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E00494: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (27), describes the church and tomb of *Peter (the Apostle, S00036) at the Vatican in Rome, and the cult practices that take place there: in particular how supplicants lower pieces of cloth down to the grave, and also take from the shrine golden keys which have the power of healing. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

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posted on 14.05.2015, 00:00 by pnowakowski
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 27

Gregory tells of the activity of Peter and Paul in Rome (see E00493) and continues:

Sicque dirigens spiritum vivacem in astris, sepultus est in templo quod vocitabatur antiquitus Batecanum, quattuor ordines columnarum valde admirabilium numero nonaginta sex habens. Habet etiam quattuor in altare, quod sunt simul centum, praeter illas quae ciborium sepulchri sustentant. Hoc enim sepulchrum sub altare collocatum, valde rarum habetur. Sed qui orare desiderat, reseratis cancellis, quibus locus ille ambitur, accedit super sepulchrum; et sic fenestella parvula patefacta, inmisso introrsum capite, quae necessitas promit efflagitat. Nec moratus effectus, si petitionis tantum iusta proferatur oratio. Quod si beata auferre desiderat pignora, palliolum aliquod momentana pensatum iacet intrinsecus; deinde vigilans ac ieiunans, devotissime deprecatur, ut devotionis suae virtus apostolica suffragetur. Mirum dictu! Si fides hominis praevaluerit, a tumulo palliolum elevatum ita imbuitur divina virtute, ut multo amplius, quam prius pensaverat, ponderetur; et tunc scit qui levaverit, cum eius gratia sumpsisse quod petiit. Multi enim et claves aureas ad reserandos cancellos beati sepulchri faciunt, cui ferentes pro benedictione priores, quibus infirmitates tribulantum medicantur. Omnia enim fides integra praestat. Sunt ibi et columnae mirae eligantiae candore niveo quattuor numero, quae ciborium sepulchri sustenere dicuntur.

'Then, after sending his living spirit to the stars, he [Peter] was buried in the church that for a long time has been called the Vatican. This church has four rows of truly spectacular columns, ninety-six in all. There are four more columns at the altar, which make a total of one hundred, excepting those that support the ciborium over the tomb. The tomb is located beneath the altar and is truly extraordinary. Whoever wishes to pray comes to the top of the tomb after unlocking the gratings (cancelli) that surround the spot; a small opening (fenestrella) is exposed, and the person inserts his head and requests whatever they need. No delay will result if only a just prayer of petition is offered. But if someone wishes to take away blessed relics (pignora), he weighs a little piece of cloth (palliolum) on a pair of scales and lowers it into [the tomb]; then he keeps vigils, fasts, and earnestly prays that the power of the apostle will assist his piety. Wonderful to report! If the man's faith has prevailed, when the piece of cloth is raised from the tomb it will be so soaked with divine power that it will weigh much more than it weighed previously; and the man who raised [the cloth] then knows that by its good favour he has received what he requested. Many people also fashion the gold keys for unlocking the gratings of this blessed tomb, to which they present them for a blessing; these cure the afflictions of those who suffer. For a pure faith overcomes all. In that church there are four wonderfully elegant columns that shine like snow, which we are told support the ciborium over the tomb.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 53-54. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 24, modified


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Peter the Apostle : S00036

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Collections of miracles Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts



Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Gaul and Frankish kingdoms

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Tours Tours Tours Toronica urbs Prisciniacensim vicus Pressigny Turonorum civitas Ceratensis vicus Céré

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Tours

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miraculous behaviour of relics/images Healing diseases and disabilities

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - cloth Ampullae, eulogiai, tokens Contact relic - other object closely associated with saint

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Precious material objects


Gregory, 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. (Bryan Ward-Perkins)


For the overview of the Glory of the Martyrs see E00367. This is an important passage for its detailed description of cult practices at St Peter's. Gregory, who was familiar with the shrines of Gaul, where the saints rested in sarcophagi above ground, was clearly intrigued by the practices of Rome, where the saints were hidden away underground, though accessible by special means. For a splendid story of similar cloth-relics, created by being placed in contact with the saints, and of their great power, see E05962. Gregory's description of keys as relics from St Peter's, has contemporary support in several letters of Gregory the Great (pope 590-604), in which he refers to keys that he is sending as special gifts (E02813, E02814, E02825, E06345, E06363, E06375, E06383, E06410, E06422, E06427). These keys, however, were all addressed to very important people and in most cases it is explicit that they contained filings from the chains of St Peter. Gregory of Tours believed that the keys that pilgrims took away with them had this form because they represented the keys that closed off the shrine of Peter. It is, however, possible that he was mistaken, and that these tokens were key-shaped because of Peter's role as the holder of the keys of Heaven (the letters of Gregory the Great unfortunately do not explain why his reliquaries took this form).


Edition: 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). Translation: Van Dam, R., Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs (Translated Texts for Historians 4; 2nd ed., Liverpool, 2004). Further reading: 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.

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