcellinus (= Santi Marcellino e Pietro, near the Lateran): nuns, presbyters of the first region.
From the church of Iohannes and Paulus (= Santi Giovanni e Paolo, on the Caelian Hill): children, presbyters of the second region.
From the church of Stephen (= Santo Stefano Rotondo, also on the Caelian Hill): laymen, presbyters of the seventh region.
From the church of Euphemia (no longer extant, near the present-day church of Santa Pudenziana): widows, presbyters of the fifth region.
From the church of Clement (= San Clemente, between the Colosseum and the Lateran): married women, presbyters of the third region.

Another instance of the
letania septiformis is described in a letter Gregory wrote in 603 (E06449). For discussion of the events themselves, see Andrews 2015; for later traditions about them, see Latham 2015.


Bibliography

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:
Andrews, M.M., "The Laetaniae Septiformes of Gregory I, S. Maria Maggiore and Early Marian Cult in Rome," in: I. Östenberg, S. Malmberg, and J. Bjørnbye (eds.), The Moving City: Processions, Passages and Promenades in Ancient Rome (London, 2015), 155-164.

Latham, J.A., "Inventing Gregory 'the Great': Memory, Authority, and the Afterlives of the
Letania Septiformis," Church History 84:1 (2015), 1-31.

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).


Record Created By

Katarzyna Wojtalik, David Lambert

Date Last Modified

22/06/2020

Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00017Euphemia, martyr of ChalcedonEufimiaCertain
S00030Stephen, the First MartyrStephanusCertain
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristMariaCertain
S00111Clemens/Clement, bishop of Rome, martyr of the CrimeaClemensCertain
S00313Gervasius and Protasius, martyrs of MilanGervasius, ProtasiusCertain
S00384Iohannes and Paulus, brothers and eunuchs, martyrs of Rome under the emperor JulianIohannes, PaulusCertain
S00385Kosmas and Damianos, brothers, physician martyrs of SyriaCosmas, DamianusCertain
S00577Marcellinus and Petrus, priest and exorcist, martyrs of Rome, buried on the via LabicanaPetrus, MarcellinusCertain


Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Katarzyna Wojtalik, David Lambert, Cult of Saints, E02397 - http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E02397