Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Saint Bathildis

Kenny has asked me to write about the saint I have chosen as my Patron, Saint Bathildis, Nun of the Chelles, and Queen of France. The following comes from several sources, most notably on the Antiochian Archdiocese website and Vita Sanctae Bathildis (her life story, likely written soon after her death by a nun at the Chelles Abby in France, which Bathildis founded). She is known by any one of the many forms of her name: Bathildis, Bathildes, Bathilde, Batilde, Batilda, Bealdhild…I will use Bathildis, which is the most familiar to me. Like her name, the exact details of her story vary slightly, depending on perspective and, I suppose, intent. What is clear is that she was a Godly, humble, and generous woman, whose life I can only hope to imitate.

Bathildis was an Anglo-Saxon, and was born around the year 630. In 641, she was captured by invading armies from Denmark, and sold as a slave to Erchinoald, who was the Mayor of the Palace (chief officer) for King Clovis II of France. As a slave she behaved most honorably and endeared herself to her fellow servants. Her beauty, grace, charm, and intelligence caught the attention of Erchinoald; he gave her many responsibilities and an honored position among the servants. Instead of letting this go to her head, she not only continued to carry out her duties humbly and diligently, but she also attended to the needs of her fellow servants, even mending their clothes. After his wife died, Erchinoald sought to marry Bathildis. Bathildis was not interested, and she disguised herself in rags to avoid him (some accounts say that she went so far as to dirty her face and tangle her hair, other accounts say she fled altogether). After a time, Erchinoald married another woman, and Bathildis returned to her usual self. Shortly thereafter, King Clovis himself wanted her as his wife, and they were married in 649. Bathildis was roughly 19; Clovis is thought to have been between 12 and 16 when they married. So the slave girl became the Queen of France.

Once again, her rising status didn’t go to Bathildis’s head. She retained her servant’s humility and charitable heart. According to Vita, she encouraged her husband to give donations that benefited the poor and the Church. She committed herself to daily prayer, and it’s said that Clovis appointed his servant the abbot Genesius (later Bishop of Lyons in Gaul) to be an advisor to her. Through Genesius, Bathildis was able to use her position to greatly minister to the poor.

Bathildis bore three sons: Clotaire III, Childeric II, and Thierry III. After Clovis’s death (sometime between 655 and 658), their eldest son, Clotaire became King at age 5. Bathildis was appointed regent, and continued to minister to the people. She fed the hungry, clothed the poor, buried the dead, and promoted Christianity.

Remembering her own past in slavery, she did what she could to relieve those in captivity. During this period, the poorer inhabitants of France were often obliged to sell their children as slaves to meet the crushing taxes imposed upon them. Bathildis reduced their taxes, and made it illegal to buy or sell a slave in France. She also passed a law that any slave who was brought into the country immediately became free. She even paid the ransom for many slaves herself, and placed them in abbeys she founded so she could continue to care for them. Thus, this enlightened woman earned the love of her people and was a pioneer in the abolition of slavery.
Some of her other accomplishments include founding charitable and religious institutions and hospitals, putting men to work cultivating wild land, and selling her jewelry and valuables to help the needy. She also fought corruption amongst the bishops in the Church.

Bathildis set aside land and gave money to found many abbeys, including the abbeys of Corbie, Saint-Denis, and Chelles, which became settlements in wild and remote areas of France. At Chelles, she put the maiden Bertilla in charge as abbess. They became close and loved each other dearly.

When her son, Clotaire came of age and ascended to the throne as King of France, and her two other sons were well established in their respective territories, (Childeric IV in Austrasia and Thierry in Burgundy) Bathildis retired to her own royal abbey of Chelles, near Paris. Whether she went there on her own terms or was forced to go (as a possibly result of her conflict with corrupt bishops) is unclear. However, she did desire to serve out her years in peaceful servitude to God.

She entered the abbey and gave up her royal rank. She served in the lowliest tasks at the abbey. It was her pleasure to take her position after the novices and to serve the poor and infirm with her own hands. Prayer and manual toil occupied her time, and she did not wish any allusion made to the grandeur of her past position. She loved her sisters dearly and dedicated the rest of her life to serving the poor and the infirm.

She died in 680 at Chelles before she had reached her 50th birthday. It is said that near her death she had a vision of a ladder reaching from the altar to heaven, and up this she climbed in the company of angels. She is buried at the abbey at Chelles, and her feast day is celebrated January 30th.

She is generally pictured as a crowned queen or nun before the altar of the Virgin Mary, two angels support a child on a ladder, and reflects the vision she is said to have had at her death. She is pictured in an icon with several other saints, but apparently an icon of her alone doesn’t exist. I hope to have one commissioned.

She left a legacy of holiness. Her humility, patience, gentleness, love, mercy, generosity, and humility are an example to many.

Pray unto God for us, O Holy Saint Bathildis, well-pleasing to God, for we turn unto thee who thou art the speedy helper and intercessor for our souls.

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