Gregory of Tours
Overview
 
Saint Gregory of Tours was a Gallo-Roman historian
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 and Bishop of Tours, which made him a leading prelate of Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

. He was born Georgius Florentius, later adding the name Gregorius in honour of his maternal great-grandfather. He wrote in form of late Vulgar Latin
Vulgar Latin
Vulgar Latin is any of the nonstandard forms of Latin from which the Romance languages developed. Because of its nonstandard nature, it had no official orthography. All written works used Classical Latin, with very few exceptions...

; however, it has been argued that this was a deliberate ploy to ensure his works would reach a wide audience. He is the main contemporary source for Merovingian history.
Encyclopedia
Saint Gregory of Tours was a Gallo-Roman historian
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 and Bishop of Tours, which made him a leading prelate of Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

. He was born Georgius Florentius, later adding the name Gregorius in honour of his maternal great-grandfather. He wrote in form of late Vulgar Latin
Vulgar Latin
Vulgar Latin is any of the nonstandard forms of Latin from which the Romance languages developed. Because of its nonstandard nature, it had no official orthography. All written works used Classical Latin, with very few exceptions...

; however, it has been argued that this was a deliberate ploy to ensure his works would reach a wide audience. He is the main contemporary source for Merovingian history. His most notable work was his Decem Libri Historiarum or Ten Books of Histories, better known as the Historia Francorum ("History of the Franks
Franks
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

"), a title given to it by later chroniclers, but he is also known for his credulous accounts of the miracle
Miracle
A miracle often denotes an event attributed to divine intervention. Alternatively, it may be an event attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that a god may work with the laws...

s of saints, especially four books of the miracles of Martin of Tours
Martin of Tours
Martin of Tours was a Bishop of Tours whose shrine became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela. Around his name much legendary material accrued, and he has become one of the most familiar and recognizable Christian saints...

. St Martin's tomb was a major draw in the 6th century, and Gregory's writings had the practical aspect of promoting this highly organized devotion.

Life

Gregory was born in Clermont
Clermont-Ferrand
Clermont-Ferrand is a city and commune of France, in the Auvergne region, with a population of 140,700 . Its metropolitan area had 409,558 inhabitants at the 1999 census. It is the prefecture of the Puy-de-Dôme department...

, in the Auvergne
Auvergne (province)
Auvergne was a historic province in south central France. It was originally the feudal domain of the Counts of Auvergne. It is now the geographical and cultural area that corresponds to the former province....

 region of central Gaul. He was born into the upper stratum of Gallo-Roman society as the son of Florentius, Senator of Clermont by his wife Armentaria II, niece of Nicetius, Bishop of Lyons and a granddaughter of Florentinus, Senator of Geneva, and of Saint Gregory of Langres. Gregory was able to count several noted Bishops and saints as close relatives (indeed, his family effectively monopolised the Bishoprics of Tours, Lyons, and Langres at the time of his birth), and, according to Gregory, of the eighteen bishops of Tours who preceded him, all but five were connected with him by ties of kinship; in addition, an early Gallic martyr, Vettius Epagatus, was a paternal ancestor. His father evidently died while Gregory was young and his widowed mother moved to Burgundy where she had property. He spent most of his career at Tours, though he travelled as far as Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

. The rough world he lived in was on the cusp of the dying world of Antiquity and the new culture of early medieval
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 Europe. Gregory lived also on the border between the Frankish culture of the Merovingians to the north and the Gallo-Roman culture of the south of Gaul.
At Tours, Gregory could not have been better placed to hear everything and meet everyone of influence in Merovingian culture. Tours lay on the watery highway of the navigable Loire
Loire
Loire is an administrative department in the east-central part of France occupying the River Loire's upper reaches.-History:Loire was created in 1793 when after just 3½ years the young Rhône-et-Loire department was split into two. This was a response to counter-Revolutionary activities in Lyon...

. Five Roman roads radiated from Tours, which lay on the main thoroughfare between the Frankish north and Aquitania, with Spain beyond. At Tours the Frankish influences of the north and the Gallo-Roman influences of the south had their chief contact (see map). As the center for the popular cult of St Martin, Tours was a pilgrimage site, hospital, and a political sanctuary to which important leaders fled during periods of violence and turmoil in Merovingian politics.

Gregory struggled through personal relations with four Frankish kings, Sigebert I
Sigebert I
Sigebert I was the king of Austrasia from the death of his father in 561 to his own death. He was the third surviving son out of four of Clotaire I and Ingund...

, Chilperic I
Chilperic I
Chilperic I was the king of Neustria from 561 to his death. He was one of the sons of the Frankish king Clotaire I and Queen Aregund....

, Guntram
Guntram
Saint Guntram was the king of Burgundy from 561 to 592. He was a son of Chlothar I and Ingunda...

, and Childebert II
Childebert II
.Childebert II was the Merovingian king of Austrasia, which included Provence at the time, from 575 until his death in 595, the eldest and succeeding son of Sigebert I, and the king of Burgundy from 592 to his death, as the adopted and succeeding son of his uncle Guntram.-Childhood:When his father...

 and he personally knew most of the leading Franks.

Works

The Historia Francorum is in ten books. Books I to IV recount the world's history from the Creation but move quickly to the Christianization of Gaul, the life and times of Saint Martin of Tours
Martin of Tours
Martin of Tours was a Bishop of Tours whose shrine became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela. Around his name much legendary material accrued, and he has become one of the most familiar and recognizable Christian saints...

, the conversion of the Franks and the conquest of Gaul under Clovis
Clovis I
Clovis Leuthwig was the first King of the Franks to unite all the Frankish tribes under one ruler, changing the leadership from a group of royal chieftains, to rule by kings, ensuring that the kingship was held by his heirs. He was also the first Catholic King to rule over Gaul . He was the son...

, and the more detailed history of the Frankish kings down to the death of Sigebert in 575. At this date Gregory had been bishop of Tours for two years.

The second part, books V and VI, closes with Chilperic's death in 584. During the years that Chilperic held Tours, relations between him and Gregory were tense. After hearing rumours that the Bishop of Tours had slandered his wife, Chilperic had Gregory arrested and tried for treason - a charge which threatened both Gregory's bishopric and his life. The most eloquent passage in the Historia is the closing chapter of book VI, in which Chilperic's character is summed up unsympathetically through the use of an invective.

The third part, comprising books VII to X, takes his increasingly personal account to the year 591. An epilogue
Epilogue
An epilogue, epilog or afterword is a piece of writing at the end of a work of literature or drama, usually used to bring closure to the work...

 was written in 594, the year of Gregory's death.

Problems of interpretation

One must decide when reading the Historia Francorum whether this is a royal history, and whether Gregory was writing to please his patrons. It is likely that one royal Frankish house is more generously treated than others. He was also a Catholic bishop, and his writing reveals views typical of someone in his position. His views on perceived dangers of Arianism
Arianism
Arianism is the theological teaching attributed to Arius , a Christian presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of the entities of the Trinity and the precise nature of the Son of God as being a subordinate entity to God the Father...

 (still strong among the Visigoths) led him to preface the Historia with a detailed expression of his orthodoxy on the nature of Christ. In addition, his ridiculing of pagans and Jews
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 reflected how his works were used to spread the Christian faith. For example, in book 2, chapters 28-31, he describes the Pagans as incestuous and weak. He describes the process of how a newly converted King Clovis leads a much better life than that of a Pagan. After Clovis's conversion he heals all the conundrums he once experienced as a Pagan.

Gregory's education was limited: the narrowly Christian one available, ignoring the liberal arts and the pagan
Paganism
Paganism is a blanket term, typically used to refer to non-Abrahamic, indigenous polytheistic religious traditions....

 classics . It is said that he constantly complained about his use of grammar. He did not understand how to correctly write masculine and feminine phrases. Though he had read Virgil
Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

, he cautions us that "We ought not to relate their lying fables, lest we fall under sentence of eternal death." However, we must keep in mind that he seems to have thoroughly studied the lengthy and complex Vulgate Bible, religious works and a number of historical treatises, which he quotes from quite frequently, particularly in the earlier books of the Historia Francorum. The main impression that historians once retained from the Historia focused on the violent anecdotes that Gregory relates. Until recently, historians have tended to conclude that Merovingian Gaul was a chaotic, brutal mess. Recent scholarship has refuted that view. Through more careful readings, scholars have concluded that Gregory's underlying purpose was to highlight the vanity of secular life and contrast it with the miracles of the Saints. Though Gregory conveys political and other messages through the Historia, and these are studied very closely, historians generally agree that this contrast is the central and ever-present narrative device.

Hagiography

His Life of the Fathers comprises twenty hagiographies of the most prominent men of the preceding generation, taking in a wide range the spiritual community of early medieval Gaul, including lives of bishops, clerics, monks, abbots, holy men and hermits. The singular 'Life' is used in the title as the collection of lives is intended to furnish an image of the uniform nature of glorious Christian lifestyles, with each individual life structured so as to bring out specific aspects of the ideal. For example, Saint Illidius
Illidius
Saint Illidius was a 4th century bishop of Clermont, France. To Illidius is attributed the rise of Clermont-Ferrand as a center of religious teaching and culture. According to tradition, he cured the daughter of the Roman Emperor Magnus Maximus at Trier....

 is praised for his purity of heart, St Brachio the abbot for his discipline and determination in study of the scriptures, St Patroclus
Patroclus of Bourges
Saint Patroclus of Bourges was a Merovingian ascetic, who was a native of the province of Berry, France. In his Historia Francorum, Gregory of Tours writes that Patroclus became a priest during his youth, and would drink nothing stronger than water that had been sweetened with honey...

 for his unwavering faith in the face of weakness, and St Nicetius
Nicetius of Lyon
Saint Nicetius was Archbishop of Lyon, then Lugdunum, France, during the 6th century. He served from 552 or 553. He was ordained as a priest by Agricola, Bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne. He was the nephew of Saint Sacerdos, bishop of Lyon, and his successor. He revived ecclesiastical chant in his...

, bishop of Lyon
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Lyon
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Lyon is a Roman Catholic Metropolitan archdiocese in France. It incorporates the ancient Archdiocese of Vienne. The current Cardinal-Archbishop is Philippe Barbarin...

, for his justice. It is the life of St Nicetius of Trier, though, which dominates this book; his great authority and sense of episcopal responsibility which is the focus of Gregory's account as his figure, predestined to be great, bestrides the lives of the others. It is told that he felt a weight on his head, but he was unable to see what it was when turning around, though upon smelling its sweet scent he realised that it was the weight of episcopal responsibility. (Life of the Fathers, XVII, 1) He surmounts the others in the glory of his miracles, and was chosen by God to have the entire succession of past and future Frankish kings revealed to him.

A further aspect of this work to note is the appearance of Gregory himself in certain sections, notably in the life of St Leobardus. This is for two reasons - firstly, it creates a distinct link between the temporal and the spiritual worlds, firmly placing the accounts of the lives in a world which is understandable and recognisable, or, seen from the other angle, confirming the presence of miracles in the temporal world. Secondly, the intercession of Gregory serves to set Leobardus straight, after he had been tempted by the devil (Life of the Fathers, XX, 3), and so this act further enhances the authority of bishops as a whole.

A fighter against heresy

Gregory's avowed aim in writing this book was to 'fire others with that enthusiasm by which the saints deservedly climbed to heaven', though this was not his sole purpose, and he most surely did not expect his entire audience to show promise of such piety as to witness the power of God flowing through them in the way that it did for the fathers. More immediate concerns were at the forefront of his mind as he sought to create a further layer of religious commitment, not only to the Church at Rome, but to local churches and cathedrals throughout Gaul. Along with his other books, notably the Glory of the Confessors, the Glory of the Martyrs and the Life of St. Martin, meticulous attention is paid to the local as opposed to the universal Christian experience. Within these grandiloquent lives are tales and anecdotes which tie miracles, saints and their relics to a great diversity of local areas, furnishing his audience with greater knowledge of their local shrine, and providing them with evidence of the work of God in their immediate vicinity, thus greatly expanding their connection with and understanding of their faith. Attacks on heresy also appear throughout his hagiographies, and Arianism is taken to be the common face of heresy across Europe, exposed to great ridicule. Often, the scenes which expose the weaknesses of heresy (Glory of the Martyrs, 79, 80) focus on images of fire and burning, whilst the Catholics are proved right by the protection lavished on them by God.

This was of great relevance to Gregory himself as he presided over the important see of Tours, where extensive use was made of the cult of St Martin in establishing the authority of the bishopric with the congregation and in the context of the Frankish church. Gregory's hagiography was an essential component of this. However, this should not be seen as a selfish grab for power on behalf of the bishops who emerge so triumphantly from the Life of the Fathers, but rather as a bid for hegemony of doctrine and control over the practice of worship, which they believed to be in the best interests of their congregation and the wider church.

Creed of Gregory of Tours

As an example of Gregory's zeal in his fight against heresy, the Historia Francorum includes a declaration of faith with which Gregory aimed to prove his orthodoxy with respect to the heresies of his time ("so that my reader may have no doubt that I am Catholic for they are."). The confession is in many phrases, each of which refutes a specific Christian heresy. Thus Gregory's creed presents, in the negative, a virtual litany of heresies:

Importance

The Historia Francorum is of salient historical interest since it describes a period of transition from Roman to Medieval, and the establishment of the Frankish state, the area of which, despite numerous fluctuations, was to remain large in terms of population and territory, and fortunate in terms of resources and wealth, throughout the Medieval period, despite divisions that formed as the modern map of Europe evolved. Gregory's hagiographies are also an invaluable source of anecdotes and stories which enrich our understanding of life and belief in Merovingian Gaul, whilst it is fascinating to study works such as these which must have excited their audience to such an extent. His motivation behind his works was to show readers the importance and strength of Christianity. His extensive literary output is itself a testimony to the preservation of learning and to the lingering continuity of Gallo-Roman civic culture through the so-called 'Dark Ages'.

Editions

  • Gregorii episcopi Turonensis. Libri Historiarum X (ed. Bruno Krusch and Wilhelm Levison
    Wilhelm Levison
    Wilhelm Levison was a German medievalist. He was well known as a contributor to Monumenta Germaniae Historica, especially for the vitae from the Merovingian era. He also edited Wilhelm Wattenbach's Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen im Mittelalter...

    ), MGH SRM I 1, Hannover2 1951

  • Miracula et opera minora (ed. Bruno Krusch), MGH SRM I 2, Hannover 1969, 211-294 (repr. from 1885)

Translations

  • Fränkische Geschichte. 3 vols. (transl. by Wilhelm von Giesebrecht, rev. by Manfred Gebauer), Essen 1988.
  • From Roman to Merovingian Gaul. A Reader (ed. and transl. Alexander Callander Murray; Readings in medieval Civilisations and Cultures 5), Toronto 2000, 287-446
  • Glory of the confessors (ed. and transl. Raymond Van Dam; Translated Texts for Historians 4), Liverpool 2004 (2nd edition), ISBN 0-85323-226-1.
  • Glory of the Martyrs (ed. and transl. Raymond Van Dam; Translated Texts for Historians 3), Liverpool 2004 (2nd edition), ISBN 0-85323-236-9.
  • Liber de passione et virtutibus sancti Iuliani martyris und Libri de virtutibus sancti Martini episcopi, in: Raymond Van Dam (ed.), Saints and their Miracles in Late Antique Gaul, Princeton 1993, 153-317.
  • Life of the Fathers (ed. and transl. James Edward; Translated Texts for Historians 1), Liverpool 1991 (2nd edition), ISBN 0-85323-327-6.
  • The History of the Franks (transl. M. Dalton), Oxford 1927.
  • The History of the Franks (transl. L. Thorpe), Penguin 1974.
  • Histoire des Franks, in French

Bilingual Editions

  • Les livres des miracles et autres opuscules de Georges Florent Grégoire évêque de Tours (ed. and transl. Léonard Bordier), vol. 1, Paris 1857.
  • Zehn Bücher Geschichten. Band I-II.(ed. and transl. Wilhelm Giesebrecht and Rudolf Buchner), Darmstadt 1955-1956.

Secondary sources

  • Brown, Peter, The Cult of the Saints (London, 1981)
  • Goffart, Walter
    Walter Goffart
    Walter Andre Goffart is a historian of the later Roman Empire and the early Middle Ages who specializes in research on the barbarian kingdoms of those periods. He is a senior research scholar and lecturer at Yale University....

    , The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550–800) (Princeton, 1988)
  • Heinzelmann, Martin, Gregory of Tours: History and Society in the Sixth Century, trans. Christopher Carroll (Cambridge, 2001)
  • James, E.,The Franks (Oxford, 1988)
  • Kaiser, Reinhold. Das römische Erbe und das Merowingerreich, (Enzyklopädie deutscher Geschichte 26) (München, 2004)
  • Loseby, S.T., "Marseille and the Pirenne thesis, I: Gregory of Tours, the Merovingian kings and 'un grand port'" from Hodges, R. and Bowden, W., The sixth century: production, distribution and demand pp. 203–229, (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 1998)
  • Loseby, S.T., "Gregory's cities: urban functions in sixth-century Gaul" from Wood, Ian, Franks and Alamanni in the Merovingian period: an ethnographic perspective pp. 239–270, (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1998)
  • McSheffrey, Shannon, "The History of the Franks" (Harmondsworth, 1974)
  • Mitchell, Kathleen and Ian Wood (eds.), The World of Gregory of Tours (Leiden, 2002)
  • Van Dam, R., Saints and their miracles in late antique Gaul (Princeton, 1993)
  • Wood, Ian N., The Merovingian kingdoms 450-751 (London, 1994)
  • Wood, Ian N., Gregory of Tours (Oxford, 1994)

External links

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