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E00603: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (64), tells of the construction of an impressive church of *Antolianus (martyr of Clermont, S00347) at Clermont (central Gaul) in c. 515; but in the process other holy bodies were disturbed, displeasing the saint; the church developed cracks and eventually collapsed in 571/593, but miraculously without loss of life or damage to its altar and marble columns. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

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posted on 14.06.2015, 00:00 by Bryan
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 64

Antolianus autem martyr apud urbem Arvernam martyrium consummavit. In cuius honore Alchima, soror, Placidina, coniux Apollinaris episcopi, templum aedificare cupientes, multa sanctorum corpora, dum fundamenta iacerent, removerunt; nescientes, cuius meriti essent quorum sepulchra reppererant. Qua cum viritim sepelire propter aliorum sepulchrorum multitudinem, qui locum illum ab antiquo repleverant, non haberent, congregatam ossuum massam in unam proicientes fossam, humo operuerunt; ideoque, quod Deo vel sancto martyri acceptabile non fuisset, per visum cuidam apparuit. Viditque homo ille conquirentem beatum Antolianum cum reliquis sanctis atque dicentem: "Vae mihi, quia propter me multi fratrum meorum iniuriati sunt; verum tamen dico, quia qui haec coeperunt ad effectum perducere non possunt".

Quod ita gestum est. Erectis tamen parietibus super altare aedis illius, turrem, ac columnis Pharis Heraclisque, transvolutis arcubus, erexerunt, miram camerae fucorum diversitatibus imaginatam adhibentes picturam. Nam ita fuit hoc opus eligans et subtile, ut per longa tempora rimarum frequentatione divisum pene in ruinam pendere videretur. Quod periculum Avitus pontifex cernens, anticipans futuram colomnarum stragem, iussit tegnos asseresque vel tegulas amoveri; quae submota nec adiutoria colomnis adposita, nutu Dei, discedentibus de machina structoribus, ut cibum caperent, recedentibusque et reliquis a basilica, dato colomnae inmenso pondere cum magno sonitu super altare et circa altare diruerunt, conpletaque est aedis nebula de effracti calcis pulvere. At sacerdos exsanguis, duorum damnorum detrimenta suspirans, ne et marmora confregissent, et aliquis deperisset e populo, scire non poterat, quid damni accessisset. Nullus enim propter nebulam pulveris illuc poterat accedere. Post duarum vero horarum spatium, recedente nebula, ingressi sunt vel defunctorum collegere corpora vel colomnarum fragmenta rimari. Nullum hominem perisse cognoscunt; altare quoque mirantur inlaesum, in quo de tanta altitudine inpactae colomnae nihil laesionis intulerunt. Quid plura? Invenerunt omnia integra, cuncta contemplantur esse salvata; glorificant martyrem, conspiciunt Dei virtutem, qui sic altare colomnasque servavit inlaesas. In huius urbis territurio et Iulianus martyr agonis palmam legitime decertando promeruit. De cuius virtutibus quae ad nos usque venerunt in libro, quem de eius miraculis propriae scribere praesumpsimus, declaravimus.

'The martyr Antolianus consummated his martyrdom at Clermont. Alchima, the sister of bishop Apollinaris, and Placidina, his wife, wished to build a church in his honour. While laying the foundations they removed the bodies of many holy people; for they did not know the merits of the people whose tombs they found. Because of the large number of other tombs that had filled the area from long ago, they were unable to rebury these bodies in separate graves. So they threw the bones they had collected in one pile and covered the trench with soil. In a vision, a man learned that this was not acceptable to God or to the holy martyr. The man saw the blessed Antolianus lamenting with other saints and saying: 'Woe is me, because many of my brothers have been wrongly treated because of me. But I say that those who have begun this project will be unable to bring it to completion.

And so it turned out. After building the walls above the altar of the church, they erected a tower, with Parian and Heraclian columns [and] curved arches, setting up a wonderful painting on the vault, created of a variety of colours. It was elegant and so delicate, that for many years, riven by a mass of cracks, it seemed on the verge of collapse. Bishop Avitus saw the danger. Foreseeing the collapse of the columns, he ordered the laths, beams and the tiles [of the roof] to be removed. During the process of removal, the columns received no reinforcement. When, by the will of God, the builders had climbed down from the scaffolding to eat some food and everyone else had left the church, the columns around and above the altar collapsed with a loud crash because of their immense weight. A cloud of dust from the shattered plaster filled the building. Deathly pale, the bishop, fearing the damage of two disasters, that the marble might be broken and that one of his flock might be dead, did not know which catastrophe had occurred. No one could approach the church because of the cloud of dust. Two hours later when the cloud dispersed, they entered, either to find the bodies of the dead or to investigate the ruins of the columns. They discovered that no one had died. The altar seemed to be intact; even though the columns had fallen on it from such a height, they bore no mark. Why say more? They found everything in one piece and noticed that everything had been preserved. They glorified the martyr and noted the power of God who had thus preserved the altar and the columns intact.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 81. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 61-62, modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Antolianus, martyr at Clermont (Gaul), ob. in the late 3rd c. : S00347 Saints, unnamed or name lost : S00518

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

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Saint aiding or preventing the construction of a cult building Miraculous protection - of people and their property Miraculous protection - of church and church property Punishing miracle

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Merchants and artisans Aristocrats

Cult Activities - Relics

Construction of cult building to contain relics Bodily relic - entire body Discovering, finding, invention and gathering 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. This chapter offers an unusually detailed, if somewhat obscure, description of a saint's shrine and its fittings (including painted vaults and marble columns). It is particularly difficult to envisage where and what the 'tower' (turris) Gregory mentions was. The columnae Pharae, were presumably columns of Parian marble, in other words of white marble (not literally from Paros); but we are unaware of any satisfactory explanation of what Grgeory meant by columnae Heraclae. The miracles described are a curious mixture of a punishing miracle (for not treating the bodies of other saints with due respect), and saving miracle (ensuring that the altar, marble fittings, and, lastly, the workmen were unharmed). The dates of construction of the church (c. 515) and of its collapse (571-594) are fixed by the known dates of the episcopates of the bishops concerned: Van Dam 2001, p. 89, n.77. Gregory of Tours also records the tomb of Antolianus in Histories I.33 (E02239), mentioning that he and the martyr Liminius (S01193) were buried near Clermont.


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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