Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers, Book 3 (Life of Abraham)
Preface: Those with faith will obtain what they need from God.
§ 1: Abraham was born on the Euphrates; in time he wished to join the hermits of Egypt. On the way, he was imprisoned by pagans; chained and beaten for five years, he was then delivered by an angel. Wishing to visit the West, he came to the Auvergne and 'founded a monastery at the church of Cyricus' (ad basilicam sancti Cyrici monasterium collocavit). He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind and drove out demons. During the feast of Cyricus, he miraculously multiplied the wine for the guests [see E00009
]. On his death, he was buried in his monastery, and his epitaph was written by Sidonius [Apollinaris]. The sick who sleep at his grave are cured [see $E00006].
Text: Krusch 1969, 222-223. Summary: Marta Tycner.
Saint NameAbraham, abbot of Clermont, ob. 476/7 : S00005
Kyrikos/Cyricus and Ioulitta/Julitta, child and his mother, martyrs of Tarsus : S00007
Type of EvidenceLiterary - Hagiographical - Lives
Evidence not before573
Evidence not after594
Major author/Major anonymous workGregory of Tours
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.
The Life of the Fathers by Gregory of Tours is different from his other hagiographical works (Miracles of Julian, Miracles of Martin, Glory of the Confessors and Glory of the Martyrs), which all concentrate on posthumous miracles of the saints. The Life of the Fathers, by contrast, describes the exemplary behaviour in life of twenty Gallic saints (for a list of the Lives, see E05870). Gregory himself draws this contrast in the opening words of his preface: 'I had decided to write only about what has been achieved with divine help at the tombs of the blessed martyrs and confessors; but I have recently discovered information about those who have been raised to heaven by the merit of their blessed conduct here below, and I thought that their way of life, which is known to us through reliable sources, could strengthen the Church' (trans. James 1991, 1). In this preface Gregory also explains why he chose to call the book Life of the Fathers, not Lives of the Fathers: because they all lived the same bodily life.
The nineteen Lives of men, and the single Life of a woman (Life 19), all relate to holy people of Gaul, the majority living in the mid to later sixth century. Although this agenda is unspoken, there can be little doubt that Gregory wrote these Lives partly to show that holiness, and the miraculous, were not just things of the past, but very much present within the Gaul of his day (a message that he expressed explicitly in his Histories). Almost all the saints he describes were active within one or other of the two dioceses with which Gregory was most familiar (his native Clermont, and Tours, the city of his episcopate), or indeed were his relatives (all bishops - Life 6 is of an uncle, Life 7 of a great-grandfather, and Life 8 of a great-uncle).
Although Gregory says in his preface that they all shared one bodily life, in reality his saints fall into one of two distinct categories: holy bishops who are effective leaders of their flocks but only moderately ascetic (Lives 2, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 17), and holy ascetics who have withdrawn from the world and sometimes engage in extreme mortification of the body (Lives 1, 3, 5, 9-16, and 18-20). Gregory's work was unquestionably didactic in purpose - teaching the correct way to lead a good Christian life, and it is notable, for instance, how, in this work written by a bishop, his ascetics accept episcopal correction when necessary (Lives 15.2 and 20.3, in both cases from Gregory himself), and might even delay their death to suit the timetable of a bishop (Life 10.4).
Because the focus is on the lives of these holy people, there is much less emphasis on their cult after death than in Gregory's other hagiographical works; however, all the Lives close with an account of the burial of the saint, and in almost all cases with reference to posthumous miracles recorded there (the exceptions are Lives 10, 11 and 20, which have no reference to miracles at the tomb).
Gregory probably collected material for the Life of the Fathers (and perhaps wrote individual Lives) over a long period of time. However, from the words of his preface (quoted above) and from other references within the text, it is evident that he assembled his material into the polished work we have today only towards the very end of his life, after he had already written much of his extensive hagiography recording the miracles of saints lying in their graves. Because Gregory's views on saints do not seem to have changed during his writing life, we have not here expended energy in exploring the possible dating of individual lives, merely recording them all as written some time between 573 and 594.
For more on the text, and on its dating: James 1991, xiii-xix; Shaw 2015, particularly 117-120.
DiscussionGregory's Life of Abraham is the third book (and so the third Life) included by him in his Life of the Fathers (for which, see above).
Much of the information that Gregory gives about Abraham derived from Sidonius Apollinaris Letter 7.17 (E06751). The principal new elements that Gregory introduced are the miracles (the multiplication of the wine at the feast of Cyricus; and the cures at Abraham's grave); Gregory presumably learned of these at Abraham's monastery.
The church and monastery of Cyricus (in French, Saint-Cirgues or Saint-Cyr) was located outside the city of Clermont, but close to the walls (Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 96-97; Prévot 1989, 36). Gregory's phrasing implies that a church of Cyricus existed before Abraham founded a monastery there; if, however, monastery and church were contemporary, then it may have been Abraham, an easterner himself, who introduced the cult of Cyricus/Kyrikos, child martyr of Tarsus, to Clermont.
Gregory also mentions Abraham's life at Clermont very briefly in his Histories 2.21, where he makes reference to this Life in Life of the Fathers.
Krusch, B., Gregorii Turonensis Opera. 2: Miracula et opera minora (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum I.2; 2nd ed.; Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1969).
James, E., Gregory of Tours. Life of the Fathers (Translated Texts for Historians 1; 2nd ed.; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1991).
de Nie, G., Gregory of Tours, Lives and Miracles (Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 39; Cambridge MA, 2015).
Prévot, F., "Clermont," in: N. Gauthier and J.-Ch. Picard (eds.), Topographie chrétienne des cités de la Gaule, vol. 6: Province ecclésiastique de Bourges (Aquitania Prima) (Paris, 1989), 27-40.
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.
Vieillard-Troiekouroff, M., Les monuments religieux de la Gaule d'après les oeuvres de Grégoire de Tours (Paris, 1976).