The Northern Way

The Life of St. Eligius, 588-660

Book 1

11. Mostly missing. Ends, but since I have seen the man why not depict his form?

12. He was tall with a rosy face. He had a pretty head of hair with curly locks. His hands were honest and his fingers long. He had the face of an angel and a prudent look. At first, he was used to wear gold and gems on his clothes having belts composed of gold and gems and elegantly jeweled purses, linens covered with red metal and golden sacs hemmed with gold and all of the most precious fabrics including all of silk. But all of this was but fleeting ostentation from the beginning and beneath he wore a hairshirt next to his flesh and, as he proceeded to perfection, he gave the ornaments for the needs of the poor. Then you would see him, whom you had once seen gleaming with the weight of the gold and gems that covered him, go covered in the vilest clothing with a rope for a belt. Sometimes the king himself would see him despoiled for love and devotion to Christ, tearing from himself what he had given him even to his clothing and his belt. For he said that the ornaments that served his appearance to the world were worthless and all that which was inglorious he gave up for the sake of Christ. While he was with the king he had a mansion carefully joined with Dado whom he loved as his own soul. From this, we could take many examples if we had enough time to repeat them. He had many tokens of saints hanging there in his cubicle and several holy books turning on an axis. Thus after exchanging psalmody and prayers, like a careful bee, he secreted the choicest from a variety of flowers from different readings in the beehive of his breast. At night, it was his custom to stretch out before his bed on a haircloth and either from the first twilight or after a little rest rising from bed to pray prostrate with his head bowed and passing many nights in tears keeping watch. For he had the great grace of tears. In various ways, he determined as far as human nature could permit, that every night would be consumed in the service of God. So he would pray at length interrupting the prayers for some relief, reciting the psalms in order and then turning to chanting or reading. And when he was struck by some sacred words, you would see him suddenly raise his eyes to the sky, joining sigh to sigh, mixing tears with the reading striking his breast and pouring out an ocean of weeping. And when during this reading he was weighed down by invading sleep, he would meditate on the words in a sort of dream. Then starting awake he would finish the reading and according to custom turn to prayer in which work he strove with so much silence never moving his head or any other part that you could barely hear the fleeting breath. Often, for various reasons, he was called to the king's chamber at night but even when one messenger followed another, he would not go until he had completed his service to Christ. Then leaving the house, he was armed with the sign of prayer and the cross. Returning home he prayed first thing. And thus he did every day of his life longing for his eternal homeland. For he was affable in every way and subtle, with pious heart and a spirit strong for battle.

13. When the king asked him to lead a legation to Breton lands, he hastened there without delay, secure in the love of Christ. And when he met the prince of the Bretons, he indicated reasons for making a pact and received pledges of peace. And when some might have intended a quarrel or to declare mutual war on them, his gentleness attracted the aforesaid prince with so much benignity and mildness that he was easily persuaded to go with him. For after he had remained there for some time he returned home taking with him the king and many soldiers of his tribe. Presenting them in the villa of Creil to the king of the Franks, he negotiated peacefully. He who brought many gifts returned home even more heavily rewarded. Para ends with a gap.

14. Indeed King Dagobert, swift, handsome and famous with no rival among any of the earlier kings of the Franks, loved him so much that he would often take himself out of the crowds of princes, optimates, dukes or bishops around him and seek private counsel from Eligius. And whatever Eligius requested, he would give without delay. Whatever he could gain, he expended in alms for the needy, ransom of captives and remedies for the weak, whence the prince rewarded him ever more freely because he knew that not one but many would profit by it.

15. Among other things, he acquired a villa in the neighborhood of Limoges called Solignac, saying: "May your serenity concede this place to me, lord King, so that here I may raise a ladder by which you and I may both succeed in climbing into heaven. As usual, the king freely granted his petition, agreed, and gave the order without delay that what he asked might be conceded. That was a time when a public census from the same region was exacted to be paid to the royal treasury. But when all the revenue collected together was ready to be brought to the king, the domesticus and monetarius wished to refine the gold by cooking in the furnace so that according to ritual only the reddest and purest metal would be brought into the king's presence. They did not know that it had been conceded as a reward to Eligius. Despite every strain and effort for three or four days, God hindered them so that they could not complete the work. At last, the arrival of a messenger from Eligius interrupted the work being done and asserted his ownership. As soon as the announcement was made, with the inhabitants rejoicing, the work was completed and his wealth committed. There in that place, first the most powerful man of God built a monastery. Then having constituted an abbot, he freed many of his vernaculis to the number of a hundred from different provinces and added fifty monks with enough land to support them abundantly. He lavished so much love and devotion on the place that whatever he had, whatever the king gave him, whatever he could buy, whatever he was paid in gratuities by the powerful, he sent to that place. There you would see loaded carts, vessels for every use of both copper and wood, vestments and lectuaries and linens and volumes of sacred scripture and all things needful for the use of a monastery in such profusion that it kindled the envy of many depraved great folk. He even thought that he would bind himself to that same monastery except that the dispensation of God obligated him to something else.

16. I saw, when I visited the place, such observance of the holy rule there that could hardly be matched in any other monastery in Gaul. For that large congregation is adorned with many different flowers of grace. And they had artifices by many skilled in different arts which were completed in fear of Christ and always prepared in obedience. For no one there claimed anything as their own but as we read in the acts of the apostles all things were all in common among them all. Such joy reigned in that fertile place that when anyone strolled among the orchards and the gardens flourishing with beauty, he knew the words to be completely fulfilled: "How good is your house Jacob, and how beautiful is your tent, Israel. Such shady woods and cedars above the waters like Paradise above the flood." Surely, of such was it said through Solomon: "the habitations of the just are blessed." That same community is undoubtedly about six miles from Limoges toward the southern shore. It is surrounded by a wall not just of stone but with a well-fortified ditch having the circumference of ten stadia. On one side it is strengthened by a river, guarded by a high mountain covered with trees and sheer cliffs. And they filled the whole area of the monastery with orchards of diverse fruit trees. And so the sluggish soul is refreshed and rejoiced to occupy itself with the amenities of paradise.

17. When he had completed that cenobium with all its works, and stabilized it with care, he thought to build a xenodochium in the city of Paris. But God inspired him to conceive a more excellent plan. He began to raise in his own house which he had received as a gift from the king in that same city, a domicile of virgins of Christ. After long and sweaty labor, he constructed a monastery worthy of holy virgins. There, constituting the strict discipline of the rule, he gathered thirty girls from diverse tribes, some from among his own ancillae and other more noble matrons of the Franks. He appointed an abbess fitting to God, a girl named Aurea, daughter of Maurinus and Quiria. He assigned land with high revenue and turned it over from all his property. From hither and thither you could see deliveries of everything necessary or useful for a monastery, vessels and vestments, sacred books and other ornaments. The most pious father provided whatever things appropriate to the sex might be needed with the most solicitous and diligent care. And when all the house was complete and furnished with everything necessary to it and made perfect, one vile but necessary thing still remained for the building of the domicile. He had not enough land, for it was all filled by the house, but there was a small piece from the fisc lying adjacent for the necessary work. Therefore, he ordered the land cleared, so he might learn its dimensions and hurried off to the prince, suggested the area and without delay obtained what he asked. And when he returned home, the lines drawn, and the size of the habitation considered, he found that it was a foot greater in size than he had told the king. He was sad, for he who never wished to lie to anyone had lied to the king. Leaving the work completely, he went back to court and sought out the prince, threw himself on the ground and accused himself of lying asking for pardon or for death. But when the king learned the insignificance of the cause he condoled with his injury more in amazement and soon turning to the multitude of bystanders and said: "behold how bright and venerable is the faith of Christ! My dukes and domestics rob me of spacious villas and the servant of Christ because of the faith that he has in the Lord will not bear to hide a palm's breadth of land from us." And he consoled Eligius so kindly that he doubled the gift he had given him. This story makes clear how the holy man feared to be guilty of a lie and soil his conscience with the meanest fib kept from the king. So his faith raised him to heaven and that fidelity made him dear to God and famous among men.

18. When the monastery was done and the edifice for handmaids of God complete, for which the profit of the labor is its own reward, then he built a basilica for the interment of the bodies of God's handmaids. It was dedicated to the holy apostle Paul. The roof covered with lead in sublime elegance and Abbot Quintilianus lay buried there. Then he built and restored the basilica in honor of St. Martial, bishop and confessor, at Limoges. He also covered that roof with lead in urbane stability. When he bore the saint's relics there, fully devout with great triumph and a great company of both sexes, a chorus psalling with melodies of psalms and sweet modulations of antiphons, the lord declared a miracle worthy of memory. Eligius was inspired to direct that the relics be taken a certain way when he could have gone more directly by another. But on that path there were four enclosed dungeons where three guards held seven men, either innocent or guilty. When Eligius passed, exulting and dancing before the ark with the relics like David of yore accompanied by the exultant voices of his flock, they came to the dungeon. Suddenly depressed by a heavy weight, the bearer of the relics was fixed to the ground. However much they pushed and pulled, he could not move a step which he confessed in a stentorian voice. And while the witnesses were marvelling at this, there came a sound like a thunderbolt from within the prison and the walls were burst with a great explosion from the ground. And immediately the prisoners appeared at the broken gate with all their bonds broken. Then the feet of the relic bearer lightened and they went on to the church with the former prisoners. And all who were there in amazement began to praise the new miracle and the joined merits of two saints, praise of Martial to declare the favor of Eligius. And all, seeing the fruits, praised Christ the Lord who does his work in his servants and raised their voices continually.

19 and 20 missing.


21. Even as religious monks frequently flocked to him, he was never satisfied but grew ever more thirsty with desire for holy conversation until he would hurry off to the cenobium of Luxueil which was at that time the most eminent and strict of all the monasteries in Gaul. For Gaul was not yet crowded with monasteries and those that were there were not under the regular discipline but fermented with the ancient malice of the world. Beyond Luxeuil, therefore, which alone is said to have held carefully the strictness of a rule, the monastery of Solignac stood first in the western lands. Many got a start there and were inspired by its example so that now there are many innumerable cenobia of both sexes throughout all Francia and Gaul under the nurturing regular discipline propitiating the divinity. Thus as I began to say, who can tell with what devotion and humility Eligius visited that monastery, going among the brothers? You would have seen him, when he first entered the monastery, face low to the ground, depressed from the light, his head inclined on a mound of earth. Then he would move with great gravity, his whole body bowed, among the brothers and prostrate himself on the earth before each monk. He listened most devoutly to all the benedictions and gave them copious alms while he took only the humblest crust of bread from them for benediction on leaving, which he took for the most generous reward. And every day while he could keep it unspoiled, he consumed eulogies from it fasting as for holy communion.


22-26 missing.


27. Another time, dressed as a layman, he took the road with his boys from the royal villa called Etr‚pagny. When he came to the vicus of Gamaches, entering the basilica there, he found a certain poor cripple lying before the entrance. When he saw Eligius, this man began to clamor asking for money from him or some other consolation. Then Eligius, strongly feeling the gift of the Holy Spirit seize him, said: "Let us pray together to the Lord to restore your health." Conducting him quickly into the church, he ordered him to stand, supported by prayer. Prostrating himself on the ground, he prayed for a long time. When he got up he saw the cripple still lying there and he lay down again to prayer pouring out his request with tears. So prolix were his prayers and so many tears did he shed that the whole pavement was moistened as they flooded, running to the ground like a river. At last, strengthened by faith, he arose and approached the invalid with great confidence and seized his hand saying: "In the name of our lord Jesus Christ, the son of God on high, rise and walk." As soon as he said the word, the invalid was healed by the Son of God and arose in health. Everyone there heard, with great wonder, the joints and nerves and and all his twisted bones crack and solidify. He was healed in that hour and walked carefully, blessing God with all alacrity. For he had been bound by the chains of paralysis for many years and thus the swiftness of his cure excited the greater wonder. The blessed man gave him alms and sent him away in peace. Adoring and glorifying God he returned to his place. Then Eligius began to conjure the boys and each of his companions sternly not to reveal these things to anyone while he remained in the body, for he greatly feared lest in the use of this power his mind should be oppressed by human praise.


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