I received a text message from a friend asking me about the famous vision of Pope St. Gregory the Great during the plague of Rome in 590 A.D. I have been busy doing some research so as to provide a sure answer. I’d like to present my findings in bullet-format.
- The exact date wherein Pope St. Gregory saw St. Michael is not known with certitude.
- Tradition dates the vision to April 25th, 590 A.D. (Feast of St. Mark).
- There are two versions of the story of the procession.
- One version involves an image of Our Lady.
- In April of 590, Gregory was, actually, not yet Pope and was still a Deacon of the Church of Rome.
- His predecessor, Pelagius II, had died of the plague in February.
- Gregory was acclaimed by the people of Rome as the Pope, but he had not yet received the necessary consent to the election from the Emperor in Constantinople.
- The Emperor’s consent came later in 590.
- Gregory was consecrated a Bishop and his Papacy began on September 3, 590.
- Though only a Deacon in April of 590, he organized a procession and ordered people to be grouped together.
- Some 80 people died of the plague during the procession.
- The story of the vision is not attested in any known writings from the 6th-8th centuries.
- The earliest account of the vision appears no later than the 10th century, but is most likely based in oral traditions.
- It appears in the Legenda Aurea in 1497.
- [Note: This is a handwritten Latin manuscript. Trained professionals are necessary to read it!]
Here are some sources for your review:
- William Foulke (trans.), History of the Langobards by Paul the Deacon (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia, 1907), 127-128.
- Ferdinand Gregorovius and Gustavus W. Hamilton (trans.), History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages Volume II A.D. 568-800 (London: George Bell & Sons, 1902), 30ff.
- Ludovicus M. Hartmann (edit.), Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Gregorii I Papae Registrum Epistolarum Tomi II Pars II (Berolini, 1895), 365ff.
- Thomas Hodgkins, Italy and Her Invaders (London: Clarendon Press, 1895), 299ff.
- St. Gregory of Tours and James T. Shotwell (edit.), History of the Franks (New York: Columbia University Press, 1916), 227ff.
Also, here are some images of the text from the Legenda Aurea mentioned above:
An English translation can be found through Fordham University:
The third apparition happe[ne]d in the time of Gregory the pope. For when the said pope had established the litanies for the pestilence that was that time, and prayed devoutly for the people, he saw upon the castle which was said sometime: The memory of Adrian, the angel of God, which wiped and made clean a bloody sword, and put it into a sheath. And thereby he understood that his prayers were heard. Then he did do make there a church in the honour of S. Michael, and that castle is yet named the Castle Angel. And yet another apparition was in the Mount of Gargan when he appeared and gave victory to them of Syponte, which is hallowed the eighth ides of July.