The Northern Way

The Life of St. Eligius, 588-660

Book 2

28. Similarly he foretold the death of a certain most cruel man, Flavadus, to his brothers. For that tyrant most wickedly killed a Christian man, Willibad, a patrician of Burgundy and his death was announced to Eligius. He responded in opposition to that narrative, saying: "You tell me that Willibad is dead and Flavadus is alive. But I tell you that I know that he whom you have killed now lives more happily in heaven for his great merits; and he whom you applaud as still living will soon be dead in all his evil ways." And he remained unmoved, openly predicting: "I tell you this, because that dead man was a worshipper of the true God during his life, now he lives happily without end. But Flavadus who seems to be living for a longer time, will pursue evil for but ten more days and then, as is fitting, he will die." And it happened just as he said it would. For in seven days Flavadus was struck down and soon was miserably dead following the sentence of the man of God.

29. And another time, when he was still in lay clothing, he made a wonderful prediction. One night when he had finished his accustomed prayers, he was resting a little in his chamber when suddenly he began to be violently agitated in sleep. Soon his clerk awakened and asked him the cause of the vision and heard this in response from him: "Just now, Simplicius, the bishop of Limoges, migrated from this world and behold, Felix, who has now become a priest, sends messengers to us that we may give support to his party. Now I spoke with them for my part. Be careful therefore for they are undoubtedly at hand." Having spoken, he rested and behold! when daylight appeared, they soon began to hear the messengers pounding on the door of the vestibule, as he had said. Entering there, they announced the death of the bishop and it all turned out to be as Eligius had foretold. They offered him a lot of money which Felix sent for support to the episcopate but they could in no way persuade him to accept anything from them. But soon he went to the prince and obtained what they asked gratis and so sent them back to their own place.-

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31. And another time, Eligius visited his monastery in the territory of Limoges and on his way back stopped at Bourges where he wished to see a certain inclusus named Ebrigisilus whose good fame was then celebrated by everyone in the town. Keeping indiscreetly to the rigor of his own institutions, the inclusus would not allow Eligius even to see his face through a window and, as was his custom, answered his questions with his rude window closed. After a brief exchange of words, not asking to see him, Eligius bade him a last farewell, saying: "I cannot see you here, brother, in any way; but without doubt I will see you soon in the king's court at Clichy." And when he got no response, he continued: "Aye, aye, you will prove this on that day when I will see you there before the people and the princes in public." And indeed the words came true after a little while. For some reason, the inclusus was compelled to leave his enclosed cell and go to the king's palace where Eligius received him in honor. And once he was there, they had some honest and friendly talk between them and then he returned to his own place with this business successfully transacted.

32. He predicted many other things in the course of familiar speech such as when he foretold the death of the former king Charibert and it happened a little later and the death of the famous king Dagobert and the birth of Clothar junior. For when he was still in the womb and the queen was greatly afraid that she might have a daughter and the realm succumb because of it, Eligius came to her and reassured her. In the presence of the pregnant woman, he predicted a male birth to all and foretold her son from the mystery of regeneration. He then named the child in the womb and promised certain pieces of work that a child could use and had them made and ordered them to be kept against the birth. And all happened as he predicted which at last was attested by the king. For the queen brought forth a son and he was like a little son to Eligius. And the king called him by the name Chlotar which Eligius had bestowed upon him. After this, God multiplied his progeny and he sired two more sons. But in those days when the three procreated were still young and the king and queen remained peaceful and happy, Eligius predicted: "In a nocturnal vision, I saw the sun hurrying and shining brightly about the third hour of the day. Suddenly it disappeared into nowhere. And while I was still skillfully straining this formless prodigy, I looked there and behold, the moon sprang in the midst with three stars circling around, seemingly bound to that path where the returning sun turned daily. So I waited, astounded by this portent and soon before my wondering gaze, the moon was fortuitously removed leaving the stars remaining. After that, I earnestly watched the three stars until the noon hour came and their rays reflected one another in turn and one which seemed brighter than the others was unexpectedly withdrawn and the two openly poured out as much [light]. And then the same thing happened with the two: one of them was obscured or subtracted and only one remained in view which alone followed the path imitating the sun and shone with great brilliance and when it set in the west, great brightness was propagated on that side. And when at last it came to the final setting, so much brightness from its lamp was shed that it seemed to outshine the brightness of the sun. And this was therefore the order of the vision. After the death of King Clovis--for he soon will come to an end--this kingdom of the Franks will be left for some time to the queen and the three little boys. And after she will be removed from ruling, one of the three sons remaining will fall at last. And after no great time, one of the two will be deprived of the kingdom and the third will have the monarchy alone and will be magnified above all his affines and obtain the three kingdoms for his own. And so this vision will be consummated." Thus spoke Eligius. It remains for us to see whether these words will come true for they are now only partially completed. But we do not doubt that consideration of the preceding which has been fulfilled, points to fulfillment of the rest. For following his sentence, King Clovis died at peace within thirty days. Then his widowed queen with her boys obtained the reign for a few years. She was afterward removed by law and left the principate to her sons and, after a few years, the eldest born among them, who was seen to hold the most power, died one day after reigning peacefully and quietly and left his two surviving brothers. Now what will happen to them will only be decided by the judgment of God. Therefore this and similar other things which it would take too long to tell, were prophesied by Eligius.

33.

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But because through the changes of time, speech runs to an end and the pen moves toward his happy transit, it will be sufficient to describe some of the events of his life in order. For as I hope, though we produce words in a rustic style, whatever merits we are capable of narrating come from his virtues. So I think it worthy to record for the edification of the audience how he migrated from this life.

 

The Death of the holy and most blessed Eligius bishop and confessor.

34. In those days, after Eligius had borne all the burdens and labors of this world with equanimity, transacted all the administration of this temporary life, after so many works of mercy, after sweet examples, after freeing an innumerable flock of prisoners, after binding a copious multitude of monks and virgins to God in communities, after distributing an immense heap of his substance in alms, after the accumulated merits of dispensation of money to the believing faithful, he became elderly. Having passed seventy years of age full of good works, he felt his body approaching dissolution. One day he was walking with his disciples around the town of Noyon and by chance spied the basilica of St. M‚dard from a height. It was falling into ruin with crumbling and broken walls. Thus he ordered the workmen to be called to reinforce the weakness of the walls there with linen bandages. One of his disciples said, "We are waiting for an opportune time, lord, when it may be more easily and solidly fixed." And he answered, "Let it be this way, boy, seeing that if it is not fixed this way, it will not be corrected while I remain in my body." And at these words they shrank away and turned to sorrow, and began sighing together: "May it not happen, lord, that your servants see what you have said but may the lord permit your blessed presidency to flourish here for many more years as an ornament to his church and the poor." To this, directing supplicating eyes to the heavens, and drawing a long sigh from his breast, he said: "In this, is it not for our will but for the Lord's will to be done to me? For the condition of nature exacts that after the multiple pleasures of this life at last we shall approach pardon. But it comes to you and you cannot change the effect or oppose your will to the will of God in this, because beyond doubt the time is already fixed." And since all were sorrowful at these words, he said: "Don't be sad about all this boys, but be glad and rejoice with me because in the past I have desired this time, in the past after a long labor of life I have sought this harvest." Thus they were all cast into sorrow, nor was there much time for doubt to rule, after the conversation thus ended. For with little delay, his body began to sink beneath a fever. Then ever more certain that divine providence was bringing his death, he ordered all his servants and ministers to be gathered whom he had governing for a long, fleeting time. And he began to pass his last days publicly as he had always done, preaching to them always to keep peace with one another, considering themselves their brothers' keepers in charity, bound by the chains of love and unity. Then having summoned Baldred, abbot of the church of Tournai, he said to him: "I will not conceal something from you, brother, which I have certainly revealed before. I am making my way following the course of the fathers. I warn you against wanting to return to Tournai but rather be content to stay here with your brothers, living with them. For if you go there, ignoring my words, I know for certain that you will not return alive." And so it happened as he predicted after his death. For Baldred negligently disobeyed the warning. After the blessed man's death, he hastened to that town without hesitation and only a few days later, he was violently cut down and killed by a crowd rushing upon him. Now, as I began to say, when the blessed man lay in his last illness and his infirmity had continued for five or six days, he pretended that he could go on as always, walking about supported by a staff. Nor would he abandon the works of God, seeking good to the exhaustion of his strength, so that he retained even to the end what he had borne under the yoke through the long space of his life. All night long, with prayers and vigils he forced his weakening limbs to serve his spirit. Keeping in mind the memory of future bliss, he awaited the road to his desire with great joy. Meanwhile, on the Calends of December, when he felt the day of his completed salvation approaching, he gathered all his servants and disciples whom he was leaving as orphans, not in spirit but in body, and exhorted them:

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36.

----------------and this said, among these words he emitted his spirit. And suddenly at the first hour of the night a blinding brightness was seen, shining like a great beacon from that house and among the wondering watchers a fiery orb taking on the shape of the cross scattered the density of the clouds with its swift course to penetrate the heavens on high. So in this manner his holy soul was liberated from the pressure of the abject flesh which encased it and flew joyfully to its author. After long wandering here, to the rejoicing of heaven, the weeping of earth, and the applause of the angels, it arose at last rejoicing to [its] ancient estate. So all the love that the blessed man had among the people was clearly demonstrated in his death. Hardly had he exhaled his spirit and rendered the soul he owed to Christ than, as the messengers ran, weeping resounded through the whole town to heaven and all the streets were suddenly filled with noise and in the city everyone mourned this death as a common disaster. What more? When the composed body was carried to the church on its bier, as is customary, the people came for vigil, keeping watch in turns, the clergy with hymns and the people lamenting through the night.

37. So by dawn a multitude of both sexes had gathered in the town. Queen Balthild was there with her sons and a multitude of nobles who speedily entered the town and went to the funeral course, and broke into tears weeping and wailing that she had known him so little in life. And when she had wept for a long time lying with laments on his bier, she asked that preparations be made for her to carry the body of the blessed man to her monastery of Chelles. But when she tried to raise him nothing could prevail to move him from the spot and with sorrow she ordered that the church's triduum of fasts with psalling be celebrated. While that was done, she celebrrated that triduum in continuous vigil with her optimates and clerks persisting in their longing. When this was over, the venerable queen weeping uncontrollably, could in no way keep back her tears. And since she could in no way bear the absence of the holy man because of her excessive sorrow, at last, to satisfy her desire, she revealed his face kissing it sorrowfully and began to wet his hands and breast and drown his cheeks with a sea of tears. And behold! suddenly as she was stroking the holy body with kisses, a miracle occurred. For it was winter time and the corpse lay frozen until fortuitously a flood of blood flowed from this nose and began to moisten the holy one's cheeks. Seeing this, the bishops and the most Christian queen quickly placed a linen napkin there. Diligently, they collected the blood wherever it ran and the better to conserve the gift separated it into three pieces. Meanwhile, with the fast finished, the queen was determined, as we said, to move the body of the holy man to her monastery at Chelles. But others wanted to bring him to Paris and yet more insisted that the city of Noyon most justly deserved the legacy of her antistes' limbs. Thus altercation arose among them all with pious devotion alternating with holy rapine, about who most justly deserved the relics and the sepulchre. When the bishops and forestanders (praestantiores) who were of the queen's party prepared to bear him to her monastery a great roar and tumult rose among the whole people of Noyon. Then the queen, taking more prudent counsel and committing the cause to God said: "Now let these tortuous debates be discarded and we will test whether it is the Lord's will that this holy man be there where I desire. In that case, [the bier] may be raised without difficulty, or otherwise." And when she had spoken they went to the bier and attempted to raise it but felt so much weight depressing it that they could not move it from that spot. Then in turn others tried but none could prevail. Finally the queen, wishing to prove it for herself, stretched out and turned up her forearm and began to push trying to move a single corner of the bier. And when she had struck with all her strength radiating covetousness, [it was] like a giant mountain and she could accomplish nothing. Then turning to the optimates she said: "Behold! we must acknowledge that it is not his will that we take him away. Let us concede to this people what we still would not wish to accept." The counsel was acceptable and they all decreed with one voice that he should be buried in that city. And after that decision, when again they tried to lift the bier, they found it very light, carried easily by two people which before no number could move. What a miracle for the citizens! With the queen watching, they magnified the glory of the Lord saying: "Great and wonderful are your works, Lord" and "You are wonderful, God, in your saints."

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