Saint Bricius (or Brice) was a peculiar bishop who oversaw the bishopric of Tours from 397 to 444. His predecessor and mentor in Tours was Saint Martin (bishop, r. 371-397), yet Bricius was not an ideal understudy. While St. Martin lived, Bricius was allegedly a moody, skeptical, overly sarcastic and jealous man, especially toward his mentor. Even so, Bricius was ordained as a priest and, for whatever reason, St. Martin named him as heir to the bishopric of Tours.
Despite St. Martin’s faith in his successor, Bricius received only a lukewarm reception from the people he was meant to be shepherding. Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), a future bishop of the region, wrote about the chaotic relationship between Bricius and his congregation in his text, The History of the Franks. According to Gregory’s account, Bricius was eventually accused of being the father of a washwoman’s newborn boy. The people of Tours were so ill disposed against their bishop that they immediately believed the accuser and decided to stone Bricius to death. The bishop, however, gained permission to try and prove his innocence. To do this, he relied on the signature move of ancient saints—miracles.
According to Gregory of Tours, Bricius had the washwoman’s baby brought before him in view of all the townspeople. Summoning all of his clerical power, the bishop commanded the newborn, in the name of Jesus, to proclaim for the congregation whether or not Bricias was his father. If the local tradition of Tours is to be believed, the baby was indeed compelled to tell the truth and, even though he could not yet talk, the newborn eloquently exclaimed, “you are not my father” (History of the Franks, Book II). After stating this short sentence, the baby lost the power of speech and once more took on the characteristics of the average newborn baby.
The town’s dislike for Bricius, however, made them skeptical of the miraculous baby. Rather than take the baby’s words as proof of the bishop’s innocence, the people of Tours instead accused Bricius of using diabolical magic to make the child speak. Now that the bishop needed to clear himself of an additional charge, one that was more serious than the first, he decided to perform a second miracle. Once more, Bricius gathered the people of Tours to witness something spectacular. According to Gregory of Tours, the bishop now filled his cassock (clerical robe) with burning coals and walked with the fiery cinders pressed against his skin until he reached the nearby tomb of Saint Martin. Upon arriving at the tomb, Bricius poured out the coals from his clothing and triumphantly showed the people of Tours that there was not a burn to be found on his skin or a scorch to be seen on his robe. The bishop, however, was held in such little esteem that these miracles were dismissed as flukes and Bricius was exiled.
The exiled bishop fled to Rome and the people of Tours elected for themselves two successive bishops, named Justinian and Armentius. Bricius, however, was technically still the bishop, as Justinian and Armentius were considered illegitimate by the pope and also by Gregory of Tours. After the death of Armentius, the city of Tours finally accepted Bricius back into the community and let him resume his role as bishop until his death in 444.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Image about the life of St. Martin, painted by Master of Jean Rolin II (fl. from 1440 until 1465), [Public Domain] via Dutch National Library and Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.