Gregory of Tours, Miracles of Martin (Libri de virtutibus sancti Martini episcopi) 3.18
Quodam vero tempore, dum saeva lues toliter desaeviret in pecora, ut nec ad recuperandum genus putaretur aliquis remanere, quidam de nostris ad basilicam sanctam adiit, oleumque lychnorum, qui camerae dependebant, suscepit cum ipsis aquis in vasculo, deportatumque domo, pecora quae adhuc hic morbus non attigerat, intinetum
digitum in liquore, per frontes et dorsa cruce dominica signat, ipsisque animalibus terrae deiectis resupinatisque ex hoc unguine fide plenus infudit in ore. Mox dicto citius, clandestina peste propulsa, pecora liberata sunt.
'Once a devastating plague was ravaging the herds so severely that someone might think that no means was left for reviving the animals. One of my [servants] went to the holy church and poured into a container oil from the
lamps that were hanging from the ceiling and some water. He brought the container home, dipped his finger into the liquid, and made the sign of the Lord’s cross on the foreheads and backs of the animals that this disease had not yet infected. Since he was confident in his faith, this man also sprinkled this ointment in the mouths of the animals that had collapsed and were lying on the ground. Soon, more swiftly than words can say, this mysterious plague was eliminated, and the herds were saved.'
Text: Krusch 1969, 187. Translation: Van Dam 1993, 267 (= de Nie 2015, 695).
Saint NameMartin, ascetic and bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050
Type of EvidenceLiterary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint
Evidence not before583
Evidence not after594
Activity not before583
Activity not after583
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 - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsVisiting graves and shrines
Cult Activities - MiraclesMiracle after death
Miracle with animals and plants
Miraculous protection - of people and their property
Healing diseases and disabilities
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesSlaves/ servants
Cult Activities - RelicsContact relic - oil
Contact relic - water and other liquids
Making contact relics
Cult Activities - Cult Related ObjectsOil lamps/candles
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's Miracles of Martin (full title Libri de virtutibus sancti Martini episcopi, 'Books of the Miracles of Saint Martin the Bishop'), consists of four books of miracles, 207 chapters in all, effected by Martin, primarily at his grave and shrine in Tours. Most of them occurred at the time of the saint's festivals, on 4 July and 11 November. Gregory tried to record the miracles in chronological order, so historians have been able to calculate quite precisely the dates of the events and miracles mentioned in the work. This fairly precise chronology has enabled scholars to determine the dates of completion of each book. There have been three main dating schemes proposed for the composition of the four books. The oldest was suggested by Monod in 1872, another by Krusch in 1885, and then one by Van Dam in 1993 (for fuller discussion, see Shaw 2015, 103-105). Their datings of the individual books do not vary substantially, and in our entries we have given only those of Van Dam. Shaw 2015 convincingly demolishes an earlier theory, that Gregory wrote the Miracles in two distinct stages: a first stage that was written during a particular period, and a second stage in the early 590s, in which Gregory revised the whole work.
Book 1, with 40 chapters, was written between 573 and 576. In the prologue, Gregory mentions that he started writing after he became bishop of Tours in August 573. Book 1 must have been completed by 576, since Venantius Fortunatus in a letter to Gregory of that year referred to it (Epistula ad Gregorium 2, prefatory letter to Fortunatus' Life of Martin, MGH Auct. ant. 4.1, p. 293).
Book 2 consists of 60 chapters. It must have been finished before November 581, because the last miracles it mentions occurred in November 580, while the first ones recorded in Book 3 happened in November 581. Using the same methodology, the completion of Book 3, which also covers 60 chapters, can be dated between 587 and July 588.
Book 4, which consists of 47 chapters, seems never to have been completed, presumably because of Gregory’s death. There are two main arguments in support of the idea that it is unfinished. Firstly, Book 4 has no conclusion and no tidy number of chapters, while each of Books 1 to 3 has these elements. Secondly, the last story recorded in Book 4 is not about Gregory himself, unlike the final stories of Books 2 and 3.
Book 1 covers miracles that occurred before Gregory’s episcopate in Tours. The next three books are a running chronicle of Martin’s miracles under Gregory’s episcopate. Some of the miracles are recorded in very summary form, while others are much more elaborately presented: because of this, it has been argued that Gregory first jotted down notes, and only subsequently gave the stories full literary treatment (which in some cases, he was never able to do).
The three completed books of the Miracles of Martin were probably released as they were completed, rather that published together. In this sense they are the exception amongst Gregory's writings, since the rest of his work was not finally completed and seems to have been unpublished at the time of his death.
For discussion of the work, see:
Krusch, B. (ed.), Gregorii episcopi Turonensis miracula et opera minora (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum 1,2; 2nd ed.; Hannover, 1969), 2–4.
Monod, G., Études critiques sur les sources de l’histoire mérovingienne, 1e partie (Paris, 1872), 42–45.
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.
Van Dam, R., Saints and Their Miracles in Late Antique Gaul (Princeton, 1993), 142–146, 199.
DiscussionThe plague among the herds was caused by the devastation in the Touraine that had been made by the armies of Desiderius and Bladast, the dukes of King Chilperic. Gregory also recorded this plague in his Histories 6.31.
BibliographyEditions and translations:
Krusch, B. (ed.), Gregorii episcopi Turonensis miracula et opera minora (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum 1,2; 2nd ed.; Hannover, 1969), 134–211.
Van Dam, R. (trans.), Saints and Their Miracles in Late Antique Gaul (Princeton, 1993), 200–303.
de Nie, G. (ed. and trans.), Lives and Miracles: Gregory of Tours (Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 39; Cambridge MA, 2015), 421–855.
Murray, A.C. (ed.), A Companion to Gregory of Tours (Leiden-Boston, 2015).
Shanzer, D., "So Many Saints – So Little Time ... the Libri Miraculorum of Gregory of Tours," Journal of Medieval Latin 13 (2003), 19–63.