January 15, 2018

Holy Virgins Maura and Britta of Touraine

Sts. Maura and Britta (Feast Day - January 15);
photo depicts the Church of Saints Maura and Britta in Touraine

In the book Glory of the Confessors (18), Saint Gregory the Bishop of Tours informs us of the following discovery of the tombs of two virgins by a certain man who after a revelation built an oratory to them in their honor, which was blessed by the then Bishop Euphronius of Tours, who was Saint Gregory's maternal cousin and predecessor, succeeding him in 573. He writes:

"Within the territory of Tours there was a small hill that was covered with briers and brambles and wild vines. The hill was so densely entwined in vines that scarcely anyone could climb it. Rumor reported that two virgins who had been dedicated to God were buried in this place. During the vigils before festival days believers often saw a light burning there by the power of God. One brave man trusted in the impulse of his heart and did not fear to approach the place during a dark night. He saw a candle shining with the vast light of a marvelous brightness. After watching it for a long time, he left and told others what he had seen. Then the virgins revealed themselves to one of the local inhabitants in a dream. They explained that they had been buried there and that without a shelter they could not endure any longer the damage from storms. But if this man wished to be of use to them, then he should cut down the thorn-bushes and build a roof over their tombs. When the man awoke, his other concerns overwhelmed him and he forgot what he had seen. On another night the virgins had appeared to him again and horribly threatened him with a menacing scowl that he would migrate from this world during the current year if he did not cover the place. The man was terrified by this dream. He took his axe, chopped down the thicket, and exposed the tombs. He found large drops of candle wax that were fragrant with the scent of nectar, similar to frankincense. He hitched oxen to a wagon, collected stones, and built an oratory during the summer.

When it was completed, he invited the blessed Euphronius, who was then bishop in the cathedral of Tours, to bless it. But Euphronius was wearied by old age and excused himself from going; he said: 'My son, you see that I am an old man and that a winter that is more harsh bothers me. Rains are falling, the winds are blowing everything in a whirl, rivers are high, and the roads are soaked from the frequent rains and almost turned into mud. It is not now appropriate for my old age to undertake these journeys.' The man listened to these excuses and left the sight of the bishop, feeling very sad as he departed. But when the bishop relaxed his limbs for a rest, he saw the two virgins standing by him. The older of the two had a sad look and began to speak: 'Why do we not deserve your favor, most blessed bishop? What misfortune have we brought upon the region entrusted to you by God? Why do you disdain us? Why do you hesitate to come to consecrate the place that this faithful man has constructed for us? Come now, we beg in the name of the omnipotent God whose servants we are.' After she said this, her cheeks became damp with the tears that appeared. The old man awoke, called for the superintendent of the church house, and said: 'I have sinned by not going with that man. Behold, I saw the two virgins who rebuked me for this reason; I am afraid of committing an offense against God if I delay going there.' As Euphronius traveled along the road, he hurried on his way. During his journey the rainstorm stopped and the harsh violence of the winds died down. After successfully completing his trip Euphronius blessed the place and then returned in peace. For he often recalled the appearance and features of the virgins. He said that one was taller and the other was smaller in size but not in merit, and that both were whiter than snow. He announced that one was Maura and the other Britta and said that he had learned these names from their own mouths."

Today in the village of Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine is the Church of Sainte-Maure-Sainte-Britte, which was built over the original oratory of Saints Maura and Britta from the sixth century. The original building was replaced at the end of the twelfth century by a church. Of special interest is the crypt below the church, rediscovered at the end of the nineteenth century during the rebuilding of the church, it is composed of three vaulted semicircular naves, which communicate with each other through a third-point opening. The central nave dates to the tenth or eleventh century, while the other two naves date to the time of the building of the church in the twelfth century.

Church of Saints Maura and Britta in Touraine

Crypt of the church