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Medieval Sourcebook:
Gregory of Tours (539-594):
Eight Books of Miracles: Selections


Contents

 


Attitude Towards Secular Learning

Book in Honor of the Martyrs: Preface

THE priest Jerome, next to the apostle Paul the best teacher of the church, tells us that he was brought before the judgment­seat of the eternal Judge and subjected to torture and severely punished because he was in the habit of reading Cicero's clevernesses and Vergil's lies, and that he said in the presence of the holy angels and the very Ruler of all that he would never thereafter read these, but would occupy himself in future only with such [writings] as would be judged worthy of God and suited to the edification of the Church. Moreover the apostle Paul says: "Let us follow after things which make for peace and things whereby we may edify me another." And elsewhere: "Let no corrupt speech proceed out f your mouth; but such as is good for edifying, that it may give race to them that hear." Therefore we too ought to follow after, to write, and to speak the things that edify the church of God, and y holy instruction bring weak minds to a knowledge of the perfect faith. And we ought not to relate lying tales nor to pursue the wisdom of philosophers that is hateful to God, lest by God's judgment we fall under sentence of eternal death. [note: Gregory then goes on to show that the miracles of the saints replace for him the wonders and feats of antique mythology.]

Observance of the Lord's Day

Book in Honor of the Martyrs: Chap. 15

In the territory of this city [Tours] at Lingeais, a woman who lived there moistened flour on the Lord's day and shaped a loaf, and drawing the coals aside she covered it over with hot ashes to bake. When she did this her right hand was miraculously set on fire and began to burn. She screamed and wept and hastened to the village church in which relics of the blessed John are kept. And she prayed and made a vow that on this day sacred to the divine name she would do no work, but only pray. The next night she made a candle as tall as herself. Then she spent the whole night in prayer, holding the candle in her hand all the time and the flame went out and she returned home safe and sound.

Relics Handed Down in Gregory's Family

Book in Honor of the Martyrs: Chap 83

I shall now describe what was brought to pass through the relics which my father carried with him in former times. When Theodobert [note: Theodobert I, 534­548.]t gave orders that sons of men in Auvergne should be taken as hostages, my father, at that time lately married, wished to be protected by relics of the saints, and he asked a certain bishop kindly to give him some, thinking he would be kept safe by such protection when absent on his distant journey. Then he enclosed the holy ashes in a gold case the shape of a pea­pod and placed them around his neck; but the man did not know the blessed names. He was accustomed to relate that he was saved by them from many dangers; for he bore witness that by their miraculous power he had often escaped attacks of highwaymen and dangers on rivers and the furies of civil war and thrusts of the sword. And I shall not fail to tell what I saw of these with my own eyes. After my father's death my mother always wore these precious things on her person. Now the grain harvest had come and great grain stacks were gathered at the threshing places. And in those days when the threshing was going on, a cold spell came on, and seeing that Limagne [note: One of the most fertile spots in France. Cf. Lavisse, Histoire de France, I, pp 296-301] has no forests, being all covered with crops, the threshers made themselves fires of straw, since there was nothing else to make a fire of. Meantime all went away to eat. And behold, the fire gradually increased and began to spread slowly straw by straw. Then the piles suddenly caught, with the south wind blowing; it was a great conflagration and there began a shouting of men and shrieking of women and crying of children. [note: "Insequitur clamor virorum strepitusque mulierum, ululatus infantum,"- a reminiscence of Vergil, Aen. I, 87, "Insequitur clamorque virum stridorque rudentum."] Now this was happening on our own land. My mother, who wore these relics hanging on her neck, learned this, and sprang from the table and lifted up the holy relics against the masses of flame, and all the fire went out in a moment so that scarcely a spark of fire could be found among the burnt piles of straw and it did no harm to the grain which it had just caught.

Many years later I received these relics from my mother; and when we were going from Burgundy to Auvergne, a great storm came upon us and the sky flashed with many lightnings and roared with heavy crashes of thunder. Then I drew the blessed relics from my bosom and raised my hand against the cloud; it immediately divided into two parts and passed on the right and left and did no harm to us or any one else thereafter. But being a young man of an ardent temperament I began to be puffed up with vain glory and to think silently that this had been granted not so much to the merits of the saints as to me personally, and I openly boasted to my comrades on the journey that I had merited by my blamelessness what God had bestowed. At once my horse suddenly shied beneath me and dashed me to the ground; and I was so severely shaken up by the fall that I could hardly get up. I perceived that this had come of vanity, and it was enough to put me on guard thenceforth against being moved by the spur of vain glory. For whenever it happened after that that I had the merit to behold any of the miracles of the saints, I loudly proclaimed that they were wrought by God's gift through faith in the saints.

Comparative "Merit" of Gregory and his Mother

Book in Honor of the Martyrs: Chap 85

. . . On this matter I recall what I heard told in my youth. It was the day of the suffering of the great martyr Polycarp, and his festival was being observed at Riom, a village of Auvergne. The reading of the martyrdom had been finished and the other readings which the priestly canon requires, and the time came for offering the sacrifice. The deacon, having received the tower [note: The vessel used for the purpose indicated here, the " monstrance " was in the shape of a tower. Cf. DuCange art. Turris ] in which the mystery of the Lord's body was contained, started with it to the door, and when he entered the church to place it on the altar it slipped from his hand and floated along in the air and thus came to the altar, and the deacon was never able to lay hands on it; and I believe this happened for no other reason than that he was defiled in his conscience. For it was often told that he had committed adultery. It was granted only to one priest and three women, of whom my mother was one, to see this; the rest did not see it. I was present, I confess, at this festival at the time, but I had not the merit to see this miracle.

A Fly Might Be A Demon

Book in Honor of the Martyrs: Chap 103

Pannichius, a priest of Poitou, when sitting at dinner with some friends he had invited, asked for a drink. When it was served a very troublesome fly kept flying about the cup and trying to soil it. The priest waved it off with his hand a number of times but it would go off a little and then try to get back, and he perceived that it was a crafty device of the enemy. He changed the cup to his left hand and made a cross with his right; then he divided the liquor in the cup into four parts and lifted it up high and poured it on the ground. For it was very plain that it was a device of the enemy. [note: The identification of flies with demons occurs also on page 237 (Bk 10:15). For a similar case of disinclination to let a fly settle on a wine cup see Frazer, The Golden Bough, 8]

Miracles in Gregory's Family

Miracles of St. Julian: Chap 23, 24

At that time my father's brother Gallus was bishop of Auverxne, and I do not think I should fail to tell how he was aided in his youth by a miracle of the saint. Now I have often described the ruin king Theodoric brought upon Auvergne, when none of their property was left to either old or young except the bare land which the barbarians were unable to carry off. [note: Cf. p. 58. (Bk 3:11-13) This punishment of Auvergne took place in 532, 6 years before Gregory's birth.] In those days, then, my uncle of glorious memory who afterwards, as I have told, governed the church of Auvergne in the high office of bishop, was a ward; and his property was so plundered by the soldiers that there was nothing at all left that was available; and he himself used often to go on foot with only one attendant to the village of Brioude. [note: The site of St. Julian's church. Brioude is situated about 40 miles up the valley of the Allier from Clermont.] It happened once when he was trudging along on this journey, that he took his shoes off on account of the heat, and as he walked in his bare feet he stepped on a sharp thorn. This by chance had been cut, but was still lying on the ground and was concealed point upward in the green grass. It entered his foot and went clear through and then broke off and could not be drawn out. The blood ran in streams and as he could not walk he begged the blessed martyr's aid and after the pain had grown a little less he went on his way limping. But the third night the wound began to gather and there was great pain. Then he turned to the source from which he had already obtained help and threw himself down before the glorious tomb; when the watch was finished he returned to bed and was overcome by sleep while awaiting the miraculous help of the martyr. On arising later he felt no pain and examining his foot he could not see the thorn which had entered it; and he perceived it had been drawn from his foot. He looked carefully for it and found it in his bed and saw with wonder how it had come out. When bishop he used to exhibit the place, where a great hollow was still to be seen, and to testify that this had been a miracle of the blessed martyr.

A long time after, when the festival of the blessed martyr came, my father with all his household made haste to attend the joyful celebration. As we were on the way, my older brother Peter was seized by a fever and became so ill that he could not move about or take food. We journeyed on in great grief and it was doubtful whether he would recover or die. In this state of distress we at length arrived; we entered the church and worshipped at the holy martyr's tomb. The sick boy cast himself down on the pavement, praying for a cure by the glorious martyr Finishing his prayer he returned to his lodging and the fever went down a little. When night came we hastened to keep watch and he asked to be carried along, and lying before the tomb he begged the martyr's favor all night long. When the watch was over he asked them to gather dust from the blessed tomb and give it to him in a drink, and hang it about his neck. This was done, and the heat of the fever went down so that on the very same day he took food without suffering and walked about wherever his fancy took him.

Gregory's Modesty

The Four Books of the Miracles of St. Martin: Preface

The miracles which the Lord our God deigned to work through the blessed Martin, his bishop, when living in the body, He still deigns to confirm daily in order to strengthen the faith of believers. He who worked miracles through him when he was in the world, now honors his tomb with miracles, and He who at that time sent him to save the perishing heathen, [now] bestows through him blessings on the Christians. Therefore let no one have doubt about the miracles worked in former time when he sees the bounty of the present wonders bestowed, when he looks upon the lame being raised up, the blind receiving sight, demons being driven out and every other kind of disease being cured through his healing power. As for me I will establish belief in the book written about his life by earlier writers, by relating for posterity at God's command his present­day miracles as far as I can recall them. This I would not presume to do if I had not been warned twice or thrice in a vision. I call all­powerful God to witness that I once saw in a dream at midday many who were crippled and overwhelmed by various diseases being cured in St. Martin's church, and I saw this in the presence of my mother who said to me: "Why are you so sluggish about writing of these things that you see?" I replied: You know well enough that I am unskilled in letters, and that, simple and untrained as I am, I would not dare to describe such wonderful miracles. I wish Severus or Paulinus were alive or that Fortunatus at the least were here to describe them. I have no skill for such a task and I should be blamed if I undertook it" [note: Gregory's confessions of inability to write in a polished style, though probably hypocritical, are nevertheless in accordance with fact.] But she said: "Don't you know that nowadays on account of the people's ignorance one who speaks as you can is more clearly understood? Therefore do not hesitate or delay, for you will be guilty if you pass this over in silence." So I wished to follow her advice and was doubly tortured with grief and fear; grief that miracles as great as were done under our predecessors should not be recorded; fear of undertaking so noble a task, ignorant as I am. However, led on by the hope of divine mercy, I am going to attempt the task thus urged upon me. For, as I suppose, He who produced water in the desert from a dry rock and cooled the thirsty people, is able to set these matters forth in my words; and it will be surely proved that he has again opened the ass's mouth if he deigns to open my lips and make known these miracles through an untaught person like me. But why should I fear my ignorance when the Lord our God and Redeemer chose not orators, but fishermen, not philosophers, but countrymen, to destroy the vanity of worldly wisdom. I have confidence, then, thanks to your prayers, that even if my rude speech cannot adorn the page, the great bishop will give it fame by his glorious miracles.

Remarkable Exercise of "Virtue" by St. Martin

The Four Books of the Miracles of St. Martin: Book 1; Chap 20

Since I have told two or three times how miracles were performed and dangers averted by the mere invocation of the glorious name, I shall now describe how the blessed bishop was called upon and brought help to one who was falling headlong to death! [note: Gregory's interest in this miracle is one of technique. As a rule material " touch"of the source of "virtue" was regarded as a necessity, but "mere invocation" was sometimes effective. The cure that is related is an extreme form of the latter. See Introd. xx-xxi ] Ammonius, an officer of the holy church, arose from dinner somewhat under the influence of wine, and, the enemy giving him a push, he fell headlong over a lofty cliff that bordered the road. There was there a drop of about two hundred feet. While he was whirling about as he fell headlong and was flying down without wings he kept crying for aid from St. Martin at every instant of his fall. Then he felt as if he were tossed from a saddle by some one and he landed among the trees that were in the valley. And thus coming down slowly limb by limb he reached the ground without danger of death. However that the plotter's undertaking might not seem to have been completely in vain, he suffered a slight injury in one foot. But he went to the glorious master's church and prayed and was relieved of all pain.

Miracles Worked on Gregory

The Four Books of the Miracles of St. Martin: Book 1; Chap 32,33

Having related the miracles performed for others, I shall tell what the miraculous power of this protector has done for my unworthy self. In the hundred and sixtieth year after that holy and praiseworthy man, the blessed bishop Martin, was taken up to heaven, when the holy bishop Eufronius was governing the church of Tours in his seventh year, and in the second year of the glorious king Sigibert, I became ill with malignant pimples and fever, and being unable to eat or drink I was reduced to such a state that I lost all hope of the present life and thought of nothing but of the details of my burial. For death was constantly raging at me, eager to separate my soul from my body. Then when I was almost dead I called on the name of the blessed champion Martin and made some improvement, and began slowly and painfully to prepare for my journey; for I had made my mind up that I ought to visit his venerable tomb. And my desire was so great that I did not even wish to live if I was to be delayed in going. Although I had scarcely escaped from a dangerous fever, I began to be on fire again with the fever of desire. And so, although not yet strong, I hastened to go with my people. After two or three stages, on entering the forest, I fell ill of the fever again, and was in such a serious condition that they all said I was dying. Then my friends came to me and saw I was very weak, and said: "Let us return home and if God wishes to call you, you will die in your own home; and if you recover, you will make the journey you have vowed more easily. For it is better to return home than to die in the wilderness." On hearing this I wept bitterly and bewailed my ill­luck, and said: "I adjure you by all­powerful God and the day of judgment which all fear who have to make answer there, that you agree to my request. Don't give up the journey we have begun, and if I have merit to see the holy Martin's church, I shall thank God; but if not, carry my dead body there and bury it because I am determined not to return home, if I have not the merit to appear at his tomb." Then we all wept together and went on, and, guarded by the glorious master, we arrived at his church….. The third night after arriving at the holy church we planned to keep watch and did so. In the morning when the bell for matins rang, we returned to our lodging and going to bed we slept until nearly the second hour. Then I woke up and found that all weakness and pain were gone and I had recovered my former health, and I gladly called my usual attendant to wait on me….And I shall not forget to say that after forty days that one was the first on which I took pleasure in drinking wine, since beause of my illness I detested it until then.

The Four Books of the Miracles of St. Martin: Book 2; Chap 1

In the second month after my ordination, when I was at a country place, I suffered from dysentery and high fever and began to be so ill that I altogether despaired of living. Everything that I could eat was always vomited before it had been digested and I loathed food, and when my stomach had no more strength as a result of no food the fever was the only thing that gave me strength; I could in no way take anything substantial and strengthening. I had severe pain, too, that darted all through my stomach and went down into my bowels, exhausting me by its pain no less than the fever had done. And when I was in such a condition that no hope of life was left and everything was being made ready for my death and the physician's medicine could do nothing for one whom death had laid claim to, I was in despair and called the chief physician Armentarius and said to him: "You have used every trick your profession, you have tried the power of all your remedies, but secular means are of no avail to the perishing. There is only one thing left for me to do. I will show you a great remedy: [note: Tyriaca for therioca, (a) antidote against the bite of serpents, (b) remedy in general.] Let them bring dust from the holy master's tomb and make a potion for me from it. And if this does not cure me, every means of escape is lost." Then the deacon was sent to the tomb of the holy bishop just mentioned and he brought the sacred dust and put it in water and gave me a drink of it. When I had drunk soon all pain was gone and I received health from the tomb. And the benefit was so immediate that although this happened in th third hour, I became quite well and went to dinner that very day at the sixth hour. [note: noon]

The Four Books of the Miracles of St. Martin: Book 3; Preface & Chap 1

.... Whenever headache comes on or a throbbing in the temples or a dulness of hearing or a dimness of sight or a pain attacks some other part, I am cured at once when I have touched the affected part on the tomb or the curtain hanging before it and I wonder within myself that at the very touch the pain is immediately gone.

I shall place first in this book a miracle that I experienced recently. We were sitting at dinner after a fast and eating, when a fish was served. The sign of the cross of the Lord was made over it, but as we ate, a bone from this very fish stuck in my throat most painfully. It caused me great distress, for the point was fastened in my throat and its length blocked the passage. It prevented my speaking and kept the saliva which comes frequently from the palate, from passing. On the third day, when I could get rid of it neither by coughing or hawking, I resorted to my usual resource. I went to the tomb and prostrated myself on the pavement and wept abundantly and groaned and begged the confessor's aid. Then I rose and touched the full length of my throat and all my head with the curtain. I was immediately cured and before leaving the holy threshold I was rid of all uneasiness. What became of the unlucky bone I do not know. I did not cough it up nor feel it go down into my stomach. One thing only I know, that I so quickly perceived that I was cured that I thought that some one had put in his hand and pulled out the bone that hurt my throat.

A Phantom Attacks a Woman

The Four Books of the Miracles of St. Martin: Book 3; Chap 37

At this time when a certain woman remained alone at the loom when the others had gone, a most frightful phantom appeared as she sat, and laid hold of the woman and began to drag her off. She screamed and wept since she saw there was no one to help, but still tried to make a courageous resistance. After two or three hours the other women returned and found her lying on the ground half dead and unable to speak. Still she made signs with her hand, but they did not understand and she continued speechless. The phantom which had appeared to her attacked so many persons in that house that they left it and went elsewhere. In two or three months' time the woman came to the church and had the merit to recover her speech. And so she told with her own lips what she endured.

Procedure in Case of a Miracle

The Four Books of the Miracles of St. Martin: Book 3; Chap 45

The facts that I relate ought not to seem to any one unworthy of belief, because the names of individuals are not mentioned in the account. The cause of it is this: when they are restored to health by the saint of God, they leave immediately, and they sometimes go so secretly that, so to speak, they are noticed by no one. And when the report has spread that a miracle has been done by the blessed bishop, I summon those who have charge of the church and inquire into what has happened; but I do not always learn the names from them. I generally tell by name of those I have been able to see or examine personally.

Minor Miracles Worked on Gregory

The Four Books of the Miracles of St. Martin: Book 4; Chap 2

At one time my tongue became uncomfortably swelled up, so that when I wished to speak it usually made me stutter, which was somewhat unseemly. I went to the saint's tomb and drew my awkward tongue along the wooden lattice. The swelling went own at once and I became well. It was a serious swelling and filled the cavity where the palate is. Then three days later my lip began to have a painful beating in it. I went again to the tomb to get help and when I had touched my lip to the hanging curtain the pulsation stopped at once. And I suppose this came from a over abundance of blood; still trusting to the saint's power I did not try to lessen the [amount of] blood and this matter caused me no further trouble.

Gregory's uncle: St. Gall

Lives of the Fathers: Chap. 6

See separate file on St. Gall


Source:

Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, trans. Ernest Brehaut (extended selections), Records of Civilization 2, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1916), 249-260

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall December 1997
halsall@murray.fordham.edu