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The burial of St. Gregory of Nicopolis, 11th century

Over the later tenth and early eleventh century, the clergy and laity of western Christendom began once again to recognize some of their recently dead contemporaries as saints. Gregory of Nicopolis, or of Pithiviers, was an interesting case. He certainly came from the Christian east, but he ended up on the outskirts of a small town and castle in the kingdom of France. A foreigner, he apparently gained authority by claiming to be a bishop who had left his see, although the claim was almost certainly false. He lived as a hermit, attracting local laypeople to his cell for a combination of religious instruction and charitable donations. After his death in 1044, his body was buried in the local church and a cult quickly developed. An account of his life and miracles was soon composed by an anonymous author, probably a canon of the town of Pithiviers.

(9) Distinguished by these and other miracles [which were performed during his life], the servant of God [Gregory] . . . handed over his spirit to God and his body to be buried in the earth on March 16. There was such lamentation at his funeral and so great a crowd of the faithful, moved by his death, attended him that it was impossible to keep silence. The clergy and the devout populace came, not only from close by, but even from far away regions. Taking the body of the holy man from the hut [in which he had lived as a hermit], they translated it to the [nearby] church of St. Martin of Vertou singing hymns and canticles. There they buried him with honor before the altar. While [Gregroy] lay in that place, the workings of divine power allowed many miracles to take place. Whenever diseased persons visited, they returned from the church made healthy and sound from whatever sickness had afflicted them by the merits of the holy man.

(10) Later the above mentioned noblewoman, called Heloise, kindled with the fire of most pious devotion, translated the relics of the saint with the highest honor to the church of St. Salomon in the town of Pithiviers, where they now rest according to the wishes of God, buried once again with honor before the face of the Savior. There, according to the bounteous will of God, many types of miracles have been performed, and continue to be performed, through the merits of God's servant. Once a certain peasant, who had lost his sight, lay in prayer before the tomb where the bones of the saint rested and there light returned to the peasant's eyes through the merits of the saint. Not too long thereafter-according to the testimony of the priest-there was a certain woman whose right hand became contorted in paralysis. Since she did not wish to waste away, she immediately came to the church on the feast of the Annunciation and lay in front of the tomb where the bones of the saint rested. There she remained, prostrate in prayer, until through the merits of the holy man her hand returned to its original state of health.

(11) When at a much later time [in 1044] Henry king of the Franks invested the town of Pithiviers, the church in which the body of the holy man lay was burned by fire along with the entire town. The relics which the priest used to hold in his hand while saying mass at the altar of St. Gregory were hidden in a small opening in the saint's tomb; after the fire they were found unharmed. Some of these things which we have related we have seen with our own eyes, others we have accepted from those who enjoyed the most holy conversation and friendship of the saint and saw them with their own eyes, still others we have learned from the relatives of our friends who sought [Gregory] out after his death, believing him still to live.

Source:Vita s. Gregorii Nicopolitani, chaps. 9-11 in Acta Sanctorum quotquot toto orbe coluntur, eds. Jean Bolland, et al., (Antwerp and Brussels, 1643-present), March II, p. 464. For more information on this work, see Thomas Head, Hagiography and the Cult of Saints. The Diocese of Orléans, 800-1200 (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 78-9 and 262-5.

This translation by Thomas Head has been made available to fellow students and researchers for private or classroom use. All other rights are reserved. Duplication for any other purpose, including publication, is prohibited. This translation was last updated on June 10, 1997.

From Thomas F. Head, An Anthology of Translated Texts Illustrative of the History of the Cult of the Saints (c 2000). [Link is to Internet Archive]. Thomas Head prepared these texts as part of the now defunct ORB: Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies [Link is to an archived and non-maintained version]. Dr. Head died on Nov 12, 2014 after an extended illness. I believe that he would have wanted his translated texts, marked for free personal use, and bibliographies to continue to be available and not just through the sometimes slow operation of the Internet Archive. They were marked "They may be reproduced for private use, but may not be reproduced for publication."

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall, January 2023
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