Saint Clotilde, Widow

June 3

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

Saint Clotilde (Fr. CLOTILDE; Ger. CHLOTHILDE) was born probably at Lyons, c. 474; died at Tours, 3 June, 545. Her feast is celebrated 3 June. (3)  She was a daughter of Chilperic and Caretena (2)

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. (3)

Clotilde’s beauty, modesty, and Catholic piety inspired the prayers of her fellow Christians that an alliance might be arranged between the young princess and Clovis, king of the Franks, victorious in the north. Nonetheless, Clotilda was half-cloistered by her uncle, for fear the ancient partisans of Childebert might find hope in the hand of the king’s daughter.

Her 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. (1)

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. (3)

His miraculous victory over the Alemanni, and his complete conversion and baptism by Saint Remigius at Rheims in 496, with all his warriors and nobles, were the final fruit of his holy wife’s virtue and prayers. France became in this way the eldest daughter of the Church. And Saint Clotilda, having gained to God this great monarch, never ceased to inspire in him glorious enterprises for the divine honor. Among other religious foundations, at her request he built in Paris, about the year 511, the great church of Saints Peter and Paul. (1)

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. (5)

The grief of Clotilda was so great that Paris became insupportable to her, and she withdrew to Tours where close to the tomb of St. Martin, to whom she had great devotion, she spent the remainder of her life in prayer and good works. But there were trials still in store for her. (5)

Finally, as though to crown the long martyrdom of Clotilda, her two sole surviving sons, Childebert and Clotaire, began to quarrel, and engaged in serious warfare. Clotaire, closely pursued by Childebert, who had been joined by Theodebert, son of Thierry I, took refuge in the forest of Brotonne, in Normandy, where he feared that he and his army would be exterminated by the superior forces of his adversaries. Then, says Gregory of Tours, Clotilda threw herself on her knees before the tomb of St. Martin, and besought him with tears during the whole night not to permit another fratricide to afflict the family of Clovis. Suddenly a frightful tempest arose and dispersed the two armies which were about to engage in a hand-to-hand struggle; thus, says the chronicler, did the saint answer the prayers of the afflicted mother. This was the last of Clotilda’s trials. Rich in virtues and good works, after a widowhood of thirty-four years, during which she lived more as a religious than as a queen, she died and was buried in Paris, in the church of the Apostles, beside her husband and children. (5)

Image: Partage du royaume franc entre les quatre fils de Clovis. Grandes Chroniques de saint-Denis. Toulouse, bibliothèque municipale, France. (6)


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