Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume I: January. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Bathildes, Queen of France
From her life written by a contemporary author, and a second life, which is the same with the former, except certain additions of a later date, in Bollandus and Mabillon, sec. 4. Ben. p. 447. and Act. Sanct. Ben. t. 2. See also Dubois, Hist. Eccl. Paris, p. 198. and Chatelain. Notes on the Martyr. 30 Jan. p. 462. See Historia St. Bathildis et Fundationem ejus, amongst the MS. lives of saints in the abbey of Jumieges, t. 2. Also her MS. life at Bec, &c.
ST. BATHILDES, or BALDECHILDE, in French Bauteur, was an Englishwoman, who was carried over very young into France, and there sold for a slave, at a very low price, to Erkenwald, otherwise called Erchinoald, and Archimbald, mayor of the palace under King Clovis II. When she grew up he was so much taken with her prudence and virtue, that he committed to her the care of his household. She was no ways puffed up, but seemed the more modest, more submissive to her fellow-slaves, and always ready to serve the meanest of them in the lowest offices. King Clovis II. in 649 took her for his royal consort with the applause of his princes and whole kingdom: such was the renown of her extraordinary endowments. This unexpected elevation, which would have turned the strongest head of a person addicted to pride, produced no alteration in a heart perfectly grounded in humility and other virtues. She seemed even to become more humble than before, and more tender of the poor. Her present station furnished her with the means of being truly their mother, which she was before in the inclination and disposition of her heart. All other virtues appeared more conspicuous in her; but above the rest an ardent zeal for religion. The king gave her the sanction of his royal authority for the protection of the church, the care of the poor, and the furtherance of all religious undertakings. She bore him three sons, who all successively wore the crown, Clotaire III. Childeric II. and Thierry I. He dying in 655, when the eldest was only five years old, left her regent of the kingdom. She seconded the zeal of St. Owen, St. Eligius, and other holy bishops, and with great pains banished simony out of France, forbade Christians to be made slaves,1 did all in her power to promote piety, and filled France with hospitals and pious foundations. She restored the monasteries of St. Martin, St. Denys, St. Medard, &c. founded the great abbey of Corbie for a seminary of virtue and sacred learning, and the truly royal nunnery of Chelles,2 on the Marne, which had been begun by St. Clotildis. As soon as her son Clotaire was of an age to govern, she with great joy shut herself up in this monastery of Chelles, in 665, a happiness which she had long earnestly desired, though it was with great difficulty that she obtained the consent of the princes. She had no sooner taken the veil but she seemed to have forgotten entirely her former dignity, and was only to be distinguished from the rest by her extreme humility, serving them in the lowest offices, and obeying the holy abbess St. Bertilla as the last among the sisters. She prolonged her devotions every day with many tears, and made it her greatest delight to visit and attend the sick, whom she comforted and served with wonderful charity. St. Owen, in his life of St. Eligius, mentions many instances of the great veneration which St. Bathildes bore that holy prelate, and relates, that St. Eligius, after his death, in a vision by night, ordered a certain courtier to reprove the queen for wearing jewels and costly apparel in her widowhood, which she did not out of pride, but because she thought it due to her state whilst she was regent of the kingdom. Upon this admonition, she laid them aside, distributed a great part to the poor, and with the richest of her jewels made a most beautiful and sumptuous cross, which she placed at the head of the tomb of St. Eligius. She was afflicted with long and severe cholics and other pains, which she suffered with an admirable resignation and joy. In her agony she recommended to her sisters charity, care of the poor, fervour and perseverance, and gave up her soul in devout prayer on the 30th of January, in 680, on which day she is honoured in France, but is named on the 26th in the Roman Martyrology.
A Christian, who seriously considers that he is to live here but a moment, and will live eternally in the world to come, must confess that it is a part of wisdom to refer all his actions and views to prepare himself for that everlasting dwelling, which is his true country. Our only and necessary affair is to live for God, to do his will, and to sanctify and save our souls. If we are employed in a multiplicity of exterior business, we must imitate St. Bathildes, when she bore the whole weight of the state. In all we do, God and his holy will must be always before our eyes, and to please him must be our only aim and desire. Shunning the anxiety of Martha, and reducing all our desires to this one of doing what God requires of us, we must with her call in Mary to our assistance. In the midst of our actions, whilst our hands are at work, our mind and heart ought to be interiorly employed on God, at least virtually, that all our employments may be animated with the spirit of piety: and hours of repose must always be contrived to pass at the feet of Jesus, where in the silence of all creatures we may listen to his sweet voice, refresh by him our wearied souls, and renew our fervour. Whilst we converse with the world, we must tremble at the sight of its snares, and be upon our guard that we never be seduced so far as to be in love with it, or to learn its spirit. To love the world, is to follow its passions; to be proud, covetous, and sensual, as the world is. The height of its miseries and dangers, is that blindness by which none who are infected with its spirit, see their misfortunes, or are sensible of their disease. Happy are they who can imitate this holy queen in entirely separating themselves from it!
Note 1. The Franks, when they established themselves in Gaul, allowed the Roman Gauls to live according to their own laws and customs, and tolerated their use of slaves; but gradually mitigated their servitude. Queen Bathildes alleviated the heaviest conditions, gave great numbers their liberty, and declared all capable of property. The Franks still retained slaves with this condition, attached to certain manors or farms, and bound to certain particular kinds of servitude. The kings of the second race often set great numbers free, and were imitated by other lords. Queen Blanche and Saint Lewis contributed more than any others to ease the condition of vassals, and Lewis Hutin abolished slavery in France, declaring all men free who live in that kingdom according to the spirit of Christianity, which teaches us to treat all men as our brethren. See the life of St. Bathildes, and Gratiguy, uvres posthumes, an 1757. Disc. sur la Servitude et son Abolition in France. [back]
Note 2. In the village of Chelles, in Latin Cala, four leagues from Paris, the kings of the first race had a palace. St. Clotildis founded near it a small church under the invocation of St. George, with a small number of cells adjoining for nuns. St. Bathildes so much enlarged this monastery as to be looked upon as the principal foundress. The old church of Saint George falling to decay, Saint Bathildes built there the magnificent church of the holy Cross, in which she was buried. Gisela, sister to the emperor Charlemagne, abbess of this house, rebuilt the great church, which some pretend to be the same that is now standing. At present here are three churches together; the first which is small, the oldest, and only a choir, is called the church of the holy Cross, and is used by six monks who assist the nuns; the lowest church is called St. Georges, and is a parochial church for the seculars who live within the jurisdiction of the monastery: the great church which serves the nuns is dedicated under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin, and is said to be the same that was built by the abbess Gisela, and much enlarged and enriched by Hegilvich, abbess of this monastery, mother to the empress Judith, whose husband, Lewis le Debonnaire, caused the remains of our saint to be translated into this new church, in 833, and from this treasure it is more frequently called the church of St. Bathildes, than our Ladys. Two rich silver shrines are placed over the iron rails of the chancel, in one of which rest the sacred remains of St. Bathildes, in the other those of St. Bertilla, first abbess of Chelles, these rails, which are of admirable workmanship, were the present of an illustrious princess of the house of Bourbon, Mary Adelaide of Orleans, abbess of this house in 1725, who not thinking her sacrifice complete by having renounced the world, after some years abdicated her abbacy, and died in the condition of humble obedience, and of a private religious woman, near the shrines of SS. Bathildes and Bertilla, and those of St. Genesius of Lyons, St. Eligius and Radegondes of Chelles, called also little St. Bathildes. The last-mentioned princess was god-daughter to our saint, and died in her childhood, in this monastery, two or three days before her. See Piganiols Descr. de Paris, t. 1. and 8. Chatelains notes in martyr. p. 464, and especially Le Buf, Hist. du Diocess de Paris, t. 6. p. 32. This author gives (p. 43.) the full relation of a miracle approved by John Francis Gondé, archbishop of Paris, mentioned in a few words by Mabillon and Baillet. Six nuns were cured of inveterate distempers, attended with frequent fits of convulsions, by touching the relics of Saint Bathildes, when her shrine was opened on the 13th of July, in 1631. [back]