1902 Encyclopedia > St Gregory of Tours

St Gregory of Tours
Historian of the Franks
(c. 540 - 594)




ST GREGORY OF TOURS (c. 540-594), historian of the Franks, was born at Clermont, Auvergne, not earlier than 539 and not later than 543 A.D. He was the youngest son of Florentius, a provincial senator, and head of one of the oldest and most powerful Christian families in the country ; at his baptism he received the name of George, that of Gregory not having been assumed until his consecration at least thirty years afterwards. He received his education under the superintendence of his uncle Gallus, at that time bishop of Clermont, and afterwards under Avitus, who succeeded to that see. Having been ordained a deacon on attaining the canonical age, the youthful Georgius Florentins fora time attended in some ecclesiasti-cal capacity the court of Sigebert of Austrasia ; and when in 573 a vacancy occurred in the see of Tours, which had been occupied by many of his kiudred, his reputation for piety and wisdom led to his being immediately designated as a suitable successor to that bishopric. Circumstances soon occurred which brought into great prominence his peculiar fitness for this post ; first in 575, when Guntran had taken refuge from Chilperic in the sanctuary of St Martin, and afterwards in 577, when Pretextatus of Rouen had been unjustly condemned by the rest of his brethren. The firmness and courage which he showed on these and other occasions brought upon him the bitter hostility of the strong-minded Queen Fredegond, who caused him to be sum-moned before a council at Braine on a charge of treason, of which, however, he was acquitted. In 581 he took a lead-ing part in adjusting that arrangement between Chilperic and Childebert which gave peace to France for many years. During the later years of his life he used his political influ-ence and prestige, which were now immense, with singular unselfishness and judgment in the interest alike of his diocese and of the whole country. He died at Tours on the 17th of November 591, and subsequently attained the honours of beatification and canonization, his day in the calendar (semiduplex) being November 17th.

Of his writings, besides the Historia Francorum in ten books, we possess a treatise De Miraeulis in seven books, containing the miracles of Christ and his apostles, those of Julian, of Martin, and also of others. Other treatises which he mentions have perished. The De Miraeulis appears to have occupied him at intervals during the whole of his prelacy ; of the Historia Francorum he is supposed to have written as far as to about the middle of the fifth book by 577 ; the eighth book was completed before 585, and the tenth about 591, the epilogue being of still later date. This work, which gives Gregory of Tours a just title to be called the father of French history, has no pretensions to elegance or even grammatical accuracy of style, it is wholly uncritical, and betrays in every page the prejudice and ignorance of the age to which it belongs. But it is honestly and truthfully written from the point of view of one whose avowed intention was to trace "the wars of kings with hostile nations, of martyrs with pagans, of churches with heretics;" and as an original source for the period of 171 years which it covers it is still, notwithstanding the unfavourable judgment which Gibbon has expressed, invaluable.

The edition of the works of Gregory of Tours, which appeared at Paris in 1511-12, has been entirely superseded by that of Ruinart (Paris, 1699). It includes the not very valuable life of the saint by Odo. The 71st volume of Migne's Patrolocjy adds to a reprint of Ruinart an Historia Septem Dormientium which is sometimes (but improperly) attributed to Gregory. Translations by Bonnet, Guizot, and others into French have been frequently reprinted ; a German version appeared at Wiirzburg in 1847-49 ; it was followed by Giesebrecht's in 1851. See Kries, De Greg. Tur. episc. vita et scriptis (Breslau, 1839); Lobell, Gregor v. Tours w. seine Zcit (Breslau, 1839; 2d ed. Leipsic, 1869); and an article in the Mémoires de l'Académie, t. xxvi.








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