Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Confessors 23
Near the church where Maximus is buried [see E02575
], is buried Johannes, a Breton by birth, who lived a reclusive and holy life (with a god-given power of healing), in a small cell near the church of the village of Chinon. He had a garden which he tended and in which he planted trees. After his death:
Una ex his vetustate senescens exaruit. Tunc custus loci, effossam cum radicibus colomnam, incisis ipsis cum ramis suis scamnum adaptat, in quo interdum aut resederet lassus aut aliquid secure decideret, cum necessitas exegisset. Quod cum per duos annos aut fere amplius scamnum in hoc usu habuisset, tectus, ut credo, inspiratione divina dolore cordis, ait: 'Vae mihi, quia peccavi, ut arborem, quam talis sacerdos propria manu plantavit, ego ad diversas necessitatum utar incisiones'. Et haec dicens, accepto sarculo, effossam humum, incisis, scamni pedibus, posuit eum sub terra replevitque fossam humo. Mirum dictum! Adveniente verno tempore, sicut reliquae arbores flores ito et haec colomna, quae viri manu, ut ita dixerim, sepulta fuerat, rediviva in sospitate virescens, novos frondes emisit. Extant de ea hodieque virgulta in quinum senumque aut fere amplius pedum altitudine, quae annis singulis incrementum sumentes, a Domino sublevantur.
'One of these trees weakened with age and dried up. Then the custodian of the place dug out the trunk and roots, cut them up with the branches, and built a bench on which he sometimes sat when he was weary or on which he chopped something with his axe when the occasion demanded. When he had used the bench this way for two years or a bit longer, he felt a pain in his heart due, I think, to divine inspiration. He said: ‘Woe is me, because I have sinned, that on various occasions I use for cutting this tree that such a priest planted with his own hand.’ After saying this, he took a hoe, dug up the ground, cut off the legs of the bench, put it beneath the ground, and filled the hole with dirt. Wonderful to report! When spring came, this tree trunk that, as I said, had been buried by the man’s hand was green with revived health and put out new foliage just like the other flowering trees. Today there are shoots coming from this trunk of five, six, or more feet in height. Every year these shoots are supported by the Lord and grow higher.'
Text: Krusch 1969, 312-313. Translation: Van Dam 2004, 20-21, lightly modified.
Saint NameJohn, recluse in Chinon (north-west Gaul), ob. AD 500/575 : S01254
Saint Name in SourceIohannis
Type of EvidenceLiterary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts
Evidence not before587
Evidence not after588
Activity not before500
Activity not after587
Place of Evidence - RegionGaul and Frankish kingdoms
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcTours
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Tours
Major author/Major anonymous workGregory of Tours
Cult activities - PlacesBurial site of a saint - tomb/grave
Cult Activities - MiraclesHealing diseases and disabilities
Miracle after death
Miracle with animals and plants
Miracle during lifetime
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesSlaves/ servants
Cult Activities - RelicsBodily relic - entire body
SourceGregory, of a prominent Clermont family with extensive ecclesiastical connections, was bishop of Tours from 573 until his death (probably in 594). He 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.
Gregory probably wrote the greater part of the Glory of the Confessors (Liber in Gloria Confessorum) between late 587 and mid-588, since in ch. 6 he tells us that he has already written three books on the miracles of Martin (and the last datable miracle in Book 3 of his Miracles of Martin occurred in November 587), while in ch. 93 he tells us that Charimeris, who became bishop of Verdun in 588, was 'now' a royal referendary (so not yet a bishop). It is, however, likely that Gregory was collecting and recording these stories throughout his life, and for our purposes precise dating is not of great importance, since Gregory's views on the role of saints and the correct ways to venerate them do not seem to have changed during his writing life. (On the dating of the work, see Van Dam 2004, xii; Shaw 2016, 105.)
The last two chapters (109 and 110), in which divine punishment falls on avaricious merchants in a manner that is not focused on a particular 'confessor', do not sit comfortably with the rest of the work, and, even more tellingly, near the end there are three chapters with headings but no content (105, 106 and 107, E02777). Consequently Krusch suggested (and this hypothesis has been widely accepted) that the work was left in an incomplete state, its final completion and editing being prevented by Gregory's death.
As Gregory himself makes clear in his Preface (where he lists his eight works of hagiography), the Glory of the Confessors (just like his Glory of the Martyrs) is not about the lives of his saints, but is a collection of their miracle-stories: 'This, the eighth [book], we have written on the miracles of Confessors' (Octavum hunc scribimus de miraculis confessorum). Occasionally we do learn something about the lives of the men and women that he includes, but for the most part we are just given their name and, sometimes, religious status ('bishop', 'abbot', 'hermit', or whatever) and a description of a miracle (or miracles) that Gregory attributes to them. The large majority of these miracles are posthumous (in Life of the Fathers 2.2 Gregory expresses a preference for posthumous miracles, over miracles in life, as reliable indicators of sanctity - see E00023).
Elsewhere in his work (in the preface to his Life of Illidius, in Life of the Fathers), Gregory provides a definition of a 'confessor': someone who had taken up 'various crosses of abstinence' (diversas abstinentiae cruces) to live the Christian life. But here in Glory of the Confessors, the category is in practice much more broadly drawn, to include any individual able to effect a miracle, who wasn't a martyr; in many cases Gregory knew nothing about the life of the confessor, only about one or more miracles, for the most part posthumous and at the tomb. For Gregory, anyone with an attested miracle (he would, presumably, have said 'reliably attested') was a 'confessor' and could be included in this work. Consequently, a remarkable number of extremely shadowy figures feature. To take a few examples: a man buried in a tomb in Clermont, from which scrapings of dust cured people (ch. 35, E02595); a chaste but loving couple of Clermont, whose sarcophagi miraculously moved to be next to each other (ch. 31, E02583); and three priests of the village of Aire-sur-l'Ardour, whose graves were slowly rising out of the ground (ch. 51, E02640). In all of these cases, and several more besides, Gregory could not even put reliable names to the confessors concerned. Gregory's interest was not in the people, but in the miraculous that manifested itself around holy individuals: for instance, in ch.96 (E02755) he tells the story of a hermit whose only recorded miracle was his ability to cook his food over a blazing fire in a wooden pot; Gregory uses the story as an example of how God makes even the elements of nature obey the needs of the holy.
Only occasionally does Gregory name his informants. But it is clear that many of his stories derived from his own observations in Clermont and Tours, and from what he heard from visitors to Tours, and on his own travels; Gregory had visited large numbers of the shrines he described, had venerated many of these saints' relics, and had even been a participant at a few of the events described.
Because Gregory was so inclusive in those he ranked as 'confessors', his text is rich in evidence of cults emerging around some very obscure figures, as long as people (including Gregory) believed they had miraculous powers from their graves. In many cases these cults were probably short-lived; but in a few cases they appear to have become at least semi-institutionalised: for instance, two otherwise wholly unknown virgins, buried on a hill in the Touraine, persuaded a man to build a stone oratory over their graves, and also persuaded the then bishop of Tours to come and bless it (ch. 18, E02561), and a young girl of the Paris region, about whom nothing but her name and pious epitaph were known, acquired a considerable reputation as a healer (particularly of toothache), and again a stone oratory over her grave (ch. 103, E02767).
Unlike the Glory of the Martyrs, which includes many martyrs from beyond Gaul, almost all the saintly figures in Glory of the Confessors are Gallic: the sole exceptions are, from Syria, Symeon the Stylite (ch. 26, E02579), and, from Italy, Eusebius of Vercelli and Paulinus of Nola (chs. 3 and 108, E02453 and E02778). Within Gaul, after miracles involving angels, Hilary of Poitiers and Eusebius of Vercelli (chs. 1-3), the confessors are bunched together by their city-territory, in other words where they were buried (which in almost all cases is also where the recorded miracles occurred). There is no logic to the order in which Gregory presented these cities, beyond the fact that he placed the two cities he knew most about, Tours (chs. 4-25) and Clermont (chs. 29-35) very close to the start. At the end of the book, from ch. 90, saints appear from city-territories that have already been covered earlier in the work (chs. 90 and 100, Bourges; ch. 96, Autun; chs. 101-102, Limoges; ch. 103, Paris; ch. 104, Poitiers) – the most likely explanation is that these are saints that Gregory added after he had written the greater part of the book.
There are some digressions in the book, as we would expect in a work by the discursive Gregory – for instance, a miracle story of Martin set in Visigothic Spain (ch. 12) leads Gregory into two stories on the spiritual powerlessness of Arian priests (chs. 13 and 14) – but there are fewer digressions than in Gregory's parallel work, the Glory of the Martyrs.
There is a good general discussion of Glory of the Confessors in Van Dam 2004, ix-xxi, and of Gregory's hagiography more widely in Shaw 2015.
DiscussionAccording to Vieillard-Troiekouroff (p. 84), Iohannis lived in the sixth-century and his cell was close to a church of St Stephen in Chinon.
Krusch B., Gregorii Turonensis Opera: Liber in gloria confessorum (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum I.2; 2nd ed.; Hannover 1969).
Van Dam, R., Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs (Translated Texts for Historians 4; 2nd ed., Liverpool, 2004).
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).