Gregory of Tours- Medieval France
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Gregory of Tours

November 2016 - Gregory of Tours was born about 538 AD - we don't know exactly when. His parents were both rich people, from rich families. When Gregory grew up, he became the Bishop of Tours, which was a city in the center of France, along the Loire river. Most of the earlier bishops of Tours had been his relatives, so this wasn't a big surprise.

carved square table
This reading desk belonged to a nun,
St. Radegund, who was Gregory's friend.
Do you see the chi-rho symbol near the top?

At that time, the Bishop of Tours was the most important bishop in France, and so Gregory knew all kinds of important people - the Merovingian kings and queens, and all the people who came to visit them, and all the other lords and ladies, and of course the other bishops. Gregory didn't travel much himself - he got as far as Paris, but not further - but he knew everybody anyway.

Gregory decided to write a book about all these people he knew, which would be a history of his own times. (Gregory began with the creation of the world, and told the stories of Moses and King David, but he knew mainly what was in the Bible, and skipped quickly to his own times.) His book is the main way that we know about what happened in Merovingian France.

On the other hand, Gregory wrote many things we might not agree with today. For one thing, he believed that miracles happened all the time, all around him. Also, he thought that anyone who disagreed with his kind of Christianity was a bad person and would go to Hell. He especially disliked Arians, Jewish people, and people who followed the old Roman religion. We can find out a lot about Merovingian France from Gregory, but we don't have to believe everything he says, or agree with all his ideas.

Gregory lived not long after the fall of Rome, when most people in Europe were too poor to go to school. Most of the educated people - Arya Bhata in India, the doctors of Gondishapur, the architects of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople - lived too far away for Gregory to know them. So Gregory had to work mostly on his own.

When Gregory of Tours died, about 594 AD, he was about 56 years old. After he was dead, the Pope made him a saint.

More about the Merovingians
St. Germain des Près Abbey (built when Gregory was a child)
More about bishops
More about saints

Bibliography and further reading about Gregory of Tours:

Beowulf
Chaucer
Medieval European literature
Medieval Islamic literature
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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