The Northern Way

The Life of St. Eligius, 588-660

Book 2

38. So the corpse was brought to burial with all the city doing homage in tears. And the devout queen, though it was winter and very swampy, could in no way be persuaded that a vehicle and horses should be used but followed the bier on foot. With great labor, she went through the flood with continual lament with all his household. Oh how many tears of all, of monks and poor people, flowed together on that day echoing through all the streets. The chorus rendered psalms with sobbing voices, chants and weeping flocks resounded with sorrow through the air; all the people of the town quaked with tears and the highest peak of Olympus was filled with plangency. The rhythms of the antiphons rang in the choir and the sorrow of Noyon sounded in heaven. Every path gave forth the funeral chants, dire ululations filling every abode and the wailing of the people poured out over the entire globe. "AND THEY FILLED WAVES OF TEARS WITH GOLDEN VOICES." What pomp the extinct pastor emanated all around! What crowds brought the body to the tomb, here preceded by the chanting choir, there with the flocks of the people in continued wailing! They complained that they had lost their father and nurse and quaking with sobbing they could barely get out the words: "To whom, good pastor, will you commit the service of your people, or to whom will you entrust the pastoral care of your flock? Oh Eligius, you sweetener of the poor, strength of the weak, protector, comforter without peer! Who after you will give such great alms, who will be our protector, as you were, good pastor? Would it not be sweeter to die with you today than to live on without your presence?" In this way they proceeded to the grave, giving cries with all their voices mixed to the heavens so that it was not easy among so many tearful voices to separate the accents of the chant, the psalling of the clergy or the ululations of the people. For on that day who could be so heartless that, hearing the laments of the poor, he would not burst into tears himself? Or who could discern the vociferations of all the people and remain so merciless as not to begin roaring himself? Who had so iron and stolid a stomach that, when he saw the weeping queen with the princes, he would not immediately break down into lamenting? Who now could record with dry eyes how he was brought to the sepulchre with such ardor of desire, such movement of love, such impulse of sorrow? The bier was held back, drawn away by the people to the rear so that for a moment the corpse might remain in the open and they might satisfy their desire. For they kept causing all these delays to keep the body from being enclosed in the sepulchre because no one could bear his absence. But finally the strength of the people ebbed and as I have said, rapt from strong to stronger, it was released to the bishops who had advanced to the sepulchre. And so the stone opened and it was kept with great honor, and with all surrounding the tomb he lay in glory. Thus while the venerable queen with the people buried him the prelates adoring his limbs, she returned to her own fasting, her tears preventing her from taking food until she had fulfilled the three days of mourning.

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This is enough for us to say about the death of the holy man. Otherwise we shall bore our readers. I had judged that, with the end of his life, our words should also end but the unwearying Lord did so many miracles through the holy body that I am impelled to go on talking. Therefore I shall take the opportunity to extend the reading and show some in this present book.

39. After the blessed man migrated from this world and his body was brought to the sepulchre, there happened to remain in the place where he had lain a gross garment of goat's hair from the bishop which evidently should have had a place of honor on the bier. When everyone went out, a deacon named Uffo, Suevi by race, pushed by his aroused greed, secretly stole it and hid in his bed under the covers. When the body was brought to the sepulchre, as is the tradition, and the ministers had rendered the services and realized that it was missing, they were horrified and began to seek it everywhere. Hurrying here and there, searching for a long time, they found no sign of what they had lost and unheard of disturbances arose among the servants because of it. But when night came and sleep advanced, they all went to bed as usual. Suddenly the holy man appeared in a vision to a certain abbot named Sparvus, and with soft speech told him where the thief had hidden the stolen item. When daylight returned to earth the next day, Sparvus called two trustworthy brothers to him and exposed the order of his vision. Rising, they hastened to the place and when they had searched diligently they immediately found the stolen item where the holy man had indicated. And soon they scolded the deacon with harsh words but did not punish him with whips because they followed the orders of saint Eligius. But from this event, to the day of his death, he began to fear and venerate him greatly which they showed from day to day.

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41. A little while after his death, the blessed man appeared in a shining costume in a night vision to a certain person living in the royal palace whom he ordered to go without delay to Queen Balthild and warn her that in reverence for Christ she should not regret removing the insignia ornamented with gold and gems which she still used in her dress. When his order was not carried out, he appeared again and on the second night made the same warning. But when the recipient still shrank from relating the vision to the queen, he appeared a third time with very threatening manner and ordered him to go to the queen or he would be sorry. And the next day he was felled by fever. The queen came to visit the sick man and asked the cause of his illness. Then, with the opportunity presented, the invalid opened his secret heart and gave the queen the indicated order and told her the whole content of the visions. Without delay as he told the tale, the fever receded and he was restored to health. And the queen, never doubting the admonitions of the confessor, immediately stripped the ornaments from herself keeping nothing except gold bracelets. And all were dispersed in alms being stronger in the work of the cross. And she ordered that those which appeared to have the most elegance should be used to steady the head of saint Eligius. Moreover, she ordered a golden cover to be fabricated which should be placed above the limbs of the confessor. In this work a great weight of gold and gems in pins and different things were used which are hardly worth the many words to enumerate.

42. All this being done, it was the custom that during Lent the splendor of the gold and brightness of gems on the tomb should be veiled with linen urbanely embroidered with silk. So they entered as Lent began and hid the radiant weight of the metal during the penitential days. But several days later, while many people were standing around the tomb, an unheard of miracle occurred. For suddenly the linen which wrapped the tomb began to sweat and then it smoked and it was drenched in a flood of dew. And the bystanders were overwhelmed with awe and waited to see what the generosity of Christ would produce. When they saw the linen was soaked, it occurred to the highest of the council of elders that if they took it from the tomb and collected the liquid in a vessel, some of it might be saved as a medicine and so it was done. And soon bearing [the linen] from the precincts they wrung the liquid into a copper vessel and from it many sick people who were there were healed. And so abundant was this sweat that even the urbane embroidery was colored and from the excessive infusion of dew gave up its color and faded into the linen. So I perceive this to be like to the work of Gideon. For he received a sign of dew in the wool of the sheep which was infused. Here a great infusion of divine virtue was conferred for the cure of the sick. There the dew from the sheep filled a conch shell and here the linen acted as a conch with holy liquor extracted to the measure of two sextares.

43. At that time, a terrible plague devastated many of the cities of Frankland. We thought that the liquor might be a cure from a watchful divinity so that if an invalid who appeared to be in danger of death could obtain that medicine soon, he might healed with all evil repelled. At that period, there was a certain count of the city of Th‚rouanne named Ingomar, an exceptionally rich and powerful man. Greatly fearing the devastating plague all around and hearing about the miracles done, he gave Eligius the first place in his deepest heart. And from the greatest faith he asked to be given some of the liquor, pledging and vowing that if that same antistes should persuade the Lord not to allow that raging sickness to penetrate his estates, he would delegate him a tenth of all he had on hand on that day and give a major farm to his church. So going to his estates, he had all of the inhabitants called and with vows and devotion to touch the liquor. And so it happened that as the plague raged all around the province, none of them who pertained to him sensed the least discomfort. After this the rejoicing man separated a tenth of everything from his preserved subjects and, as he had pledged, conferred it with thanks and devotion on the church of Saint Eligius. Indeed so copious was that tenth that a tenth part of the whole became a hundred souls to the part of blessed Eligius, and still [there were] a great many as well as cattle.

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47. When the blessed man was still alive he kept one horse, who was gentler than most, which he rode when necessity demanded it. After his death, the horse came into the possession of the abbot who presided over the same basilica. Mummolenus the greedy bishop of that same place, violently took it from that apostolic man and vindicated his right. The abbot not daring to try to obtain it, hastened to Saint Eligius with much weeping and commended the cause to him. So when the aforesaid horse was led into the bishop's possession, he began to have a sickness of the feet and his whole body withering, wasted into decay. Then the bishop got a mule doctor and ordered him to make an effort to cure him. But although he tried hard, he could make no progress. Indeed whenever he approached, it became like a wild beast roaring and kicking, seeking to kill its healer. And when for several days he had tried and could in no way improve things, at last the bishop saw that if the remained in this condition he should lose him totally. So he offered him as a gift of thanks to a certain matron whom he loved. She took him and diligently strove for a cure. One day she took the road riding on his back and he began to rage kicking and bellowing and threw her heavily to earth so badly hurt that for a year she shook with fever. When it was clear to that woman that she was violently sick, she sent back to the bishop who had given her the horse reproaching him that he sent her exacerbation for a gift and thank you. Having gotten him back the bishop ordered that he be cared for but all his diligence was consumed in vain and the more care he was given the worse he got. Then a certain religious priest saw how things were and advised the bishop that since nothing about the horse could profit him he should return him to the abbot from whom he had unjustly taken him. And when it was done following this advice, after a few days the horse was healed and regained his gentleness and remained well behaved in every way in the abbot's hands.

48. With all this happening while the bishop was buried at the side of the altar, it seemed to the bishop as well as to the queen and her council that with a vault built above the altar, they should make a fitting translation of his body. And when the idea had been conceived, they went there and disposed themselves properly. Suddenly, a threatening crack appeared in the wall around the window like an arch in the rotunda so that it seemed to be made liquid. At God's nod, they saw that the crack clearly outlined what they intended and that they should break through the broken place. Everyone seeing this with great wonder, understood it was the will of the Savior for the merits of the antistes. So they acted with confidence to pierce the walls in that place so that the work could be perfected. Spontaneously, without their labor, the break opened so that no person or the tomb itself which lay nearby was in any way hurt in the falling ruin. So with the antistes himself presiding, the determined work went forward and they constructed a mausoleum worthy of the blessed confessor. Meanwhile as the day of his deposition approached the citizens prepared for his anniversary to make a translation honorific in every way. The queen prepared vestments all embroidered with the most precious silks so that on the day of transmigration he would be extracted from the humble garments and dressed in those prepared anew. And when the day of his deposition came, a great multitude of people gathered in the town. Then all the clerks of the canonry with voices celebrating the melody, and all Christians assisting, the confessor's limbs were raised from the tomb carefully. And just as he was raised from the open tomb, a great miracle was seen by all the bystanders. For when the holy body was uncovered a wonderful aroma wafted forth. And it was seen that he was solid and uncorrupted with no diminution of his limbs so that he seemed to be alive in the tomb and what is still more wonderful his beard and hair which had been shaved according to custom had grown in the tomb so that everyone was stupefied by the miraculous thing. Then the trembling bishop raised him from the tomb and changed all his clothing for the wonderful vestments which the queen had prepared. Then he was recovered and deposed again with great care under a seal. And all the time the chorus was psalling and cymbals clashing and the sweet tones of the organ made modulations as the holy man was moved from the place where he had lain and deposed with the greatest care and in the urbane sepulchre prepared for him composed as was proper conserving eternal memory and ever more honored each day. And after this miracles multiplied which you may hear if you open your ears.

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50. Among other miracles which were worked there with divine grace, the light which hung at the head of the holy man was half empty one day when a sudden inundation filled it and it suddenly gave forth a divine light and burned the whole and overflowed. And the Lord demonstrated the merits of the blessed man by a miracle using that same light. For while he was still in his body, a certain count of Vermandois named Garifred had offended against him and when blessed Eligius migrated from the body he had not yet made atonement among his men. After a long interval, negligently forgetting that atonement, he came at last to adore at the holy sepulchre, where the light was burning as usual at the confessor's head. When he crossed the threshold, the light suddenly went out of the candelabrum. Along with his companions, he prayed, trembling and pale. And when they were leaving the church after the prayer, the divine light immediately returned, and the candles put forth their usual brilliance. Just as the man was about to mount his horse, one of his servants who was left behind in the basilica told him the whole thing in order as he had witnessed it. As he listened, sorrow moved him and his secret conscience began to whisper that he was guilty which had been shown by this portent. And when he deprehended his guilt, remembering what he owed to the holy man he returned immediately and went back to the basilica. As soon as he set foot on the floor, the light was put out of the candelabrum and it was seen to hang extinguished. Then seeing it publicly, he was seized with fear and prostrated himself with laments and great groaning before the holy sepulchre. Atoning for his long guilt he began to shed tears for his crime, calling himself a unworthy and unhappy one because of whose fault the candelabrum in this sacred place hung extinguished. And when he had remained there for a long time weeping and wailing, he proclaimed in a loud voice that he would die there if the lamp were not rekindled. At last, his satisfaction was accepted and the Divinity restored the light of the candelabrum which it had removed. Then he, ever so little refreshed, swiftly ordered his servant to bring immediately a vessel filled with silver which he took and offered as a gift of peace to the confessor of Christ. He laid it near his tomb promising to confer not a few of his belongings on the basilica, as much as the guilt just now ended that he had admitted to the holy man. So at last adoring and glorifying the power of the Savior, with the light shining brightly from the candelabrum, he left that place joyously.

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