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Medieval Sourcebook:
Gregory of Tours (539-594):
Life of St. Gall

From Lives of the Fathers: Chap. 6


St. Gall was a servant of God from his youth up, loving the Lord with his whole heart, and he loved what he knew to be beloved by God. His father was named Georgius and his mother Leocadia a descendant of Vectius Epagatus who, as the history of Eusebius relates, was a martyr at Lyons. They belonged among the leading senators so that no family could be found in the Gauls better born or nobler. And although Gall's father wished to ask for a certain senator's daughter for him, he took a single attendant and went to the monastery at Cournon, six miles from Clermont, and besought the abbot to consent to give him the tonsure. The abbot noticed the good sense and fine bearing of the youth and inquired his name, his family and native place. He replied that he was called Gal] and was a citizen of Auvergne, a son of the senator Georgius. When the abbot learned that he belonged to one of the first families he said: " My son, what you wish is good, but you must first bring it to your father's attention and if he gives his consent, I will do what you ask." Then the abbot sent messengers in regard to this matter to his father, asking what he wished to be done with the youth. The father was a little disappointed, but said: "He is my oldest son and I therefore wished him to marry, but if the Lord deigns to receive him into His service, let His will rather than mine be done." And he added: "Consent to the child's request which he made by God's inspiration."


The abbot on receiving this message made him a clerk. He was very chaste and as if a]ready old he had no wicked desires: he refrained from a young man's mirth; he had a voice wonderfully sweet and melodious; he devoted himself constantly to reading; he took pleasure in fasting and was very abstemious. When the blessed bishop Quintian came to this monastery and heard him sing, he did not allow him to stay there any longer, but took him to the city and, like the heavenly father, fed him on the sweetness of the spirit. On his father's death, when his voice was improving day by day and he was a great favorite among the people, they reported this to king Theodoric, who at once sent for him and showed him such affection that he loved him more than his own son; he was loved by the queen with a similar love, not only or his beautiful voice, but also for his chastity. At that time king Theodoric had taken many clerks from Auvergne whom he ordered to serve God in the church at Trèves; but he never allowed the blessed Gall to be separated from him. So it came that when the king went to Cologne, he went with him. There was there a heathen temple full of various articles of worship where the neighboring barbarians used to make offerings and stuff themselves with food and drink until they vomited; there also they worshipped images as god, and carved limbs in wood, each one the limb in which he had suffered pain. When the holy Gall heard of this, he hastened to the place with only one clerk when none of the benighted pagans was present, and set it on fire. And they saw the smoke of the fire rolling up to the sky and searched for the one who had set it, and found him and pursued him sword in and. He fled and took refuge in the king's court. But when the king had learned from the pagans' threats what had been one, he pacified them with agreeable words and so calmed their furious rage. The blessed man would often weep in telling this story, and say: "Unhappy me that I did not stand my ground and let my life be ended in this affair." [note: Gall would in that case have been a martyr with all a martyr's advantages. He does not regret running away as an act of prudence, but as an injudicious act spiritually speaking. Cf. Marignan, Le culte des saints sous les Mérovingiens (Paris, 1899), ch. I.] He was deacon at the time….


Later when the blessed bishop Quintian passed from this world by God's command, the holy Gall was living in Clermont, and the people of the city assembled at the house of the priest Inpetratus, Gall's uncle on his mother's side, lamenting at the bishop's death and asking who should be appointed in his place. After long debate they returned each to his own house. On their departure the holy Gall called one of the clerks and said, the holy spirit rushing into him: "What are these people muttering about? Why are they running to and fro ? What are they debating? They are wasting their time," said he. "I am going to be bishop; the Lord will deign to bestow this honor on me. Now when you hear that I am returning from the king's presence, take my predecessor's horse with the saddle on him and come and bring him to me. If you refuse to obey me, take care you are not sorry for it later." As he said this, he was lying on his bed. The clerk was angry at him and abused him and struck him on the side, breaking the bed at the same time, and went off in a rage. On his departure the priest Inpetratus said to the blessed Gall: "My son, hear my advice: don't waste a minute, but go to the king and tell him what has happened here, and if the Lord inspires him to bestow this holy office on you, I shall give thanks to God; otherwise you can at least recommend yourself to the man who is appointed." He went and reported to the king what had happened....

And the clerks of Clermont, with the choice of the foolish, went to the king with many gifts. Even then that seed of iniquity had begun to germinate, that bishoprics were sold by kings and bought by the clerks. Then they heard from the king that they were going to have St. Gall as bishop. He was ordained priest and the king gave orders to invite the citizens to a feast at the expense of the treasury and to make merry over the promotion of Gall the future bishop. This was done. He was in the habit of telling that he had given no more for the office of bishop than a third of a gold piece which he had given to the cook who prepared the feast. Then the king appointed two bishops to accompany him to Clermont. And the clerk, Viventius by name, who had struck him on the side when he was in bed, hastened to meet the bishop according to his command, but not without great shame, and he presented himself and the horse which Gall had ordered. When they had gone into the bath together, Gall gently reproached him for the pain in his side which he had incurred from the contemptuous violence of the clerk, and he caused him great shame, not in a spirit of anger, however, but only delighting in a pious joke. After that he was received into the city with much singing and was ordained bishop in his own church.


Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, trans. Ernest Brehaut (extended selections), Records of Civilization 2, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1916), 260-62

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