File(s) not publicly available

E02386: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (10.24), recounts how in 573 invading Persians had tried unsuccessfully to burn the church of 'the forty-eight martyrs' in Armenia (certainly the *Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, S00103); Gregory hears the story from Bishop Simon, who arrived in Tours in 591. Gregory mentions that he had recorded it in his 'book of miracles' (= Glory of the Martyrs). Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 591/594.

online resource
posted on 17.02.2017, 00:00 by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 10.24

Tunc etiam et basilica sanctorum quadraginta octo martyrum, de quibus in libro Miraculorum memini, qui in illa regione passi sunt, obpleta ligni congeriae, pice tergoribusque suellinis inmixtis, subpositis ardentibus facibus, succendere nisi sunt; sed nequaquam ab igne apparatum incendii conpraehendit, sicque videntes magnalia Dei, recesserunt ab ea.

'It was on this occasion that they [the Persians] had tried to burn down the church of the Forty-eight Saints and Martyrs, who met their death in that region, as I have described in my Book of Miracles. They piled the church high with heaps of wood soaked in pitch and pigs’ fat, and then set blazing torches to it. Despite all their efforts this inflammable material would not catch fire, and when they saw this miracle performed by God they left the church.'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 515-516. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 582.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, ob. early 4th c. : S00103

Saint Name in Source

quadraginta octo martyres

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)



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

Transmission, copying and reading saint-related texts

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Destruction/desecration of saint's shrine

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miraculous protection - of church and church property

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives



Gregory of Tours wrote the Histories (Historiae) during his episcopate in Tours (573–594). They constitute the longest and most detailed historical work of the post-Roman West. Gregory's focus is Gaul under its Frankish kings, above all the territories of Tours and (to a lesser extent) Clermont, where he had been born and brought up. Much of his work tells of the years when, as bishop of an important see, he was himself centrally involved in Frankish politics. The Histories are often wrongly referred to as a History of the Franks. Although the work does contain a history of the rulers of Francia, it also includes much hagiographical material, and Gregory himself gave it the simple title the 'ten books of Histories' (decem libri historiarum), when he produced a list of his own writings (Histories 10.31). The Histories consist of ten books whose scope and contents differ considerably. Book 1 skims rapidly through world history, with biblical and secular material from the Creation to the death in AD 397 of Martin of Tours (Gregory’s hero and predecessor as bishop). It covers 5596 years. In Book 2, which covers 114 years, the focus moves firmly into Gaul, covering the years up to the death of Clovis in 511. Books 3 and 4, which cover 37 and 27 years respectively, then move fairly swiftly on, closing with the death of king Sigibert in 575. With Book 5, through to the final Book 10, the pace slows markedly, and the detail swells, with only between two and four years covered in each of the last six books, breaking off in 591. These books are organised in annual form, based on the regnal years of Childebert II (r. 575-595/6). There continues to be much discussion over when precisely Gregory wrote specific parts of the Histories, though there is general agreement that none of it was written before 575 and, of course, none of it after Gregory's death, which is believed to have occurred in 594. Essentially, scholars are divided over whether Gregory wrote the Histories sequentially as the years from 575 unfolded, with little or no revision thereafter, or whether he composed the whole work over the space of a few years shortly before his death and after 585 (see Murray 2015 for the arguments on both sides). For an understanding of the political history of the time, and Gregory's attitude to it, precisely when the various books were written is of great importance; but for what he wrote about the saints, the precise date of composition is of little significance, because Gregory's attitude to saints, their relics and their miracles did not change significantly during his writing-life. We have therefore chosen to date Gregory's writing of our entries only within the broadest possible parameters: with a terminus post quem of 575 for the early books of the Histories, and thereafter the year of the events described, and a terminus ante quem of 594, set by Gregory's death. (Bryan Ward-Perkins, David Lambert) For general discussions of the Histories see: Goffart, W., The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550–800): Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon (Princeton, 1988), 119–127. Murray, A.C., "The Composition of the Histories of Gregory of Tours and Its Bearing on the Political Narrative," in: A.C. Murray (ed.), A Companion to Gregory of Tours (Leiden and Boston, 2015), 63–101. Pizarro, J.M., "Gregory of Tours and the Literary Imagination: Genre, Narrative Style, Sources, and Models in the Histories," in: Murray, A Companion to Gregory of Tours, 337–374.


Gregory's reference to his 'book of miracles' is a reference to his Glory of the Martyrs 95 (EE00648). The detailed account that is given there, of how these martyrs chose to freeze to death in full view of a heated bath-house, makes it clear that Gregory's 'forty-eight martyrs' of Armenia are the same as the famous Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (S00103), which is in Armenia. In Gregory's account they presumably became forty-eight through conscious, or unconscious, parallelism with the forty-eight martyrs of Lyon (S00316).


Edition: Krusch, B., and Levison, W., Gregorii episcopi Turonensis Libri historiarum X (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum I.1; 2nd ed.; Hannover, 1951). Translation: Thorpe, L., Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks (Penguin Classics; London, 1974). Further reading: Murray, A.C., "The Composition of the Histories of Gregory of Tours and Its Bearing on the Political Narrative", in: A.C. Murray (ed.), A Companion to Gregory of Tours (Leiden-Boston 2015), 63-101. Vieillard-Troiekouroff, M., Les monuments religieux de la Gaule d'après les œuvres de Grégoire de Tours (Paris, 1976).

Usage metrics