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E00540: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (41), quoting verses by Venantius Fortunatus, tells of a church and relics of *Laurence (deacon and martyr of Rome, S00037) in Brioni (Italy) where a wooden beam miraculously extended itself, and splinters from it had healing power; parts of it were saved from fire and transferred to Limoges (western Gaul) to *Aredius (monk of Limoges, ob. 591, S00302). Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

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posted on 22.05.2015, 00:00 by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 41

Templum erat in quodam loco beati Laurenti et reliquiis et nomine consecratum, quod per incuriam longinqui temporis valde detectum erat. Quod cum renovare loci incolae vellent, silvas adeunt, incisa levigataque ligna, trabes efficiunt, inpositisque plaustris ad locum exhibent. Quibus per humum ad ordiendum extensis, una brevior est reperta; statimque sacerdotis animum, qui haec insistebat, dolor maximus attigit, et flens valde, quid ageret, quo se verteret, ignorabat. Tunc intuens roborem breviorem, ait: "O Laurenti beatissime, appositus igni glorificate, semper pauperes fovens ac reficiens, cogita paupertatem meam, quia non est exiguitate nostrae facultas, qualiter hic alia exhibeatur". Ilico cunctis attonitis, trabes crevit in tanto spatio longitudinis, ut necesse esset, partem magnam incidi. De qua industria plebis, beneficia perdere nefas putans, credens eam manu martyris tactam ac prolongatam, partem quae superfuerat frustratim decerpens, diversas infirmitates saepe submovit. Quod Fortunatus presbiter his versibus prosecutus est:

'In one place there was a church that had been dedicated with the relics and the name of the blessed Laurentius. Through the neglect of many years its roof had completely collapsed. When the inhabitants of the region wished to repair it, they went into the forest, cut and planed trees, made beams, placed them on carts, and brought them to the shrine. Once the beams were laid out on the ground for alignment, one was found to be too short. Immediately the bishop who had promoted the project felt great grief in his heart; he wept loudly and did not know what to do or where to turn. As he looked at the oak beam that was too short, he said: '0 most blessed Laurentius, you who were glorified by being placed in a fire and who always cherish and assist the poor, consider my poverty, because my neediness has no resources for another [beam] to be brought here.' Suddenly, to the surprise of all, the beam grew to such a length that it was necessary for a long piece to be cut off. After this task the people thought it improper to lose this blessing; so, in the belief that this beam had been touched and lengthened by the hand of the martyr, they cut the leftover piece into little splinters and often drove off various illnesses [with these splinters]. The priest Fortunatus commemorated this event with these verses:'

Gregory then quotes lines 7-18 from Poem 9.14 by Venantius Fortunatus, which describe this same miracle of the beam that miraculously extendes itself (see E05755).

Multo plures exinde scripsit versiculos, quos ego praetermisi, hos tantum pro testimonio viri scribens. Acta sunt autem haec apud Brionas Italiae castrum. Nam vidi ego hominem, qui graviter dentium dolore laborans, acceptam de hoc ligno particulam a sacerdote, statim ut dentem attigit doloremque protenus caruit. Sed nec illud silendum putavi, quod reliquiae eius ab incendio hostilitatis ereptae, a quodam homine in Lemovicino delatae sunt. Qui cum saepius admoneretur per visum, ut easdem Aridio abbati deferret, nec iussionem impleret, ipse cum coniuge et omni familia aegrotare coepit. Tunc necessitate conpulsus, ut eas viro sancto detulit, mox sanitati restitutus abscessit.

'Fortunatus then wrote many more verses which I have omitted; I have recorded only these verses as the man's testimony. These events happened in Brioni (Brionae), a town in Italy. I saw a man who suffered from a painful toothache receive a splinter of this beam from a priest (a sacerdote); as soon as he touched it to his tooth, the pain was immediately gone. But I have decided that this must not be omitted, because after relics of this beam were saved from a fire set by the enemy [i.e. the devil] a man brought them to Limoges. Although this man was often warned by a dream to bring the relics to father Aredius, he did not obey the command, and he, his wife, and their entire family began to feel ill. Then, compelled by circumstances, he brought the relics to the holy man (viro sancto); soon he recovered his health and left.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 65-66. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 40-41, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Lawrence, martyr of Rome, ob. 258 : S00037 Aredius, monk of Limoges (Gaul), ob. 591 : S00302

Saint Name in Source

Laurentius Aridius

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

Renovation and embellishment of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Miracle with animals and plants Power over objects Healing diseases and disabilities Healing diseases and disabilities Miraculous behaviour of relics/images Saint aiding or preventing the translation of relics Punishing miracle Saint aiding or preventing the construction of a cult building

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Contact relic - other object closely associated with saint Division of relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics


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. The poem of Venantius Fortunatus quoted in this passage is Poem 9.14, see E05755. The poem by Fortunatus was the source of Gregory's account of the central miracle of the story, but not for Gregory's statement that the event occurred at a place in Italy called Brioni/Brionae (apud Brionas). The location of Brioni is unknown: see Schuler 1947, 246. Gregory's account raises questions about private ownership of relics by lay people. A priest gives a splinter of the relic to a man suffering from a toothache. However, another man is punished for not delivering the relic to a priest: he brings to Limoges relics of the beam which had been saved from a fire, and keeps them; he is repeatedly warned in a dream to give them to the well-known holy man Aredius; after ignoring the dreams, he finally brings the relics to Aredius when he and his family are affected by illness, from which they then recover. There was presumably, in Gregory's mind, a difference between a tiny splinter and a substantial piece of this miraculous beam. Gregory knew Aredius, and presumably heard this story from him. However, all the details must have come (via Aredius) from the man who possessed the relic, and so perhaps reflect his anxieties about keeping it in his possession.


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. Schuler, H., “Die Verbreitung des Christentums in Veldidena,” in: A. Dörrer, L. Schmidt (eds.), Volkskundliches aus Österreich und Südtirol: Hermann Wopfner zum 70. Geburtstag dargebracht (Vienna: Österreichischer Bundesverlag, 1947), 241-245.

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