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Clotilda, Saint

Queen of the Franks (c. 474-545)

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Clotilda (Fr. CLOTILDE; Ger. CHLOTHILDE), Saint, Queen of the Franks, b. probably at Lyons, c. 474; d. at Tours, June 3, 545. Her feast is celebrated June 3. Clotilda was the wife of Clovis I, and the daughter of Chilperic, King of the Burgundians of Lyons, and his wife Caretena. 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. It was soon after the death of Chilperic that Clovis asked and obtained the hand of Clotilda.

From the sixth century on, the marriage of Clovis and Clotilda was made the theme of epic narratives, in which the original facts were materially altered and the various versions found their way into the works of different Frankish chroniclers, e.g. Gregory of Tours, Fredegarius, and the “Liber Historiae”. These narratives have the character common to all nuptial poems of the rude epic poetry found among many of the Germanic peoples. Here it will suffice to summarize the legends and add a brief statement of the historical facts. Further information will be found in special works on the subject. The popular poems substituted for King Godegisil, uncle and protector of Clotilda, his brother Gondebad, who was represented as the persecutor of the young princess. Gondebad is supposed to have slain Chilperic, thrown his wife into a well, with a stone tied around her neck, and exiled her two daughters. Clovis, on hearing of the beauty of Clotilda, sent his friend Aurelian, disguised as a beggar, to visit her secretly, and give her a gold ring from his master; he then asked Gondebad for the hand of the young princess. Gondebad, fearing the powerful King of the Franks, dared not refuse, and Clotilda accompanied Aurelian and his escort on their return journey. They hastened to reach Frankish territory, as Clotilda feared that Aredius, the faithful counselor of Gondebad, on his return from Constantinople, whither he had been sent on a mission, would influence his master to retract his promise. Her fears were justified. Shortly after the departure of the princess, Aredius returned and caused Gondebad to repent his consent to the marriage. Troops were dispatched to bring Clotilda back, but it was too late, as she was safe on Frankish soil. The details of this recital are purely legendary. It is historically established that Chilperic’s death was lamented by Gondebad, and that Caretena lived until 506: she died “full of days”, says her epitaph, having had the joy of seeing her children brought up in the Catholic religion. Aurelian and Aredius are historical personages, though little is known of them but their names, and the role attributed to them in the legend is highly improbable.

Clotilda, as wife of Clovis, soon acquired a great ascendancy over him, of which she availed herself to exhort him to embrace the Catholic Faith. For a long time her efforts were fruitless, though the king permitted the baptism of Ingomir, their first son. The child died in his infancy, which seemed to give Clovis an argument against the God of Clotilda, but notwithstanding this, the young queen again obtained the consent of her husband to the baptism of their second son, Clodomir. Thus the future of Catholicism was already assured in the Frankish Kingdom. Clovis himself was soon afterwards converted under highly dramatic circumstances, and was baptized at Reims by St. Remigius, in 496 (see Clovis). Thus Clotilda accomplished the mission assigned her by Providence; she was made the instrument in the conversion of a great people, who were to be for centuries the leaders of Catholic civilization. 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. Little more is known of Queen Clotilda during the lifetime of her husband, but it may be conjectured that she inter-ceded with him, at the time of his intervention in the quarrel between the Burgundian kings, to win him to the cause of Godegisil as against Gondebad. The moderation displayed by Clovis in this struggle, in which, though victor, he did not seek to turn the victory to his own advantage, as well as the alliance which he afterwards concluded with Gondebad, were doubtless due to the influence of Clotilda, who must have viewed the fratricidal struggle with horror.

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-Genevieve), 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. Her son Clodomir, son-in-law of Gondebad, made war against his cousin Sigismund, who had succeeded Gondebad on the throne of Burgundy, captured him, and put him to death with his wife and children at Coulmiers, near Orleans. According to the popular epic of the Franks, he was incited to this war by Clotilda, who thought to avenge upon Sigismund the murder of her parents; but, as has already been seen, Clotilda had nothing to avenge, and, on the contrary, it was probably she who arranged the alliance between Clovis and Gondebad. Here the legend is at variance with the truth, cruelly defaming the memory of Clotilda, who had the sorrow of seeing Clodomir perish in his unholy war on the Burgundians; he was vanquished and slain in the battle of Veseruntia (Vezeronce), in 524, by Godomar, brother of Sigismund. Clotilda took under her care his three sons of tender age, Theodoald, Gunther, and Clodoald. Childebert and Clotaire, however, who had divided between them the inheritance of their elder brother, did not wish the children to live, to whom later on they would have to render an account. By means of a ruse they withdrew the children from the watchful care of their mother and slew the two eldest; the third escaped and entered a cloister, to which he gave his name (Saint-Cloud, near Paris).

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. Her daughter Clotilda, wife of Amalaric, the Visigothic king, being cruelly maltreated by her husband, appealed for help to her brother Childebert. He went to her rescue and defeated Amalaric in a battle, in which the latter was killed; Clotilda, however, died on the journey home, exhausted by the hardships she had endured. 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.

The life of Saint Clotilda, the principal episodes of which, both legendary and historic, are found scattered throughout the chronicle of St. Gregory of Tours, was written in the tenth century, by an anonymous author, who gathered his facts principally from this source. At an early period she was venerated by the Church as a saint, and while popular contemporary poetry disfigures her noble personality by making her a type of a savage fury, Clotilda has now entered into the possession of a pure and untarnished fame, which no legend will be able to obscure.


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