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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 Miracles of Martin (1.5), tells how *Ambrose (bishop of Milan, ob. 397, S00490) attended in a dream the funeral of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) in 397. Gregory also mentions how Martin was welcomed into heaven by *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033) and *Michael (the Archangel, S00181). Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 573/576.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Collections of miracles

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Tours

Gregory of Tours, Miracles of Martin (Libri de virtutibus sancti Martini episcopi) 1.5


One Sunday, while Ambrose, bishop of Milan, was celebrating mass (
festa dominici dei) and a lector was reading, Ambrose fell asleep. After about two or three hours had passed, they woke him. He said that during his sleep he learned that Martin died and had dreamt that he was attending his funeral. The people noted the day and the time of this event, and later learned that it was indeed when Martin died.

A crowd of saints and a chorus of angels attended the funeral of Martin. He was received among the angels by the archangel Michael and welcomed by Mary.

Text: Krusch 1969, 141. Summary: Katarzyna Wojtalik.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Non Liturgical Activity

Ceremonies at burial of a saint


Miracle at martyrdom and death
Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops
Other lay individuals/ people


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.

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.


The story about Ambrose of Milan attending the funeral of Martin in a dream, of which this is the first evidence, is certainly apocryphal, because Ambrose died in April 397, while Martin died seven month later, in November 397.


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.

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
S00181Michael, the ArchangelMichahelCertain
S00490Ambrose, bishop of Milan, ob. 397AmbrosiusCertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
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