Here Begins the Prologue to the Life of Lady Balthild the Queen
1. Most beloved, I have been commanded by the prelate Christ to accomplish a simple and pious work.
My lack of skill and experience prevents me from setting forth an exquisite narrative in learned language. But the power of heartfelt love more strongly commands us not to be puffed up with vainglory and simply bring the truth to light. We know that the Lord Jesus Christ asked for fruit from the fig tree, not leaves. Likewise we have determined that the fruit of truth shall not be hidden, but shine forth upon a candlestick for the advancement and edification of many.
Although less skilled in scholarship, we are all the more eager to cultivate a plain and open style so as to edify the many people who—like prudent bees seeking sweet nectar from the flowers—seek from simple words the burgeoning truth that edifies but does not flatter and puff up the one who hears it. Thus may the compendium of piety be thrown open to those who desire to imitate her. Therefore in what follows, we have shown forth the truth as best we can, not for detractors but for the faithful.
Here Begins the Life of the Blessed Queen Balthild
2. The blessed Lord who wills that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" works in all people both "to will and to do" (1 Tim 2:4; 1 Cor 12:6; Phil 2:33). By the same token, by the merits and virtues of the saints, praise should first be sung to the Lord who has made the humble great and has raised the poor from dust and seated them among the princes of the people. Such a one is the woman now present to our minds, the great and venerable lady, Balthild the Queen. Divine providence called her from across the seas. She, who came here as God's most precious and lofty pearl, was sold at a cheap price. Erchinoald, a Frankish magnate and most illustrious man, acquired her and in his service the girl behaved most honorably. Her pious and admirable manners pleased the prince and all his servants. For she was kindhearted, sober, and prudent in all her ways, careful, and wishing evil to no one. Her speech was not frivolous, nor were her words presumptuous. In every way, she behaved with utmost propriety. Since she was of the Saxon race, she was graceful in form with refined features, a beautiful woman with a smiling face and serious gait. She so showed herself as she ought in all things that she pleased her master and found favor in his eyes.
Thus, he decided that she should set out the drinking cup for him in his chamber. This meant that she was honored above all others as his housekeeper— standing at his side, always ready to serve him. She did not allow this dignity to make her proud, but rather kept her humility. She was always obedient to her companions and amiable in her ministering to her elders. She would remove their shoes and then wash and dry their feet. She brought them water to wash themselves, and prepared their clothing expeditiously. She performed all these services with good spirits and no grumbling.
3. This noble conduct led her companions to praise and love her. She gained such a reputation that when the wife of Erchinoald died, he wished to marry Balthild, that faultless virgin. When she heard of this, she fled from his sight. When he called her into his chamber, she hid herself in a corner and covered herself with bundles of rags so no one might find her. Because she was humble, she attempted to flee from the honor that was to be hers. She had hoped not to get married but to have Jesus alone for her spouse.
Divine providence intervened, and Erchinoald found a different wife. Thus it happened that Balthild, with God's approval, escaped marriage with this prince, but eventually came to be espoused to Clovis, son of the former king Dagobert. By virtue of her humility, she was thus raised to a higher rank. She was wed to the king by divine dispensation, and honored in this station. She brought forth royal children. These events are known to all, for now her royal progeny rule the realm.
4. She, upon whom God conferred the grace of prudence, obeyed the king with vigilant care as her lord. She acted as a mother to princes, as a daughter to priests, as a most pious nurse to children and to adolescents. She was amiable to all, loving priests as fathers, monks as rothers, and serving as nurse to the poor. She distributed generous alms to everyone. She guarded the prince's honor by keeping their intimate counsels secret. She always exhorted the young to strive for religious achievement. She humbly and assiduously suggested things to the king for the benefit of the church and of the poor. Desiring to serve Christ in the secular way of life, she frequented daily prayers, commending herself with tears to Christ, the king of heaven. Impressed by her faith and devotion, the pious king delegated his faithful servant, the abbot Genesius, to help her.
Through his hands, she ministered to priests and poor alike, feeding the needy, clothing the naked, overseeing the burial of the dead, funneling large amounts of gold and silver through him to convents of men and virgins. In time, Genesius was ordained as bishop of Lyons in Gaul.
Genesius was busy in the palace of the Franks. By the order of King Clovis II, as we have said, Lady Balthild followed his advice in providing alms through him to every poor person in many places.
5. In accordance with God's will, King Clovis II migrated from his body (c. 657), leaving behind his three sons and Balthild. Clothar III succeeded his father as King of the Franks, maintaining peace in the realm with the aid of the excellent princes Chrodebert, Bishop of Paris, Lord Quen, Ebroin, mayor of the palace, other elders and many other people. To promote peace, the elders advised Lady Balthild to name Childeric the king of Austrasia, which the people accepted. This move united the Burgundians with the Franks. We believe that these three realms remained at peace with each other due to Lady Balthild's great faith and God's will.
6. God's will continued to work through Lady Balthild. She followed the advice of good priests, prohibiting the evil of simony. This evil, the naming of bishops according to who could pay for the sacred office, was a depraved custom that stained the church of God. God acted through Balthild in her abolishment of another evil custom of the people. This was the custom of killing their children rather than nurturing them, so that they might avoid the public burdens that were heaped upon them by custom, a practice which caused great damage to their affairs.
In her mercy Balthild forbade anyone to carry on any of the practices. For this, her reward in God's realm must be great.
7. Who can count how many and how great her services were to religious communities? She showered great estates and whole forests upon them for the construction of their cells and monasteries. At Chelles, in the region of Paris, she built a great community of virgins as her own special house of God. She named the maiden Bertilla, a servant of God, as the superior of the group. In time the venerable Lady Balthild would decide to go there to live under the rule of religion and to rest in peace. In truth, she followed her desire with willing devotion.
Whatever wonders God works through the saints and the chosen ones should not be easily passed over, for all contribute their praise to God. As the scripture says, "God does wonders in the saints" (Ps 37:38). The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, dwells within and cooperates with the benevolent heart as it is written, "All things work together for good for those who love God" (Rom 8:25). This was spoken truly of this holy woman. As we have said, neither our tongue nor that of any other can voice all the good that Lady Balthild did. How much consolation and help she lavished on the houses of God and on the poor for the love of Christ! How many advantages and comforts did she confer on them! The monastery of Corbie in the parish of Amiens was built at her own expense. There the venerable Lord Theofredus, now a bishop but then an abbot, ruled a great flock of brothers whom Lady Balthild had requested from the most saintly Lord Waldebert. Waldebert was abbot of the monastery of Luxeuil, and sent the brothers to Corbie, which all agree to praise even in this day.
8. What else did this saintly lady do? She gave the very holy man Philibert a large woods where his community has now settled. Other pastures and land were given for the building of this same monastery. How many great farms and coins of gold and silver she gave to Lord Lagobert at Corbie! She took off the precious waist belt from her royal clothing and gave it to the brothers to use for alms. She gave all these things away with a kind and joyous soul, for as the Scripture says, "the Lord loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor 9:7). She gave many precious gifts to the convents of Fontanelle and Logium. Who can number the many whole farms and innumerable gifts of money that were given to Luxeuil and the monasteries in Burgundy.
What did she do for Jouarre, the convent from which she gathered Lady Bertilla, abbess of Chelles, and other sacred virgins? Many gifts of wealth and land were given to them! Similarly, she often directed gifts to holy Fara's monastery.
She granted many great estates to the basilicas of the saints and the monasteries of the city of Paris, enriching them with many gifts. What more? As we have said, we cannot recount all of the things this great lady did, not even half of them. To give an account of all the blessings she bestowed is utterly beyond our powers!
9. We should not pass over, however, what she did in her zealous love of God for the older basilicas of the saints, Lord Denis and Lord Germanus, Lord Medard, Saint Peter, Lord Anianus, Saint Martin, or anything else that came to her notice. She would send orders and letters warning bishops and abbots that the monks dwelling in those places ought to live according to their holy rule and order. That they might agree more freely, she ordered their privileges confirmed and granted them immunities that they might beseech Christ, the highest king, to show mercy to the king and to give peace to the land. Let it be remembered, since this increases the magnitude of her own reward, that she prohibited the sale of captive Christian folk to outsiders, and gave orders through all the lands that no one was to sell captive Christians within the borders of the Frankish realm!
' In addition, she ordered that many captives should be ransomed, paying for many of them herself. She established many of the captives she released in monasteries as well as many others of her own people. She could thus care for them. Those that she could persuade joined already established communities and prayed for her. She even gave gifts to Rome, particularly to the basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. She also directed many large gifts to go to the poor people of Rome.
10. As we have said before, it was the intention of Balthild to join the monastery at Chelles, which she had built and endowed. The Franks did not want this to happen, for they loved her dearly and wished her to remain their good queen. However, the wretched Bishop Sigobrand caused a great commotion among the Franks; his pride among the Franks caused him mortal ruin.
A plan was formed to kill this bishop against the will of Lady Balthild. They were afraid that the lady would punish them severely and avenge the death, so they permitted her to enter the monastery. There can be no doubt that the princes' motives were far from pure!
But the lady, considering the will of God rather than their counsel, thought it a dispensation from God that, in spite of the circumstances, she might have the chance to fulfill her holy plan under Christ's rule. Conducted by several elders, she came to the monastery of Chelles. There she was received into the holy congregation by the holy maidens, as was fitting, honorably and with love. At first, she experienced anger at those who betrayed her, for she had been very good to them. They were suspicious of her motives for joining the congregation, though they were the ones who had been evil to her when she had acted for their good. She spoke with the priests about all of this and begged them to forgive the commotion that was in her heart. In time, by the grace of God, peace was fully restored among them all.
11. She loved her sisters with the most pious affection as her own daughters, and she obeyed the holy abbess as a mother. Lady Balthild had previously shown herself a servant, the lowliest bondwoman to them from holy devotion, even while she still ruled over the public palace and was only a visitor to the community. One example of her great humility was the way she would valiantly take care of the dirtiest cleaning jobs for the sisters in the kitchen, personally cleaning up the dung from the latrine.
She did all this gladly and in perfect joy of spirit, doing such humble service for Christ's sake. Who would believe that one so sublime in power would take care of things so vile? Only if she were driven by the purest love of Christ could such actions be expected! She prayed constantly, persistently, devoutly, tearfully. She frequently attended divine reading and gave constant comfort to the sick through holy exhortation and frequent visits. Her sincere charity enabled her to grieve with the sorrowful and rejoice with the joyful. With humility she often made suggestions to the lady abbess that could lighten the burdens or bring comfort. The lady abbess listened to these humble suggestions for improvement and amiably granted the petitions. Truly with them, as with the apostles, there was but one heart and one soul, for they loved each other tenderly in Christ.
12. When the Lady Balthild became ill, suffering greatly from pain caused by an infection in the bowel, she would have died without the efforts of doctors. Yet her confidence was placed more heavily in heavenly medicine than in earthly cures. With a holy and just conscience, she thanked God for the chastisement. She gave wise advice when asked. She provided a pattern of piety in her service to her sisters in great humility. She often consulted with the abbess regarding the gifts they might bring the king and the queen and their nobles. This was customary so that the house of God would not lose the good reputation with which it began.
It would thus remain in close affection with all its friends and also grow ever stronger in the name of God. "It is fitting to have loving bonds with those who are without" (1 Tim 3:7). Lady Balthild particularly urged the sisters to always care for the poor and for guests with the utmost zeal, out of love and mercy. The abbess heard the admonitions of Balthild in the love of Christ and did all with a gladness of heart. Lady Balthild never ceased to carry out such works and thus increased the holiness of her community.
13. As her glorious death approached, a clear vision was shown to them. Before the altar of holy Mary, a ladder stood upright whose height reached to the heavens. Angels of God were going up and down the ladder, and the Lady Balthild was making her ascent. Through this revelation she understood that her merit, patience, and humility would take her to the heights of the eternal king, who would swiftly reward her with an exalted crown. The lady knew, from this clear vision, that it would not be long before she would die and come to the place where she had already laid up her true treasure. She ordered that this vision be concealed from the other sisters so that they would not grieve unnecessarily before her passing. She now devoted herself with greater piety and good spirits to holy prayer, commending herself even more zealously, more humbly, and with greater contrition to the celestial king, the Lord Jesus Christ. As much as she could, she concealed the weight of her pain and consoled Lady Bertilla and the rest of the sisters, saying that her illness was not serious, that she was getting better, dissimulating what was to come so that afterward they might take comfort in believing that the blow of death came suddenly to her and she went unexpectedly from this life to the next.
14. When the lady felt her end to be truly near, she raised her holy mind to heaven. Having been made certain that she would receive the great prize, she vehemently forbade her attendants to say how sick she was to the other sisters or to the abbess who was ill herself. She did not want the abbess distracted by a multitude of even heavier sorrows. At the time that Lady Balthild was dying, there was a child who was her goddaughter whom she wished to take with her. This child died suddenly and preceded Balthild to the tomb.
Full of faith, she made the sign of the cross. Raising pious eyes and holy hands to heaven, the saint's spirit was released from the chains of the body. Immediately, the chamber glittered brightly with the light of divine splendor. No doubt with the light, a chorus of angels and her faithful old friend Bishop Genesius came to receive that most holy woman as her great merits deserved.
15. For a little while, the sisters attending her stifled their sorrow. They said nothing of her death as she had ordered. They remained silent with the exception of telling the priests who commended Balthild to the Lord. When the abbess and the rest of the community learned what had happened, they asked how this jewel could have been so quickly snatched away from them without knowing that the hour of death was near. Shocked, they all prostrated themselves on the ground in grief and with profuse tears and sobs gave thanks to the pious Lord and praised him.
Then they commended her soul to Christ, the pious king, that he might escort her to holy Mary in the chorus and company of the saints. They buried her with great honor and much reverence as was proper. Lady Bertilla, the holy abbess, earnestly commended her to the holy priests in several churches so that the holy name of Lady Balthild would be carefully commemorated in the sacred prayers of the Mass. She is still celebrated in many places for her holiness.
16. She left an example of holiness to her followers. Her humility, patience, mildness, and overflowing zeal for love, infinite mercy, astute and prudent vigilance, and pure confessions were an example to many. She showed that everything should be done as a result of consultation and that nothing should be done without consent, but that all actions should be temperate and rational.
She left this rule of piety as a model to her companions and now for her holy virtues and many other merits, she has received the prize of the crown that the Lord set aside for her long ago. So she is happy among the angels in the Lord's sight. She rejoices forever among the white-robed flock of virgins enjoying the immense and everlasting joy she had always desired.
In order to make known her sublime merits to the faithful, God in goodness allowed many miracles to be worked at her tomb. Whoever came there seized by fever, vexed with demons, or even sick with toothaches, was cured through divine power and through the intercession of Balthild if they had faith. Whatever plague or illness they experienced, they could leave the sight safe and sound as they left in the name of the Lord. This was manifest most recently in the case of a certain boy.
17. The venerable Bishop Leudegund came from Provence. He was a faithful friend to the monastery of Chelles. A demon possessed his son. The demon was so violent that the son's companions could only control him if his hands and feet were hound. Otherwise, he tore apart all that he could reach. When the friends brought him to the place of the holy sepulcher and laid him half alive on the pavement, the ferocious demon grew terrified with the fear of God and grew silent and stiff. Divine power made the demon flee from the boy immediately. The boy rose up confidently, made the sign of the cross, gave thanks to God, and returned to his family and friends unharmed and in his right mind.
18. Now let us remember that there have been other noble queens of the Franks who worshiped God. Clothild, King Clovis's queen of old, niece of King Gundobad. Her husband was a strong pagan, but she drew him and many other Frankish leaders to Christianity and the Catholic faith by holy exhortation. She led them to construct a church in honor of St . Peter at Paris. She built the original community of virgins for St. George at Chelles. In honor of the saints, and to store up her future reward, she founded many other communities which she endowed with much wealth.
Likewise, we are told of Queen Ultragotha and of the most Christian king Childebert. Ultragotha was a comforter of the poor and a helper of the monks who served God. There was also the faithful handmaid named Radegund. She was a wife of King Clothar, a queen of older times. The grace of the Holy Spirit was given to her to relinquish her husband during her life and consecrate herself to the Lord Christ as a nun. "We can read in her acts all the good she did in her life for Christ, her true spouse.
19. But it is right for us to meditate here on Queen Balthild, whose many good deeds have been done in our time and whose acts are well known to us. We have commemorated a few of these acts and cannot believe that her merits are any less than the good performed by others before her. We know she surpassed them in zealous striving for what is holy. After performing many good deeds to the point of evangelical perfection, she surrendered herself freely to holy obedience and happily ended her life as a religious, a true nun. Her sacred feast is celebrated on January 30.
She lies entombed in her monastery of Chelles, while she reigns gloriously with Christ in heaven in perpetual joy. We trust she will never forget her faithful friends. As well as we could, we have followed your orders, dear lady. Forgive our lack of skill. We pray that, in your love for us, you ask the good Lord to exonerate us from our sins of negligence. May the peace of the Lord be with you and to the Lord be glory from everlasting to everlasting. Amen.