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E00607: Gregory of Tours, in his Glory of the Martyrs (71), tells of two men miraculously punished in 574 for their attempts to steal the silk cover and a golden dove from the tomb of *Dionysius/Denis (bishop and martyr of Paris, S00349) in Paris. Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 580/594.

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posted on 14.06.2015, 00:00 by pnowakowski
Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs 71

Dionysius was given to the city of Paris as a bishop and martyr. When King Sigibert was devastating the region of Paris, one of his principal followers (primores) came to the martyr's basilica to rob it.

Hilicet ubi reserata ostia ac vacuum templum a custodibus repperisset, pallam holosiricam auroque exornatam et gemmis, quae sanctum tegebat sepulchrum, temerario ausu diripuit secumque sustulit.

'As soon as he discovered that the doors were unlocked and that no custodians were in the church, he rashly and boldly seized the silk cloth that was ornamented with gold and gems and that covered the holy tomb and took it off with him.'

However, returning to camp, he had to take a boat, and his servant who had two hundred gold coins [aurei] round his neck, suffered an unprovoked fall into the water and was lost. Recognising the judgement of God, the man swiftly returned the cloth; but even so he died within a year.

Alius autem super sepulchrum sanctum calcare non metuens, dum columbam auream lancea quaerit elidere, elapsisque pedibus ab utraque parte, quia turritum erat tumulum, conpressis testiculus, lancea in latere defixa, exanimis est inventus. Id non fortuitu contigisse, sed iudicio Dei gestum, nullus ambigat.

Another man was not afraid to step on the holy tomb while he sought to strike with his spear the gold dove [above the tomb]. Because the tomb had a gabled top, the man's feet slipped on each side, crushing his testicles and stabbing himself in the side with his spear; he was found dead. Let no one doubt that this happened not by chance, but by the judgement of God.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 85. Translation: Bryan Ward-Perkins.

History

Evidence ID

E00607

Saint Name

Denis, Dionysius bishop of Paris and martyr, ob. c.250 : S00349

Saint Name in Source

Dionisius

Type of Evidence

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

Language

Latin

Evidence not before

583

Evidence not after

593

Activity not before

570

Activity not after

580

Place of Evidence - Region

Gaul and Frankish kingdoms

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Tours

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 - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Destruction/desecration of saint's shrine

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Punishing miracle Miraculous protection - of church and church property

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Soldiers Other lay individuals/ people Slaves/ servants

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Cloth over/near the shrine Precious material objects

Source

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)

Discussion

For the overview of the Glory of the Martyrs see E00367. Sigibert's campaign against his brother Chilperic took place in 574. The church of Saint-Denis was from the 7th century onwards a prominent place of burial for Merovingian royals (Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, p. 252-253). The passage presents two typical examples of miraculous punishments for an assault against the saint's grave. Interestingly, one of them is exercised first on the blasphemer's servant and only afterwards on the blasphemer himself (on a similar situation in Gregory's Glory of the Martyrs see $00642). The two stories provide interesting details of the tomb: it was covered by a silk cloth decorated with gold and gems, over it hung a golden dove, and, almost certainly, it had a steep gabled lid - this is the simplest reconstruction, since it can explain both how the man's feet slipped and how he crushed his testicles!

Bibliography

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. Vieillard-Troiekouroff, M., Les monuments religieux de la Gaule d'après les œuvres de Grégoire de Tours (Paris, 1976).

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