Gregory of Tours

Gregory of Tours
(c. 538-594)
   Bishop of Tours from 573 until his death in 594, Gregory came from an illustrious Gallo-Roman family that included powerful political and religious figures. His father, Florentius, was a member of the senatorial class, and ancestors on both his paternal and maternal side were bishops of Clermont-Ferrand, Langres, and Tours. Gregory entered the priesthood at a young age, dedicated his life to the service of the church and the saints, and, despite weak connections with the town, became bishop of Tours in 573. Even though he had limited connections with Tours, he was devoted to St. Martin, whose cult was centered in Tours. Gregory ruled as bishop for the last two decades of his life, during a time of great political strife between the grandsons and great-grandsons of the Merovingian king Clovis, including a violent feud between the queens Brunhilde and Fredegund and between their husbands. Although a successful bishop and staunch advocate of the cult of St. Martin of Tours, Gregory is best known as the author of the Histories in Ten Books, commonly known as The History of the Franks. The work contains a famous and influential portrait of Clovis, the founder of the Merovingian dynasty, and the tale of his descendants throughout the sixth century. This great work also includes extensive discussion of Gregory's time as bishop-seven of ten books of the Histories address this period-and reveals important information on the social, cultural, and, especially, religious life of the Frankish kingdoms in the sixth century. Gregory also wrote eight books on miracle stories, a life of the church fathers, lives of various saints and martyrs, Commentary on the Psalms, a preface for a collection of church masses, and a work on liturgical masses.
   Gregory, originally Georgius Florentius, was born on November 30, 538, to Florentius, a Gallo-Roman senator, and his much younger wife, Armentaria, who also was of senatorial lineage, in the Auvergne in the town now called Clermont-Ferrand. Although quite expansive about the many dukes, senators, bishops, and saints in his ancestry, Gregory offers few details in his writings about his own life. It is likely that his father died while Gregory was still quite young, and certain that his education was taken over by his relatives, especially his maternal uncle Bishop Nicetius of Lyons and paternal uncle Bishop Gallus of Clermont-Ferrand. Like his uncles and many of the ancestors of whom he was so proud, Gregory was marked for the religious life. He became a priest in 543, entered a choir school in Lyons for further instruction, and became a deacon in Lyons in 563. Moreover, his family connections introduced Gregory to many of the important saints of Gaul, including St. Julian of Brioude, whose relics once cured Gregory's brother Peter, and, most importantly, St. Martin of Tours, whose relics cured Nicetius of a terrible sore on his face. Devotion to the cult of the saints, especially St. Martin, remained an important aspect of Gregory's life.
   Gregory himself benefited from saintly intervention. While on pilgrimage once, he was cured of a headache, and after his election as bishop of Tours in 573 the saints intervened to confirm his place as bishop. His election was controversial because the people of the town knew Gregory, who spent his time away from the region, only slightly. Shortly after arriving in Tours, Gregory placed the relics of St. Julian near those of St. Martin, an act that was followed by a brilliant flash of light. On the following day, he took the relics on procession, and a resident of the town declared that Martin had invited Julian to Tours, which was understood to mean that Martin wished Julian's spiritual son, Gregory, to be bishop. Although this event secured his place as bishop of Tours and the support of St. Martin, Gregory faced the challenge of surviving as a bishop despite the tumultuous politics of the Frankish kingdom.
 ♦ Gregory faced numerous challenges as bishop from various Merovingian kings and queens, especially from Chilperic. Indeed, at the very outset of his tenure as bishop, Gregory tangled with Chilperic over rights of sanctuary and the marriage of the king's son, Merovech, to Brunhilde, the main rival to Chilperic and his wife Fredegund. At a council in Paris in 577, Gregory stood up to Chilperic and defended the fellow bishop who had performed the marriage ceremony for Merovech and Brunhilde. In 580, Chilperic nearly exiled him because of false allegations that Gregory intended to transfer authority to another Merovingian ruler. He also struggled with Chilperic over theological matters; he threatened the king with the wrath of God and the saints because Chilperic issued a charter denying the Catholic teaching that there were three persons in the Trinity. In the 580s, Gregory faced difficulties with Kings Guntram and Childebert. But his ability to weather these storms raised his prestige among the Merovingian kings and nobles as well as the people of his diocese. He became an important mediator between the various kings of the Franks, who indulged in civil war throughout much of Gregory's reign as bishop. At on point, he negotiated an important agreement between Childebert and Guntram. In 590 he received gifts from Fredegund, who was most likely hostile to Gregory because he assumed his position with the support of Brunhilde, and he was among those chosen to settle a dispute in the convent of St. Radegund, a member of the royal line, in Poitiers.
 ♦ Although active in Merovingian politics and the religious life, Gregory wrote extensively; he is best known for his history, much of which is devoted to events in Gregory's own day. The work is divided into ten books; it begins as a chronicle of world history. The first book tells the story of Adam and Eve, and continues with the history of the ancient Jews, the birth of Christianity, and the introduction of Christianity into Gaul. The next two books cover the history of Christianity and the late Roman Empire in the third to the fifth centuries, and the rise of the Merovingian kingdom of the Franks and its greatest leader, Clovis. The third book takes the history of the kingdom into Gregory's time, and the remaining books are a detailed study of the kingdom in Gregory's lifetime.
   Although somewhat episodic and chaotic, Gregory's history of his own time is a most valuable resource; it includes important portraits of the many kings and queens he knew and dealt with, including Chilperic, Fredegund, and Brunhilde. Drawing on the Bible and the works of Jerome, Eusebius, and other important Christian historians and writers, Gregory's work pays attention to the miraculous and is concerned with the moral and religious undertones of history. Its view of kingship is shaped by the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures, and Gregory's famous portrait of Clovis as king reveals the notion that the king must do God's work. Along with his numerous writings on the saints and their miracles, Gregory's Histories provides important insights into the history of the late sixth century and, especially, the beliefs and practices of an influential, aristocratic bishop.
   See also
 ♦ Goffart, Walter. The Narrators of Barbarian History (a.d. 550-800): Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.
 ♦ Gregory of Tours. The History of the Franks. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1974.
 ♦ ---. Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs. Trans. Raymond Van Dam. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 1988.
 ♦ ---. Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Confessors. Trans. Raymond Van Dam. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 1988.
 ♦ ---. Gregory of Tours: Life of the Fathers, 2d ed. Trans. Edward James. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 1991.
 ♦ Laistner, Max L. W. Thought and Letters in Western Europe, a.d. 500 to 900. 2d ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1976.
 ♦ Nie, Giselle de. Views from a Many-Windowed Tower: Studies of Imagination in the Works of Gregory of Tours. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1987.
 ♦ Van Dam, Raymond. Saints and Their Miracles in Late Antique Gaul. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.
 ♦ Wallace-Hadrill, John M. The Long-Haired Kings. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982.
 ♦ Wood, Ian. The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751. London: Longman, 1994.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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  • Gregory of Tours — (ca. 538–594)    Gregory of Tours was a sixth century Gallo Roman bishop, historian, and writer of SAINTS’ LIVES, whose Historia Francorum (History of the Franks) is our most important source for the history of early Merovingian France.… …   Encyclopedia of medieval literature

  • Gregory of Tours — (c. 538–94)    Bishop and Historian.    Gregory was consecrated Bishop of Tours in France in 573. He is remembered for his Historia Francorum, which covers the history of the Frankish people from the creation of the world to his own times.… …   Who’s Who in Christianity

  • Gregory of Tours,Saint — Gregory of Tours (to͝or, to͞or), Saint. 538 594. Frankish prelate and historian who produced a valuable history of the sixth century Franks. * * * …   Universalium

  • Gregory of Tours, Saint — • Lengthy article about this bishop, historian, and theologian. He died in 593 or 594 Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006 …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Gregory of Tours, Saint — orig. Georgius Florentius born Nov. 30?, 538/539, Clermont, Aquitaine? died Nov. 17, 594?, Tours, Neustria Frankish bishop and writer. Born into an aristocratic family that had produced several bishops of what is today central France, Gregory… …   Universalium

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