Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Remigius, Archbishop of Rheims, Confessor

Article

A.D. 533

Saint Remigius, the great apostle of the French nation, was one of the brightest lights of the Gaulish church, illustrious for his learning, eloquence, sanctity, and miracles. An episcopacy of seventy years, and many great actions have rendered his name famous in the annals of the church. His very birth was wonderful, and his life was almost a continued miracle of divine grace. His father Emilius, and his mother Cilinia, both descended of noble Gaulish families, enjoyed an affluent fortune, lived in splendour suitable to their rank at the castle of Laon, and devoted themselves to the exercise of all Christian virtues. Saint Remigius seems to have been born in the year 439. He had two brothers older than himself, Principius, bishop of Soissons, and another whose name is not known, but who was father of Saint Lupus, who was afterwards one of his uncle’s successors in the episcopal see of Soissons. A hermit named Montanus foretold the birth of our saint to his mother; and the pious parents had a special care of his education, looked upon him as a child blessed by heaven, and were careful to put him into the best hands.

His nurse Balsamia is reckoned among the saints, and is honoured at Rheims in a collegiate church which bears her name. She had a son called Celsin, who was afterwards a disciple of our saint, and is known at Laon by the name of Saint Soussin. Saint Remigius had an excellent genius, made great progress in learning, and in the opinion of Saint Apollinaris Sidonius, who was acquainted with him in the earlier part of his life, he became the most eloquent person in that age. He was remarkable from his youth for his extraordinary devotion and piety, and for the severity of his morals. A secret apartment in which he spent a great part of his time in close retirement, in the castle of Laon, whilst he lived there, was standing in the ninth century, and was visited with devout veneration when Hincmar wrote. Our saint, earnestly thirsting after greater solitude, and the means of a more sublime perfection, left his father’s house, and made choice of a retired abode, where, having only God for witness, he abandoned himself to the fervour of his zeal in fasting, watching, and prayer. The episcopal see of Rheims becoming vacant by the death of Bennagius, Remigius, though only twenty-two years of age, was compelled, notwithstanding his extreme reluctance, to take upon him that important charge; his extraordinary abilities seeming to the bishops of the province a sufficient reason for dispensing with the canons in point of age. In this new dignity, prayer, meditation on the holy scriptures, the instruction of the people, and the conversion of infidels, heretics, and sinners were the constant employment of the holy pastor. Such was the fire and unction with which he announced the divine oracles to all ranks of men, that he was called by many a second Saint Paul. Saint Apollinaris Sidonius was not able to find terms to express his admiration of the ardent charity and purity with which this zealous bishop offered at the altar an incense of sweet odour to God, and of the zeal with which by his words he powerfully subdued the wildest hearts, and brought them under the yoke of virtue, inspiring the lustful with the love of purity, and moving hardened sinners to bewail their offences with tears of sincere compunction. The same author, who, for his eloquence and piety was one of the greatest lights of the church in that age, testifies, that he procured copies of the sermons of this admirable bishop, which he esteemed an invaluable treasure; and says that in them he admired the loftiness of the thoughts, the judicious choice of the epithets, the gracefulness and propriety of the figures, and the justness, strength, and closeness of the reasoning, which he compares to the vehemence of thunder; the words flowed like a gentle river, but every part in each discourse was so naturally connected, and the style so even and smooth, that the whole carried with it an irresistible force. The delicacy and beauty of the thoughts and expression were at the same time enchanting, this being so smooth, that it might be compared to the smoothest ice or crystal upon which a nail runs without meeting with the least rub or unevenness. Another main excellency of these sermons consisted in the sublimity of the divine maxims which they contained, and the unction and sincere piety with which they were delivered; but the holy bishop’s sermons and zealous labours derived their greatest force from the sanctity of his life, which was supported by an extraordinary gift of miracles. Thus was Saint Remigius qualified and prepared by God to be made the apostle of a great nation.

The Gauls, who had formerly extended their conquests by large colonies in Asia, had subdued a great part of Italy, and brought Rome itself to the very brink of utter destruction, were at length reduced under the Roman yoke by Julius Cæsar, fifty years before the Christian era. It was the custom of those proud conquerors, as Saint Austin observes, to impose the law of their own language upon the nations which they subdued. After Gaul had been for the space of about five hundred years one of the richest and most powerful provinces of the Roman empire, it fell into the hands of the French; but these new masters, far from extirpating or expelling the old Roman or Gaulish inhabitants, became, by a coalition with them, one people and took up their language and manners. Clovis, at his accession to the crown, was only fifteen years old: he became the greatest conqueror of his age, and is justly styled the founder of the French monarchy. Even whilst he was a pagan he treated the Christians, especially the bishops, very well, spared the churches, and honoured holy men, particularly Saint Remigius, to whom he caused one of the vessels of his church, which a soldier had taken away, to be returned, and because the man made some demur, slew him with his own hand. Saint Clotildis, whom he married in 493, earnestly endeavoured to persuade him to embrace the faith of Christ. The first fruit of their marriage was a son, who, by the mother’s procurement, was baptized, and called Ingomer. This child died during the time of his wearing the white habit, within the first week after his baptism. Clovis harshly reproached Clotildis, and said: “If he had been consecrated in the name of my gods, he had not died; but having been baptized in the name of yours, he could not live.”

The queen answered: “I thank God, who has thought me worthy of bearing a child whom he has called to his kingdom.” She had afterwards another son, whom she procured to be baptized, and who was named Chlodomir.

He also fell sick, and the king said in great anger: “It could not be otherwise: he will die presently in the same manner his brother did, having been baptized in the name of your Christ.”

God was pleased to put the good queen to this trial; but by her prayers this child recovered. She never ceased to exhort the king to forsake his idols, and to acknowledge the true God; but he held out a long time against all her arguments, till, on the following occasion, God was pleased wonderfully to bring him to the confession of his holy name, and to dissipate that fear of the world which chiefly held him back so long, he being apprehensive lest his pagan subjects should take umbrage at such a change.

The Suevi and Alemanni in Germany assembled a numerous and valiant army, and under the command of several kings, passed the Rhine, hoping to dislodge their countrymen the Franks, and obtain for themselves the glorious spoils of the Roman empire in Gaul. Clovis marched to meet them near his frontiers, and one of the fiercest battles recorded in history was fought at Tolbiac. Some think that the situation of these German nations, the shortness of the march of Clovis, and the route which he took, point out the place of this battle to have been somewhere in Upper Alsace. 11 But most modern historians agree that Tolbiac is the present Zulpich, situated in the duchy of Juliers, four leagues from Cologne, between the Meuse and the Rhine; and this is demonstrated by the judicious and learned d’Anville. In this engagement the king had given the command of the infantry to his cousin Sigebert, fighting himself at the head of the cavalry. The shock of the enemy was so terrible, that Sigebert was in a short time carried wounded out of the field, and the infantry was entirely routed, and put to flight. Clovis saw the whole weight of the battle falling on his cavalry; yet stood his ground, fighting himself like a lion, covered with blood and dust: and encouraging his men to exert their utmost strength, he performed with them wonderful exploits of valour. Notwithstanding these efforts, they were at length borne down, and began to flee and disperse themselves; nor could they be rallied by the commands and entreaties of their king, who saw the battle upon which his empire depended, quite desperate. Clotildis had said to him in taking leave: “My lord, you are going to conquest; but in order to be victorious, invoke the God of the Christians: he is the sole Lord of the universe, and is styled the God of armies. If you address yourself to him with confidence, nothing can resist you. Though your enemies were a hundred against one, you would triumph over them.” The king called to mind these her words in his present extremity, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, said, with tears: “O Christ, whom Clotildas invokes as Son of the living God, I implore thy succour. I have called upon my gods, and find they have no power. I therefore invoke thee; I believe in thee. Deliver me from my enemies, and I will be baptized in thy name.” No sooner had he made this prayer than his scattered cavalry began to rally about his person; the battle was renewed with fresh vigour, and the chief king and generalissimo of the enemy being slain, the whole army threw down their arms, and begged for quarter. Clovis granted them their lives and liberty upon condition that the country of the Suevi in Germany should pay him an annual tribute. He seems to have also subdued and imposed the same yoke upon the Boioarians or Bavarians; for his successors gave that people their first princes or dukes, as F. Daniel shows at large. This miraculous victory was gained in the fifteenth year of his reign, of Christ 496.

Clovis, from that memorable day, thought of nothing but of preparing himself for the holy laver of regeneration. In his return from this expedition he passed by Toul, and there took with him Saint Vedast, a holy priest who led a retired life in that city, that he might be instructed by him in the faith during his journey; so impatient was he to fulfil his vow of becoming a Christian, that the least wilful delay appeared to him criminal. The queen, upon this news, sent privately to Saint Remigius to come to her, and went with him herself to meet the king in Champagne. Clovis no sooner saw her, but he cried out to her: “Clovis has vanquished the Alemanni, and you have triumphed over Clovis. The business you have so much at heart is done; my baptism can be no longer delayed.” The queen answered: “To the God of hosts is the glory of both these triumphs due.” She encouraged him forthwith to accomplish his vow, and presented to him Saint Remigius as the most holy bishop in his dominions. This great prelate continued his instruction, and prepared him for baptism by the usual practices of fasting, penance, and prayer. Clovis suggested to him that he apprehended the people who obeyed him would not be willing to forsake their gods, but said he would speak to them according to his instructions. He assembled the chiefs of his nation for this purpose; but they prevented his speaking, and cried out with a loud voice: “My lord, we abandon mortal gods, and are ready to follow the immortal God, whom Remigius teaches.” Saint Remigius and Saint Vedast therefore instructed and prepared them for baptism. Many bishops repaired to Rheims for this solemnity, which they judged proper to perform on Christmas-day, rather than to defer it till Easter. The king set the rest an example of compunction and devotion, laying aside his purple and crown, and, covered with ashes, imploring night and day the divine mercy. To give an external pomp to this sacred action, in order to strike the senses of a barbarous people, and impress a sensible awe and respect upon their minds, the good queen took care that the streets from the palace to the great church should be adorned with rich hangings, and that the church and baptistery should be lighted up with a great number of perfumed wax tapers, and scented with exquisite odours. The catechumens marched in procession, carrying crosses, and singing the Litany. Saint Remigius conducted the king by the hand, followed by the queen and the people. Coming near the sacred font, the holy bishop, who had with great application softened the heart of this proud barbarian conqueror into sentiments of Christian meekness and humility, said to him: “Bow down your neck with meekness, great Sicambrian prince: adore what you have hitherto burnt; and burn what you have hitherto adored.” Words which may be emphatically addressed to every penitent, to express the change of his heart and conduct, in renouncing the idols of his passions, and putting on the spirit of sincere Christian piety and humility. The king was baptized by Saint Remigius on Christmas-day, as Saint Avitus assures us. Saint Remigius afterwards baptized Albofleda, the king’s sister, and three thousand persons of his army, that is, of the Franks, who were yet only a body of troops dispersed among the Gauls. Albofleda died soon after, and the king being extremely afflicted at her loss, Saint Remigius wrote him a letter of consolation, representing to him the happiness of such a death in the grace of baptism, by which we ought to believe she had received the crown of virgins. Lantilda, another sister of Clovis, who had fallen into the Arian heresy, was reconciled to the Catholic faith, and received the unction of the holy chrism, that is, says Fleury, confirmation; though some think it only a rite used in the reconciliation of certain heretics. The king, after his baptism, bestowed many lands on Saint Remigius, who distributed them to several churches, as he did the donations of several others among the Franks, lest they should imagine he had attempted their conversion out of interest. He gave a considerable part to Saint Mary’s church at Laon, where he had been brought up; and established Genebald, a nobleman skilled in profane and divine learning, first bishop of that see. He had married a niece of Saint Remigius, but was separated from her to devote himself to the practices of piety. Such was the original of the bishopric of Laon, which before was part of the diocess of Rheims. Saint Remigius also constituted Theodore bishop of Tournay in 487. Saint Vedast, bishop of Arras in 498, and of Cambray in 510. He sent Antimund to preach the faith to the Morini, and to found the church of Terouenne. Clovis built churches in many places, conferred upon them great riches, and by an edict invited all his subjects to embrace the Christian faith. Saint Avitus, bishop of Vienne, wrote to him a letter of congratulation, upon his baptism, and exhorts him to send ambassadors to the remotest German nations beyond the Rhine, to solicit them to open their hearts to the faith.

When Clovis was preparing to march against Alaric, in 506, Saint Remigius sent him a letter of advice how he ought to govern his people so as to draw down upon himself the divine blessings. “Choose,” said he, “wise counsellors, who will be an honour to your reign. Respect the clergy. Be the father and protector of your people; let it be your study to lighten as much as possible all the burdens which the necessities of the state may oblige them to bear: comfort and relieve the poor; feed the orphans; protect widows; suffer no extortion. Let the gate of your palace be open to all, that every one may have recourse to you for justice: employ your great revenues in redeeming captives,” etc. Clovis after his victories over the Visigoths, and the conquest of Toulouse, their capital in Gaul, sent a circular letter to all the bishops in his dominions, in which he allowed them to give liberty to any of the captives he had taken, but desired them only to make use of this privilege in favour of persons of whom they had some knowledge. Upon the news of these victories of Clovis over the Visigoths, Anastatius, the eastern emperor, to court his alliance against the Goths, who had principally concurred to the extinction of the western empire, sent him the ornaments and titles of Patrician, Consul, and Augustus: from which time he was habited in purple, and styled himself Augustus. This great conqueror invaded Burgundy to compel King Gondebald to allow a dower to his queen, and to revenge the murder of her father and uncle; but was satisfied with the yearly tribute which the tyrant promised to pay him. The perfidious Arian afterwards murdered his third brother; whereupon Clovis again attacked and vanquished him; but at the entreaty of Clotildis, suffered him to reign tributary to him, and allowed his son Sigismund to ascend the throne after his death. Under the protection of this great monarch Saint Remigius wonderfully propagated the gospel of Christ by the conversion of a great part of the French nation; in which work God endowed him with an extraordinary gift of miracles, as we are assured not only by Hincmar, Flodoard, and all other historians who have mentioned him, but also by other incontestable monuments and authorities. Not to mention his Testament, in which mention is made of his miracles, the bishops who were assembled in the celebrated conference that was held at Lyons against the Arians in his time, declared they were stirred up to exert their zeal in defence of the Catholic faith by the example of Remigius, “Who,” say they, “hath every where destroyed the altars of the idols by a multitude of miracles and signs.” The chief among these prelates were Stephen bishop of Lyons, Saint Avitus of Vienne, his brother Apollinaris of Valence, and Eonius of Arles. They all went to wait upon Gondebald, the Arian king of the Burgundians, who was at Savigny, and entreated him to command his Arian bishops to hold a public conference with them. When he showed much unwillingness they all prostrated themselves before him, and wept bitterly. The king was sensibly affected at the sight, and kindly raising them up, promised to give them an answer soon after. They went back to Lyons, and the king returning thither the next day, told them their desire was granted. It was the eve of Saint Justus, and the Catholic bishops passed the whole night in the church of that saint in devout prayer; the next day, at the hour appointed by the king, they repaired to his palace, and, before him and many of his senators, entered upon the disputation, Saint Avitus speaking for the Catholics, and one Boniface for the Arians. The latter answered only by clamours and injurious language, treating the Catholics as worshippers of three Gods. The issue of a second meeting, some days after, was the same with that of the first: and many Arians were converted. Gondebald himself, sometime after, acknowledged to Saint Avitus, that he believed the Son and the Holy Ghost to be equal to the Father, and desired him to give him privately the unction of the holy chrism. Saint Avitus said to him, “Our Lord declares, Whoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father. You are a king, and have no persecution to fear, as the apostles had. You fear a sedition among the people, but ought not to cherish such a weakness. God does not love him, who, for an earthly kingdom, dares not confess him before the world.” The king knew not what to answer; but never had the courage to make a public profession of the Catholic faith. Saint Remigius by his zealous endeavours promoted the Catholic interest in Burgundy, and entirely crushed both idolatry and the Arian heresy in the French dominions. In a synod he converted, in his old age, an Arian bishop who came thither to dispute against him. King Clovis died in 511. Saint Remigius survived him many years, and died in the joint reign of his four sons, on the 13th of January in the year 533, according to Rivet, and in the ninety-fourth year of his age, having been bishop above seventy years. The age before the irruption of the Franks had been of all others the most fruitful in great and learned men in Gaul; but studies were there at the lowest ebb from the time of Saint Remigius’s death, till they were revived in the reign of Charlemagne. The body of this holy archbishop was buried in Saint Christopher’s church at Rheims, and found incorrupt when it was taken up by Archbishop Hincmar in 852. Pope Leo IX, during a council which he held at Rheims in 1049, translated it into the church of the Benedictin abbey, which bears his name in that city, on the 1st of October, on which day, in memory of this and other translations, he appointed his festival to be celebrated, which, in Florus and other calendars, was before marked on the 13th of January. In 1646 this saint’s body was again visited by the archbishop with many honourable witnesses, and found incorrupt and whole in all its parts; but the skin was dried, and stuck to the winding-sheet, as it was described by Hinckmar above eight hundred years before. It is now above twelve hundred years since his death.

Care, watchings, and labours were sweet to this good pastor, for the sake of souls redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Knowing what pains our Redeemer took, and how much he suffered for sinners, during the whole course of his mortal life, and how tenderly his divine heart is ever open to them, this faithful minister was never weary in preaching, exhorting, mourning, and praying for those that were committed to his charge. In imitation of the good shepherd and prince of pastors, he was always ready to lay down his life for their safety: he bore them all in his heart, and watched over them, always trembling lest any among them should perish, especially through his neglect: for he considered with what indefatigable rage the wolf watched continually to devour them. As all human endeavours are too weak to discover the wiles, and repulse the assaults of the enemy, without the divine light and strength, this succour he studied to obtain by humble supplications; and when he was not taken up in external service for his flock, he secretly poured forth his soul in devout prayer before God for himself and them.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Remigius, Archbishop of Rheims, Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 1 October 2013. Web. 11 July 2014. <>