Saint Eligius, Bishop

December 1

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

Saint Eligius (Eligiusm) was born near Limoges in the late sixth century.  He was in his childhood so skilled in manual arts, that his father decided to place him as an apprentice under a silversmith of Limoges. In a few years he had no rival in the art of metalworking. His piety and virtues recommended him still more highly than his talents; his frankness, prudence, gentleness and charity were admired by all.

The case of the throne he made for King Clotaire II became famous. Clotaire commissioned Eligius to make a throne of gold inlaid with precious stones. With the gold he received to make the piece, Eligius was able to craft two precious thrones. Pleased by such honesty, the king took him into his household and appointed him master of the treasury, in charge of minting the coins of the kingdom. Clotaire died in 629 and was succeeded by his son Dagobert, who also took St. Eligius into his confidence and named him his chief councilor.

The Bretons were making incursions into the land of the Franks (Neustria), and King Dagobert sent St. Eligius to the King of the Bretons, St. Judicail, to ask him to submit to Frankish authority. The mission was a complete success. The Breton King and his nobles agreed to pay homage to King Dagobert. Returning to his kingdom, King Judicail renounced the crown and entered a monastery.

St. Eligius felt the same attraction to the monastic life, but he was not permitted to leave his civil duties. Often, however, when his functions as minister of the King permitted, he would leave the court and go to Luxeil, a great monastery to admire the order of monastic life. During his trips, he used to order all the poor people of the area to gather before him to receive alms. He would order meals prepared for the poor and then he would personally serve them. Afterward, he used to wash their feet and prepare beds for them. 

In 639, on the death of King Dagobert, St. Eligius finally left the court to become a priest. One year later, he was named the new Bishop of Noyon-Tournai. From there he went to many parts of Flanders where idolatry still reigned to preach the word of God to those pagans. Faced with the obstinacy of the inhabitants, he destroyed their idols and founded many churches and monasteries. According to tradition, he worked many miracles. 

 In 654 he approved the famous privilege granted to the Abbey of Saint-Denis, Paris, exempting it from the jurisdiction of the ordinary. In his own episcopal city of Noyon he built and endowed a monastery for virgins. After the finding of the body of St. Quentin, Bishop Eligius erected in his honour a church to which was joined a monastery under the Irish rule. He also discovered the bodies of St. Piatus and companions, and in 654 removed the remains of St Fursey, the celebrated Irish missionary (d. 650).

St Eligius died at Noyon, 1 December, 660 and was buried at Noyon. There is in existence a sermon written by Eligius, in which he combats the pagan practices of his time, a homily on the last judgment, also a letter written in 645, in which he begs for the prayers of Bishop Desiderius of Cahors. The fourteen other homilies attributed to him are of doubtful authenticity. His homilies have been edited by Krusch in “Mon. Germ. Hist.” (loc. cit. infra).

St. Eligius is particularly honored in Flanders, in the province of Antwerp, and at Tournai, Courtrai of Ghent, Bruges, and Douai. During the Middle Ages his relics were the object of special veneration, and were often transferred to other resting-places, thus in 881, 1066, 1137, 1255, and 1306. He is the patron of goldsmiths, blacksmiths, and all workers in metal. Cabmen have also put themselves under his protection. He is generally represented in Christian art in the garb of a bishop, a crosier in his right hand, on the open palm of his left a miniature church of chased gold.

Image:  St. Eligius in his workshop, artist: Master of Balaam, circa 1450 (7)


Research by REGINA Staff


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