Today is the feast day of Saint Remigius. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Remi or Remigius was born in the middle of the fifth century, of noble and pious parents. His father was Emile, Count of Laon. His mother, Saint Celine, had borne two other sons before him; the eldest, Saint Principius, became the twelfth bishop of Soissons, and the second was the father of Saint Lupus, thirteenth bishop of the same see.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
St. Remigius, descended from a noble family of France, was, in his time, one of the most learned and holy prelates of the church. His parents were Aemilius, Lord of Laon, and St. Cilinia. After two sons had been born to them, they remained for a long time without any other issue, and had given up all hope of seeing their family increased. Montanus, a saintly hermit, who one day visited the castle in which they lived, informed them, by divine revelation, that they would receive a son who, chosen by God, was to illumine all France with his piety and virtues. The prophecy of Montanus became true: Remigius was born, and the pious parents, who regarded him as an especial gift of heaven, left nothing undone to give him a most holy education. In this task they found no difficulty, as Remigius was naturally inclined to all that was good, while he detested the very shadow of evil.
Having finished his studies, he went into the desert, in order that, far from all danger, he might more fervently serve God. The holy life he there led, made him so famous, that, on the death of the Archbishop of Rheims, he was unanimously chosen his successor. Although the Saint most earnestly refused the honor, he had to consent, as heaven itself had confirmed the choice by a ray of light with which his head was surrounded in the presence of a multitude of people. The first care of the Saint, when he had entered upon his new functions, was to abolish several abuses which were spreading; to exterminate vice and to foster virtue. He therefore visited every town, village and hamlet of his diocese, and preached almost daily with great zeal and energy. He took the utmost pains to deter his flock from the horrible vice of unchastity, as he believed and publicly maintained that on account of this crime very few grown persons went to heaven. The beautiful example of virtue which he gave in his own life, imparted force to his admonitions, and converted a great many hardened sinners. The gift of miracles, which God had bestowed upon His faithful servant assisted him greatly in his labors. It is well known that he gave sight to a blind man; cast the devil out of one possessed, extinguished a raging conflagration with the sign of the holy cross, and, after a short prayer, recalled a dead maiden to life. Knowing, by divine revelation, that a famine would come over the land, he gathered a great quantity of corn in a large barn, that he might be able to assist the poor, for whom he always evinced a fatherly care. Some wicked people, thinking that avarice had prompted him to do this, set the barn on fire. When the Archbishop was informed of it, he hastened to extinguish the flames; but on seeing that all endeavor to do so would be useless, he quietly warmed himself by the spreading flames without letting an impatient word pass his lips. “God will not leave unpunished those who thus wickedly destroy the food of the poor,” he said with prophetic spirit, when all was over. His words became true; for, all those who had taken part in this wicked deed became deformed; besides this, they lost all the fruit they had in their barns, and their fields became barren.
Many other miraculous events are found in the life of this Saint, of which the most wonderful is the conversion of King Clodovaeus or Clovis. Clotildis, the queen, was a Christian, and neglected no occasion to admonish the king to abandon idolatry in which he had been born and educated. But she could not persuade him, until the Germans invaded his dominions, when she again most earnestly spoke to him. As a battle was to be fought, on the issue of which the welfare of the whole kingdom depended, she exhorted him to call on the God of the Christians for aid, and to promise Him to embrace the Christian faith if he should succeed in conquering his enemies. Clovis won the decisive battle, but not without a miracle. Victory seemed for a long time, to be on the side of the enemy, and Clovis thought that all was lost, when he suddenly remembered the admonition of his queen and exclaimed: “God of Clotildis! if thou art the true God, save me, and I will become a Christian and serve Thee faithfully.” No sooner had he pronounced these words, than the tide of battle turned in his favor, and the enemy was completely routed. The king, not to delay the fulfilment of his promise, called St. Remigius immediately to be instructed in the Christian faith and was baptized. How gladly the holy bishop performed this holy act!
After the king and the chief of the nobility had been perfectly prepared, the day on which we celebrate the nativity of Our Saviour, was appointed on which they should receive holy baptism. When the bishop had already begun the ceremonies, and was about to anoint the catechumens with chrism, he perceived that the holy oil had not been provided. Some maintain that the chaplain could not pass, with the vessel in which it was kept, through the immense mass of people who were present. Others say that it had been forgotten. Be this as it may, it is quite certain that God permitted it in order to place the virtue of His faithful servant more visibly before the eyes of the world, and to strengthen the king in his promises for the future. When the bishop, raising his eyes towards heaven, silently prayed to God for help, a snow-white dove came flying towards him, holding a little vial in its beak, placed it in the Saint’s hand, and then vanished. The king and all present saw this miracle and were deeply moved. The holy bishop found the vial filled with chrism, which exhaled so delicious an odor, that they all exclaimed that it was not a natural but a heavenly fragrance. This little vessel is still preserved at this day. By the aid of Providence, it was saved in the horrors of the Revolution, by a zealous priest. Before St. Remigius baptized the king, he addressed to him these memorable words: “Bow down thy head, O king, and submit to the mild yoke of Christ. Worship what thou hast hitherto burned; and burn what thou hast hitherto worshipped!”
The king, ready to do all that was required of him, received holy baptism with wonderful devotion. A great number of the nobility followed him, clad like him in white garments, and manifesting deep reverence while they were baptized. When the ceremony was over, which for splendor had never before been equalled, the Saint admonished all to be constant in the true faith and to lead a Christian life. From that time, the king loved and honored St. Remigius as his own father, and the bishop made use of the royal favor to the honor of the church and the salvation of the inhabitants of the state, of whom he converted many thousands to Christ. He continued in his apostolic zeal as long as he lived. During the last years of his life, he had occasion to increase the glory which awaited him in heaven by exercising patience: he became totally blind. The holy man’s conduct under this misfortune was like that of the pious Tobias of old. He submitted to the will of God, and bore, with the greatest equanimity, all the suffering that accompanies blindness. After some time, God restored sight to His servant, as He had done to Tobias, and called him to receive an eternal recompense, by a happy death, in the 96th year of his age, of which 75 had been spent in his episcopal functions. After 506 years, his holy body was found free from decay, and was transported, on the 1st October, with great and solemn ceremonies, to the church of the Abbey, which is named after the Saint. His death took place in the year of our Lord 533.
It is written of this Saint that he regulated his life according to the following three principles: I. Avoid everything that is sinful or forbidden; nay, even abstain from that which, although permitted, is not necessary, but frivolous and tending only to vain amusement. II. Suffer and bear patiently every misfortune that may assail you, of whatever nature it may be. III. Be courageous. Let not the fear of trouble restrain you from what God or the salvation of your soul requires of you. Call on God for aid, and then act. You will find by experience that, with God’s help, you can do more than you thought. (1)
After an episcopate of seventy-four years, the longest on record, Saint Remigius died in 533, leaving to France his famous Testament, predicting God’s graces of predilection for this blessed kingdom, as long as its Heads remained faithful to Him, with the most severe chastisements if the contrary ensued. The prophecy has already been fulfilled three times, as the nation’s Catholic historians affirm, for the three royal dynasties. St Remigius’ relics were kept in the Cathedral of Reims, whence Hincmar had them translated to Épernay during the Viking invasions and thence, in 1099 to the Abbey of Saint-Remy.
Image: The Baptism of Clovis by Saint Remigius, artist: The Master of Saint Giles, circa 1500 (6)