SEMINAR III: Gregory of Tours and the Cult of Saints (Michaelmas, Week 6)

St Kilian baptizing pagans

Much of what we know about Gaul in the sixth century comes from the works of Gregory, bishop of Tours (d. c.594). Descended from the highest ranks of the Gallo-Roman aristocracy and the bishop of a major city in the Loire Valley, his works provide a precious insight into (a) the goals and survival strategies of the Gallic episcopate in the second half of the sixth century, and (b) the cult of saints as practised in sixth-century Gaul. Indeed, there would be appear to be a close relationship between the former and the latter: that is, the survival strategies of some Gallo-Roman bishops would appear to had much to do with their support for the cult of saints. But how exactly are we to explain this relationship? It will be useful to begin by thinking about the following questions:

  1. What was the cult of saints? That is, what were the key beliefs and practices that underpinned the cult of relics in sixth-century Gaul?
  2. What implications did the belief in sanctity and, in particular, the belief in 'holy places' have for those who held authority in the Church?
  3. How did bishops respond to the challenges and opportunities created by the cult of saints?
  4. In what senses did the cult of saints actually work?

Mandatory Preparation

  1. EITHER: Brown, P. R. L., Relics and Social Status in the Age of Gregory of Tours, The Stenton Lecture 1976 (Reading, 1977). MBD.K.* Reprinted in Brown's Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity (London, 1982), pp. 222-50. LVL.H. OR: Brown, P. R. L., The Rise of Western Christendom, Triumph and Diversity, A.D. 200-1000 (2nd edn, Oxford, 2003), chp. 6, 'Reverentia, rusticitas: Caesarius of Arles to Gregory of Tours'. PO.A*. OR: Brown, P. R. L., The Cult of the Saints. Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago, 1981). PN.B.* OR: Van Dam, R., Saints and their Miracles in Late Antique Gaul (Princeton, NJ, 1993), chps 1-4. PN.C.* A fundamental revision of the ideas of Brown.
  2. AND: A Sermon in Praise of St Martin (trs. Van Dam, Saints and their Miracles, pp. 305-7).
  3. AND: The story of the Lombard Vulfolaic in Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, viii.15-16.

The documents (i.e. items 2 and 3) may be downloaded from the Hist213 LUVLE site.

Other Reading

  • Dill, S., Roman Society in Gaul in the Merovingian Age (London, 1966). MSC.H.*
  • Farmer, S., Communities of Saint Martin: Legend and Ritual in Medieval Tours (Ithaca, NY, 1991). MTV.K. Mostly concerned with the High Middle Ages, but has some material on the early history of the cult of St Martin of Tours.
  • Galinié, H., 'Reflections on Early Medieval Tours', in R. C. Hodges and B. Hobley (eds.), The Rebirth of the Town in the West, AD 700-1050, CBA Research Reports, 68 (London, 1988), pp. 57-62. Oversize MBQ4. [This article summarises the findings from a series of archaeological investigations during 1973-83. For a fuller treatment in French, see H. Galinié, 'Archéologie et topographie historique de Tours – IVème-XIVème siècle', Zeitschrift für Archäologie des Mittelalters, 6 (1979), 33-56. Journals L6.]
  • Geary, P. J., Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of Merovingian Gaul (Oxford, 1988), chp. 4. MSC.*
  • Goffart, W., The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550-800): Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon (Princeton, NJ, 1988), chp. 3, 'Gregory of Tours'. MBB.
  • Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Confessors, trs. R. van Dam (Liverpool, 1988). PN.C.
  • Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs, trs. R. van Dam (Liverpool, 1988). PN.C.
  • Heinzelmann, M., Gregory of Tours: History and Society in the Sixth Century, trs. C. Carroll (Cambridge, 2001). MSC.
  • Mitchell, K., and I. N. Wood (eds.), The World of Gregory of Tours, Cultures, Beliefs and Traditions: Medieval and Early Modern Peoples 8 (Leiden, 2002). MSC7. Includes an introduction by Peter Brown and J. M. H. Smith, 'Women at the Tomb: Access to Relic Shrines in the Early Middle Ages' (pp. 163–80).
  • Smith, J. M. H., 'Saints and their Cults', in T. F. X. Noble and J. M. H. Smith (eds), The Cambridge History of Christianity, vol. 3, c.600–c.1100 (Cambridge, 2008), pp. 581–605. PO.
  • Stancliffe, C., St Martin and his Hagiographer, History and Miracle in Sulpicius Severus (Oxford, 1983). PN.DK.M3. Concerns an earlier period, but includes a useful discussion of the cosmological ideas on which the cult of saints depended.
  • Wood, I. N., 'Constructing Cults in Early Medieval France: Local Saints and Churches in Burgundy and the Auvergne, 400-1000', in A. T. Thacker and R. Sharpe (eds.), Local Saints and Local Churches in the Early Medieval West (Oxford, 2003), pp. 155-87. PN.C.
  • Wood, I. N., The Merovingian Kingdoms 450-751 (London, 1993), chp. 5. MSC.*

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