Saint Clotilda

Saint Clotilda

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June 3

Today is the feast day of Saint Clotilda.  Ora pro nobis.

Clotilda was born probably at Lyons, c. 474.  She was the daughter of Caretena and Chilperic, the Catholic King of Burgundy, domain of the Germanic tribe which had entered the southeastern region of ancient France in the fifth century; Chilperic had succeeded his father in that royalty. 

After the death of King Gundovic (Gundioch), the Kingdom of Burgundy had been divided among his four sons, Chilperic reigning at Lyons, Gondebad at Vienne, and Godegisil at Geneva; Gondemar's capital is not mentioned. Chilperic and probably Godegisil were Catholics, while Gondebad professed Arianism. Clotilda was given a religious training by her mother Caretena, who, according to Sidonius Apollinaris and Fortunatus of Poitiers, was a remarkable woman. After the death of Chilperic, Caretena seems to have made her home with Godegisil at Geneva, where her other daughter, Sedeleuba, or Chrona, founded the church of Saint-Victor, and took the religious habit.

Clotilda's almsgiving at the portico of a church was well known, however, and provided an opportunity for an ambassador of Clovis to present the king's suit, thereby giving to Christian France a history not less captivating than the Old Testament history of Abraham's trusted servant's mission to Mesopotamia to obtain a wife for Isaac. The messenger went to her there with the king's request, and offered her a ring as his pledge; she accepted, and left her own with the envoy in exchange. Thus Clovis I, victorious king of the Franks, gained his suit; the reservation was made by Clotilda, however, that she could only marry a Christian. The ambassador from Clovis, a Roman nobleman in his service, then presented to her uncle the demand that the fiancee of his master be delivered to him to be taken to Clovis. For fear of a war, her uncle consented. In this way did prayer obtain for the young king, not yet Christian but who was the hope of the oppressed Catholics, the Queen destined to become the spiritual mother of the Catholic kingdom of France.

Clovis' fear of giving offense to his people made him delay his conversion. Nonetheless, Saint Clotilda honored her royal husband, studied to sweeten his warlike temper by Christian gentleness, and conformed herself to his humor in matters which were indifferent. And the better to gain his affections, she made whatever she knew most pleased him, the subject of her conversation and interest. When she saw she had won his heart, she did not defer the great work of endeavoring to win him to God.

She availed herself to exhort him to embrace the Catholic Faith. For a long time her efforts were fruitless, though the king permitted the baptism of Ingomir, their first son. The child died in his infancy which seemed to give Clovis an argument against the God of Clotilda, but notwithstanding this, the young queen again obtained the consent of her husband to the baptism of their second son, Clodomir. Thus the future of Catholicism was already assured in the Frankish Kingdom. Clovis himself was soon afterwards converted under highly dramatic circumstances, and was baptized at Reims by St. Remigius, in 496 (see CLOVIS). Thus Clotildas accomplished the mission assigned her by Providence; she was made the instrument in the conversion of a great people, who were to be for centuries the leaders of Catholic civilization.

Clotilda bore Clovis five children: four sons, Ingomir, who died in infancy, and Kings Clodomir, Childebert, and Clotaire, and one daughter, named Clotilda after her mother. Little more is known of Queen Clotilda during the lifetime of husband, but it may be conjectured that she interceded with him, at the time of his intervention in the quarrel between the Burgundian kings, to win him to the cause of Godegisil as against Gondebad. The moderation displayed by Clovis in this struggle, in which, though victor, he did not seek to turn the victory to his own advantage, as well as the alliance which he afterwards concluded with Gondebad, were doubtless due to the influence of Clotilda, who must have viewed the fratricidal struggle with horror.

Clovis died at Paris in 511, and Clotilda had him interred on what was then Mons Lucotetius, in the church of the Apostles (later Sainte-Geneviève), which they had built together to serve as a mausoleum, and which Clotilda was left to complete. The widowhood of this noble woman was saddened by cruel trials. Her son Clodomir, son-in-law of Gondebad, made war against his cousin Sigismund, who had succeeded Gondebad on the throne of Burgundy, captured him, and put him to death with his wife and children at Coulmiers, near Orléans. According to the popular epic of the Franks, he was incited to this war by Clotilda, who thought to avenge upon Sigismund the murder of her parents; but, as has already been seen Clotilda had nothing to avenge, and, on the contrary, it was probably she who arranged the alliance between Clovis and Gondebad.

Here the legend is at variance with the truth, cruelly defaming the memory of Clotilda, who had the sorrow of seeing Clodomir perish in his unholy war on the Burgundians; he was vanquished and slain in the battle of Veseruntia (Vezeronce), in 524, by Godomar, brother of Sigismund. Clotilda took under her care his three sons of tender age, Theodoald, Gunther, and Clodoald. Childebert and Clotaire, however, who had divided between them the inheritance of their elder brother, did not wish the children to live, to whom later on they would have to render an account. By means of a ruse they withdrew the children from the watchful care of their mother and slew the two eldest, the third escaped and entered a cloister, to which he gave his name (Saint-Cloud, near Paris).

The life of Saint Clotilda, the principal episodes of which, both legendary and historic, are found scattered throughout the chronicle of St. Gregory of Tours was written in the tenth century, by an anonymous author, who gathered his facts principally from this source. At an early period she was venerated by the Church as a saint, and while popular contemporary poetry disfigures her noble personality by making her a type of a savage fury, Clotilda has now entered into the possession of a pure and untarnished fame, which no legend will be able to obscure.

Image: Clotilde and her sons, Grandes Chroniques de Saint-Denis (6)

Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff




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