Posted by: anna | February 12, 2010

St Bathild

image from Western Icons Project:
‘Icon from a workshop of the ECOF (Orthodox Church of France).’

2012 update: another icon from orthodoxologie, another of M Lopez-Ginisty’s blogs

Today (30 January in the Old Calendar) we commemorate St Bathild, Queen of the Franks. (written in January): I also feel the need to post about St Bathild – Bathilda is the name of a character in Harry Potter, which I have just been reading (again, instead of other more useful things) and it’s the eve of her feast in the western calendar, or rather the cluster of days on which her feast used to be celebrated is coming up. Perhaps I could have been making better use of my time than reading Harry Potter, but at the very least I will not pass up the chance to pursue this small ‘coincidence’ and discover a most extraordinary woman. From Baring-Gould:

S. BATHILD, Queen of the Franks, about A.D. 670.

[Roman and other Martyrologies. In some, however, on Jan. 27th ; at Paris on Jan. 30th. Authorities : her life by two contemporary writers. The first is in plain unpolished style. Its date appears from allusions such as this : — ” The venerable Theudofred, who is now bishop, was then abbot.” “The illustrious offspring of Bathild, now reigning, &c.” The writer of the other expressly states that he had seen and known the virtues of her whom he describes.]

Archimbold, mayor of the palace, in the reign of Dagobert, King of France, bought a slender fair-haired English slave girl. The name of this girl was Bathild, given her probably because of her work, for the name signifies ” the damsel of the lady’s bower. ” (Bath-hildr in Norse, meaning the maiden (hildr) ol the Bath-stofa, the female apartment in a Norse, Saxon or Frankish house. She is sometimes called Bathildes, sometimes Baltidis) In service she grew up to woman’s estate, and was very beautiful, but, withal, adorned with a meek and quiet spirit.

She is thus described by one of her biographers : — ” Her pious and admirable conversation attracted the admiration of the prince, and all his ministers. For she was of a benignant spirit and sober manners, prudent and shy, never scheming evil, never light in talk, or pert in speech ; but in all her actions upright. She was of Saxon race, in shape graceful and pleasing, with a bright face and a staid gait, and as such, she found favour with the prince, so that he constituted her his cup-bearer, and as such, dealing honestly, she stood often by him ministering to him. But so far from being lifted up by her position, she showed the utmost humility to her fellow-servants, cheerfully obeying them, ministering reverently to her elders, often taking their shoes off for them, scraping and cleaning them, and bringing them their washing water, and mending their clothes also. All this she did without a murmur, with gentle and pious alacrity.”

Now it fell out that Archimbold lost his wife, and he looked about for one to fill her place. Then his glance rested on the fair-haired, blue-eyed Saxon maid, so kindly and so obliging. But when he announced that it was his intention to make her his wife, she was so alarmed that she hid herself among the under maids of the kitchen, dishevelled her light hair, begrimed her face, and worked in rags, so that the mayor supposed she had gone clean away, and after a while forgot her, and possibly thinking that such a match might have been after all a mistake, he married some one else. Then Bathild shook her tatters off, braided her flaxen hair, washed her sunny face, and shone forth in her accustomed place. But she had fled the mayor to catch the king. How Clovis became attached to her is not recorded ; possibly he had long noticed the meek maiden at the mayor’s elbow filling his wine goblet, and her disappearance had made him aware of the strength of his passion. Certain it is that shortly after, he asked her to be his lawful wife, and to sit at his side on the throne of France. There was no escaping a king ; and at the age of nineteen, in 649, she was married accordingly to Clovis II. As queen she exercised a most salutary influence over the mind of her husband, and persuaded him to enact many salutary laws. She became a nursing mother to the Church in France, and exerted herself to the utmost of her power to relieve the necessities of the poor, and ameliorate the condition of the serfs. She bore her husband three sons, who all successively wore the crown, Clothaire III., Childeric II., and Thierry I. After six years of married life, in 655, Bathild was left a widow, when her eldest son was only five years old. She then became regent of the kingdom. The gentle queen remembered her sorrows as a slave, and resolved to become the benefactress of the slave. Slavery was universally and firmly established in France. To root out such an institution at once was impossible ; it could only be done with caution, lest it should alarm and rouse to opposition the great slave owners. She had sufficient penetration to discover the great cause of slavery in France. The old Gallic population was crushed beneath an enormous tax, to pay which mothers were obliged to sell their children, and which reduced into bondage those unfortunates who could not pay. This impost she abolished, and thereby cut off the source of slavery. She also forbade the retention or purchase of Christian slaves ; but, to save vested interests, this law did not emancipate those already in bonds, but was of future operation only. She employed, moreover, all the money she could spare in the purchase out of bondage of such children as mothers had sold, out of dire necessity. She also sent ambassadors to all the European courts, to announce that the sale of French subjects was strictly forbidden, and that any slave who should set foot on French soil would be held from that moment to be free.

Bathild also founded a large number of religious houses. France was then overspread with forests ; vast districts were pathless wildernesses, uninhabited by men. Old cities which had thriven under the Roman empire had fallen into ruins, and the wolf made his lair in the deserted chambers. How was all this desolation to be remedied, this waste land to be reclaimed ? A number of men must be gathered together at certain spots, and these must become civilizing centres, diffusing knowledge amongst the people, and cultivating the soil. Such were the monasteries. They were dotted about in the wildest parts of the vast woods, and little by little the trees were cleared away about them, and pastures and corn land usurped their place, and with the advance of agriculture, civilization spread. Bathild founded Corbie, Chelles, and Jumifeges, besides others of less note. Towards the close of her days, when her son Clothaire was of an age to govern, she retired into the monastery of Chelles, where she finished her days in peace, dying at the age of fifty, in 680.


  • Balthild’s seal, and here, and here! Can you imagine, it survives! and not in a royal treasury – in a field in Norfolk!
  • a chapter from what looks like a useful book, Sainted Women of the Dark Ages.
  • Not unrelated to the Anglo-Saxon saints I’ve been getting acquainted with recently, a piece of news from Bristol University : the discovery of the bones of (probably) Eadgyth (d.946), sister of King Athelstan, granddaughter of Alfred the Great, wife of Otto I, the Holy Roman Emperor.

2012 update: Troparion in the sixth tone to St Bathilde, queen and nun (+680)

As a young girl you were sold for a slave;
Later, you became the wife of King Clovis II.
Reigning after the death of your earthly spouse,
You were removed from power and incarcerated
At the convent of Chelles, where you ended your life as a nun.
St Bathilde, pray to God for our salvation!

– troparion text translated from a French original by Claude Lopez-Ginisty at Acathistes et offices orthodoxes

Holy St Bathilda, pray to God for us.


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