The Northern Way

The Life of St. Eligius, 588-660

Book 1

30. One day while he was living in Paris, the custodian of the basilica of Saint Columba the virgin sped to him at dawn trembling and falling all over his feet. He announced that, in the silence of the night, the basilica had been robbed of all its ornaments. The news deeply depressed Eligius but he swiftly reverted to his usual source of hope. He kindly comforted the custodian and then hurried to that same oratory where he prayed with these words: "Listen, Saint Columba, to what I say. My Redeemer knows that unless you restore those stolen ornaments speedily to the tabernacle, I will have the entrance sown over with thorny plants so that veneration will never be offered to you again in this place." He said that and left. And behold! the following day, when the custodian rose in the morning, he found all restored as before, down to the tiniest curtain. And his joy matched his former distress as he sped again to Eligius and announced that everything had been returned. Seeing everything in its place, he praised the martyr and as always magnified the name of Christ the lord with growing hilarity.

31. Among the infinity of his other good works, he obtained license from the king that wherever he might find any human bodies executed by royal severity or judicial censure or from cases following any diverse arguments, whether in cities or villas, he might take them down from the gallows or the wheel or the noose and bury them. From among his companions, he appointed respelliones named Gallebodo and Vincent to whom he entrusted this care with their colleagues. Thus wherever they went whether in nearby towns or far away, they carried hoes with them so that they could immediately cover any corpse they found with earth. One day in the royal county of Austria, they came to a certain town called Stratoburg and outside the town on a height they saw a hanging man. The noose had taken his life on that very day. Going straight to the place, they removed the noose so that they might start the burial rites. But the venerable man felt power working. While the burial was being prepared, he approached the body and began to massage it gently from head to toe. When he felt the spirit to be present, denying the power that came from him, he said without delay: "Oh what a terrible crime, we have nearly perpetrated without the Lord's order! We nearly buried this body in the ground when the spirit is still within!" Saying this, he ordered the man covered with clothing and they waited. Refreshed in spirit, he arose from the ground having suffered no injury. When news of what had happened circulated in the town, hostile pursuers planned to seize him on the road and put him to death. But Eligius swiftly tore him from their hands and supplied royal letters of safe conduct for him and defended him. Not long after, he removed himself from his company, perhaps with Eligius' connivance. Lest the things he had done should spread among the people, he never appeared again among his servants. But enough about that. It is enough that what he did about this is known to God alone and not hidden whether he was in secular habit or under the venerable apostolic tonsure. Meanwhile, I will try to be brief in telling what he achieved with his handiwork. 32. Among other good works this same blessed man fabricated tombs for the relics of saints Germanus, Severin, Piaton, Quentin, Lucian, Genovefa, Columba, Maximian and Lolian, Julian and many more, with gold and silver and gems. But above all, by order of King Dagobert, he covered blessed Martin of Tours' sepulchre with wonderful work of gold and jewels and he urbanely composed the tomb of St. Briccio and another where the body of St. Martin had formerly lain. And he obtained great benefices from the king for that same church. At Eligius' request, and for reverence to the holy confessor Martin, King Dagobert forgave the whole census that was released to the royal tax gatherer from that church and confirmed it by a charter. Thus the church claimed the whole use of the fiscal cens from him so that in that town even today it is decreed through obliging episcopal letters. Above all, Eligius fabricated a mausoleum for the holy martyr Denis in the city of Paris with a wonderful marble ciborium over it marvelously decorated with gold and gems. He composed a crest [at the top of a tomb] and a magnificent frontal and surrounded the throne of the altar with golden axes in a circle. He placed golden apples there, round and jeweled. He made a pulpit and a gate of silver and a roof for the throne of the altar on silver axes. He made a covering in the place before the tomb and fabricated an outside altar at the feet of the holy martyr. So much industry did he lavish there, at the king's request, and poured out so much that scarcely a single ornament was left in Gaul and it is the greatest wonder of all to this very day.

33. At last, all these wonderful works were done and all the people about quieted, even the ferocious Gascons broken on their own hostile swords. Then the great and famous king Dagobert died and was buried in that same basilica of St. Denis under the arch in the right side. His son Clovis still juvenile in age, succeeded him to the kingdom. In his reign, the Roman Empire being headed by Constantine, a wicked heresy which originated in eastern lands began to pullulate. The heresiarchs began wickedly to violate ecclesiastical rule and wandered teaching and preaching untrue things. They asserted that our lord and savior Jesus Christ had least following the form of a slave and they jabbered in profane voices that he never assumed true flesh from the virgin Mary. These things troubled the church much and not only infected some folks in their homeland with the contagion of this pestiferous assertion but even some in Rome. At that time, the bishop was the most blessed pope Martin who carefully and manfully guarded against this, fighting many adversaries and sustaining many trials. Discerning that the emperor and many others were giving ear to these assertions, he was moved to gather a council of priests to restrain the case and destroy this depraved doctrine. In that council, with the consent of all the orthodox, he published a great and accurate declaration of faith against the heretics which he sent to Gaul with an attached letter ordering the king of France that if there were any learned Catholic men in his kingdom he should have them assigned to this work. Eligius would then have willingly joined with his companions except that at that time he was impeded by a certain circumstance.

34. Meanwhile, during the delay, the enemy of human kind, being sharply incited, struck powerfully against the walls of the church. Men were lost and turrets weakened with all sorts of attacks and he hoped to bring bishop Martin himself down with affliction. But though the unclean spirit struck with all his armed might, Martin resisted by the grace of Christ and stood, filled with virtue like an immobile rock amidst the flood, repelling the jabberers with a virile spirit. Imperial letters ordered him to make a proclamation against the faith of the fathers. But he, to whom that holy faith was venerable, denied that he could speak impious words against God, judging it wiser to lay down his temporal life that he might keep his conscience of faith unwounded. We know a certain brother from eastern parts who witnessed all these deeds that I now report in his own presence. Though he suffered many injuries, scourged for many days in the people's presence with his hands tied [behind] his back like a scapegoat, no persuasion could deflect Martin from the Catholic faith. With the whole city lamenting, he was finally driven into exile. After he was brought to Constantinople and relegated to exile there, he succeeded by his prayers alone in restoring the light to a blind man. Thus lingering in exile, after many torments, the noble life of this exalted and venerable man came to an end. Now the heretics might pretend as much as they liked but they were confounded and blushed that he had made himself a martyr. Although they clamored that his soul had been peacefully exhaled still he did not kill himself but they contrived their own defeat by his death, as pain will not consume him in whom pain was consumed. And if they were here now, they would hear from me these words for the martyr: "So," I say, "under the protection of Him Who was made flesh, he did not die by the sword, but relegated to exile for confessing the Catholic faith, after continuous and unwearying profession he earned the exit of a glorious death. And thus, having returned to his Lord, he was received as a martyr in the heavenly court. For his virtue and honor is no less than that conferred on the blessed martyrs seeing that he bore all that his adversaries inflicted on him with a stout heart. As Scripture attests, it is no lesser glory but rather more excellent to sustain martyrdom to keep the church from being torn by heresy than it is to be sacrificed for pulling down idols. For people endure persecution by the pagans for the sake of their own souls but suffer from heretics for the sake of the universal church. So I call him greater because without doubt he was proved more outstanding and excellent." These few words about so excellent a man have been inserted into the life of Eligius because Martin did so much to brighten the faith in the part of the world where he lived. And it suffices us to have narrated it for love of grace so that the memory of that special man who impended much good to my colleagues in Rome shall not be forgotten in the West although he was brought to the East.

35. While these things were happening in the city of Rome, a heretic from overseas struck a blow at the province of Gaul. He came to that city once called Aedua, now Auxerre, and began most fraudulently to preach nefarious dogma. And when this came to the ears of Eligius in the palace, vigilant as always, with Ouen and other Catholic men, he began to seek out every manifestation of this plague. He did not stop reminding the bishop and the optimates, and by his order the sacerdotal princes were gathered in a council at Orl‚ans. The aforesaid heretic was led before them and they questioned him about different things, knowing him to be learned, but could reach no conclusion. He answered their questions so craftily that just where he seemed to be absolutely straight, he opened up holes, slithering like an oily snake. And when no one could stop him or overcome him in any way, a most learned bishop named Falvius emerged among us by God's providence who was his match in everything and we rejoiced in his skill. Now all his previously hidden cunning and arts were revealed as dissimulation and his arguments were uncovered. Thus all the bishops imposed a sentence against him and sent a decree above his name to all the cities to eliminate the error to the ends of Gaul.

36. But when Eligius discovered another apostate disturbing the people of Paris, he energetically extirpated him from the city. Similarly, after long imprisonment, he ejected another man who circulated through villas and squares deceiving the populace by pretending to be a bishop from the boundaries of the kingdom of the Franks. And with great authority he pursued everyone else who attempted to subvert the people. For he hated all heretics, schismatics, and every figment beyond the Catholic doctrine and followed every trace of them with outrage. His eloquence flowed out and he was most subtle in the study of scripture, and when he had been sufficiently instructed, he went everywhere preaching with the evangelical cohorts to the people to hold unshakably to their faith in Christ and take care to protect themselves from every contagion of heresy.


40. But it would take far too long to recount every sign of his virtue and it is time to put an end. Propitiating the Lord, I left the work I began on the life of the blessed confessor Eligius imperfect, lifting my weary and exhausted pen in the middle of the path. Now somewhat refreshed in strength, with desiring vow, joyful heart, and charming pen, I will attempt to go on with the work I began. The road may be hard and deep but I will walk willingly and where my feet cannot take me, love will guide me and so I will go with devotion where words cannot enter. I accuse myself of being unworthy to pass the life of such a man on to posterity's memory with the skill due to his literary monument which should draw from the narrative of deeds the maximum edification for those who read. But he did so much that I simply cannot surpass the magnitude of good. The multitude of deeds forces me to omit so much that my soul thirsts in doubt while I try to decide what to keep and what to leave out. For if I tell all I wish to add, the days will run out while I am still telling and I will far exceed the limit. But on the other side if I include less, I fear the laughter of hypochritarum, who will say: "This man began a building and now he cannot finish it." I fear even more that I will offend the prelate, lest in struggling to expound his accomplishments within the limits set by the aridity of my eloquence, I will seem more to do him an injury than to reveal his life. So discreet on both sides, I concentrated the article to the membrane and what I rejected from the first book follows in this. So it was sufficient in the first book to reveal the things he did while in lay dress and now we will take up what he did as a bishop.

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