Gregory of Tours

Harley MS 4984, f. 65r
A detail from Gregory of Tours’ De Virtutibus Sancti Martini (About the Virtues of Saint Martin of Tours), British Library, Harley MS 4984, f. 65r

Biography

Gregory of Tours was the author of a collection of historical and hagiographical works that constitute some of the most important sources for the history of the Merovingian dynasty, which ruled the Franks between the 5th and 8th centuries. 

Tours 

Gregory was born into a high-ranking family in Gallo-Roman society. Gregory’s family was well connected: members of his family occupied the bishoprics of Clermont, Lyons, and Langres at the time of his birth. 

Early in his life, Gregory fell ill and made a devotional visit to the tomb of St Martin of Tours (d. 397). The fourth-century saint inspired a popular cult during the early medieval period that made the city of Tours an important site for pilgrims. Gregory’s subsequent recovery is said to have prompted him to pursue a career in the Church. Following his election as bishop of Tours in 573, he spent the majority of his career there, and wrote a Life of St Martin, which provided an account of the miracles the saint performed. 

Gregory and Merovingian history 

Gregory was an accomplished scholar, and produced important works of hagiography, particularly his Life of the Fathers, which features twenty accounts of the lives of important religious figures from the period. 

Nevertheless, Gregory is best known for his Historia Francorum (History of the Franks), a history of the Frankish people from Creation up to the end of the 6th century, written in ten books. The work chronicles the conquest of Gaul and the conversion of the Franks under Clovis, the first king to unite the Frankish tribes (d. 511 or 513). It also details Gregory’s often-tense relationship with the Frankish king Chilperic I (d. 584). As a result, it represents one of the most important surviving sources for Merovingian history and the complex politics of Gregory’s lifetime. 

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Jaakko Tahkokallio
Theme:
History and learning

Throughout human history, one of the main functions of story-telling has been to create and strengthen shared identities that hold communities together. Jaakko Tahkokallio explores the historical works of leading medieval writers.

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