Posted by: anna | August 26, 2010

St Radegund of Poitiers

icon of SS Radegund, Euphronius and Venantius Fortunatus
Today (13 August) there are no further British commemorations listed on Yorkthodox, but Miss Dunbar provides the story of St Radegund of Poitiers:
St. Radegund , queen of France, Aug. 13 (ARADEGUNDIS, ARAGONDE, ARAGONE, AREGUNDIS, RADGUND, RADREIME, RAGONDE, RAGUNT, RATGUNT, REDIGUNDIS, REGONDE, RHADEGUND, etc. – Radegonde in modern French). Sixth century. Patron of Poitiers, Peronne, Chinon, and La Charite sur Loire, and of the
Trinitarians or Mathurins, whose charity was directed chiefly towards prisoners and captives.
She was the daughter of Berthaire, king of Thuringia, and wife of Clothaire, youngest son of Clovis, king of France, and CLOTILDA (1).
Clothaire, then king of Neustria, the capital of Soissons, in 529, went to the assistance of his brother Thierry, king of Austrasia, who had been called in by the eldest of the three brothers, kings of Thuringia, to help to avenge the murder of Berthaire, the youngest, and compel the second to limit his pretensions to his own share of the kingdom. The Thuringians did not keep their promises about the portion of the spoil that Thierry was to have, so Clothaire gladly joined him in raiding the whole country, burning, slaying, looting. They massacred an untold number of persons, including the whole of the royal family, with the exception of three children, Radegund, her brother, and Amalfroi or Hermalafred, the son of one of the other kings. These they brought with the rest of their booty back to France, and in dividing the spoil, Clothaire insisted on keeping the three royal children as part of his share. He placed Radegund with attendants and instructors suitable to her rank, at Athies on the Somme, in Vermandois. The misfortunes that had befallen her and the horrors she had witnessed had impressed a premature gravity on the character of the young princess. Spenser, in Mother Hubbard s Tale, quotes her as a pattern of serious piety. She had no love of the amusements generally welcome to girls of her age, neither had she any desire for wealth, power, or earthly distinction. She was clever and studious, and gladly attended to the lessons given her by her Christian teachers, one of whom was St. Medard, bishop of Soissons. With rapid success she mastered all the literature within her reach. She knew she was destined to be one of the king’s wives, but she had no wish to be married to the man who had deprived her of freedom, devastated her country, and massacred her relations. She confided to her companions that next to martyrdom she considered the quiet of the cloister the most enviable lot. When she was eighteen, hearing that the king had or dered grand preparations to be made for the wedding, she determined to escape from the unwelcome honour, and fled in a boat down the Somme ; but was very soon overtaken and enrolled among the king’s recognised wives, of whom there were several. Those who were daughters of kings were called queens ; those of lower rank were sometimes promoted to that title when they had borne the king children. Radegund was his favourite. She strove to do her duty to her master, although she neither loved nor feared him. He was vexed by her coolness and frequently complained of her unfitness for married life and royal state, saying she was not a queen but a nun. When he summoned her, she would often keep him waiting until she had finished her prayers and her pious readings ; he would reproach her violently and after wards apologize and try to atone for his conduct by splendid presents. She passed her days in the study of religious books, in conversation with the clergy who frequented the court, and in tending with her own hands a number of poor persons and sick women, for whom she founded a hospital at Athies. After her marriage she generally lived at Braine, near Soissons, which was Clothaire’s favourite residence. One day as she was going in royal state to dine with a Frankish lady, she made use of her retinue to pull down a heathen temple which they had to pass. The Franks, many of whom were still idolaters, made a furious resistance, but Radegund sat quietly on her horse, watching the fight between her servants and the populace, and would not proceed on her way until she saw the antichristian building completely overthrown.
When she had been married six years, Clothaire killed her promising young brother, the companion of her captivity, the solace of her uncongenial life. The reason is not known. Radegund, who had never loved her husband, now looked upon him with horror. What passed between the murderer and his wife we do not know, but almost immediately afterwards, he allowed her to leave the Court. About the same time, Amalfroi, to whom as the only survivor of her family she was much attached, also left Soissons, and after a short residence in Italy, found a home at the Court of Constantinople. Radegund, on leaving Soissons, went to Noyon and demanded that the Bishop should at once consecrate her a nun. St. Medard had great influence with the king, but feared to take so daring a step. While he hesitated, some Frankish nobles who were present, dragged him from the altar and bade him not presume to immure their queen in a nunnery. Radegund then went into the sacristy, and finding a religious dress, probably that of some deaconess engaged in the service of the church, put it on, and returned to the altar. Presenting herself before the astonished bishop, she asked him whether he feared these men who threatened him more than God, Who would require at his hands the souls of His sheep. He hesitated no longer, but laid his hands on her and consecrated her a deaconess. Confident in the respect always shown by Clothaire and his family to the rights of the Church, she went from shrine to shrine, giving her jewels and royal robes as offerings. She visited the church of St. Martin at Tours, and must have seen her mother-in-law, ST. CLOTILDA, the widow of Clovis, who was expiating her vengeances and preparing for her death at the tomb of St. Martin, and who died there about a year after wards.
Clothaire gave Radegund the lands of Saix in Poitou, and there she fixed her residence, living in the severest asceticism and tending lepers with great devotion. No long time elapsed before the king repented that he had let her go, and she heard that he was coming to take her home again. She redoubled her austerities and begged the intercession of a holy hermit, that she who had given herself to the King of heaven might not be again delivered up to this king of earth. She claimed sanctuary at the tomb of St. Hilary of Poitiers. Clothaire pursued her, determined to assert his authority, but the barrier of coldness and piety that had so often kept him at a distance, the charm that fascinated him while it held him off, reasserted its empire, and derived new force from the fear of violating the sanctuary of a saint’s tomb, and seizing his wife who had now been consecrated to the service of God. He allowed her to build a monastery at Poitiers, where their last interview took place, and to take the veil there. The building was finished in 550, and she entered it in triumph, amid the sympathy of the people who crowded the streets and the very roofs, to see their queen and her train of young disciples and companions enter the cloister. She was the first of many queens who became nuns, most of them in widowhood. Before long, she heard that Clothaire was at Tours and would proceed to Poitiers to claim his wife. She wrote to the venerable St. Germain, bishop of Paris, begging him to interfere. He went to Tours to meet the king before the tomb of St. Martin and implored him on his knees not to go to Poitiers. The king raised the aged bishop from the ground, and kneeling before him, asked him to go and beg the holy queen to forgive all the vexation he had ever caused her. From that time he left her in peace.
In 560, by the death of his brother, Clothaire became sole king of France, but he had lived very hard during his fifty years reign, and although not a very old man, having succeeded to his quarter of the kingdom at the early age of twelve, he had little pleasure or glory in his accession of greatness. He had, however, something better which came to him through the prayers of his cloistered wife. He began to desire earnestly to repent of his sins. He went to the tomb of St. Martin, where he made a full confession, and bestowed princely gifts on the church. He founded the abbey of St. Medard at Soissons. However, he was still a thorough barbarian, and one of the last acts of his life was to burn alive, with wife and children, one of his sons who had rebelled against him. C othaire died at Compiegne and was buried at Soissons by his four surviving sons. One of his grandsons (the son of Clothaire s youngest son Sigebert and the famous Queen Brunehaut) was Childebert II., who, on the death of his father and uncles, succeeded to the whole kingdom, during the life of Radegund, and was a reverent disciple and dutiful friend and patron of that holy woman and her monastery. The queen, who had hastily built her self a house as soon as she received the king’s permission to do so, in time made important additions to it, and built beside it a church and a college for monks to attend to the church. This was the first of those great double monasteries that so soon abounded in France and England. It soon became famous as the Monastery of the Holy Cross of Poitiers. Over two hundred maidens of different ranks and nations were gathered in the nunnery, among them were Merovingian princesses, but the greater number were Gallo-Eomans, some of senatorial rank and others of less distinction. Radegund, accompanied by AGNES (6) went to Aries to learn the rule which St. Cesarius had compiled for his sister ST. CESARIA (3). They stayed in her monastery, and she had the rule copied for them. Radegund having made over the government of the community to Agnes, subsided into the rank and file of the nuns, and took her turn with them in performing all the work of the house and attending with redoubled zeal to the poor and suffering. She only reserved to herself the privilege of passing Lent alone and with special asceticism. During her whole life she continued her diligent study of the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers. When the monastery was finished and all in order, she sent to the Emperor Justin to beg for a piece of the cross of Christ, with which to enrich her church. The priceless relic arrived in 509. She received it with raptures of devotion, and Fortunatus, her chaplain, secretary, and almoner, composed for the occasion, the famous hymns Vexilla Regis and Pange Lingua. St. Gregory records, as an eye-witness, the miracles wrought when the holy relic was carried through Tours.
In the stillness of her happy solitude, Radegund did not forget the interests of her adopted country. The tragic fate of two of the wives of her stepson Chilperic, AUDOVERA and GALSWINTHA, must have appealed strongly to her sympathies, for she regarded all the Merovingians as her family. She wrote a poem about Galswintha. Time and death had softened the memory of her wrongs, and from her peaceful cloister, she endeavoured to make peace between her four stepsons who now shared the kingdom amongst them. She was universally respected and trusted. In cases of conflicting evidence, her word was accepted and put an end to all uncertainty. She received into her monastery the wretched Basine, a daughter of Chilperic. Chrodielde, too, another princess of the same family, came among the peaceful nuns of Ste. Croix as a disturber and firebrand, bringing with her an unwilling and worldly heart. After the death of Radegund and AGNES (6), these bad nuns gave a great deal of trouble in the monastery and caused much scandal. A full account of the affair is given in Mezeray’s History of France. Fortunatus represents Eadegund as longing affectionately for tidings of her cousin Amalafroi. He was at Constantinople, living in peace and civilization, having long abandoned any idea of attempting to regain the throne of his ancestors. His silence and the death of all her other relations only concentrated her affections more intensely on her nuns. Besides Fortunatus, she had a friend named Juuian, a nobleman of Poitou who became a monk of the Order of St. Benedict. His charity rivalled that of Radegund. His clothing was all spun for him by the hands of the cloistered queen. On his part, he presented her with a penitential chain which she wore as long as she lived. They mutually promised that whichever survived should pray for the other, but they died in the same hour on the 13th of
August, 587, and the messengers bearing the news of each death met half way between the houses. St. Gregory of Tours, who buried Radegund, records the great grief of her nuns, and their regret that the strict rule of St. Cesarius forbade their leaving their cloister even to follow their beloved mother to the grave.
The Queen’s Will is preserved in Pertz Monumenta, vol. XXVII.; it is the first of the Diplomata Regum Francorum e Stirpe Merovingica. In it she leaves property to the monastery and says that she built and endowed it by the aid of her husband Clothaire the king, and his sons Charibert, Guntchramn, Chilperic, and Sigibert. She charges the Holy Cross and the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Hilary and St. Martin to prevent any one from persecuting Sister Agnes the abbess, or taking away the lands or revenues of the monastery. She entreats all kings and bishops not
to allow the rule to be changed or the community injured. Radegund is one of three very famous royal sainted ladies of Thuringia and the only one of them who was a native of that country. See WALBURGA (1) and ELIZABETH (11).
The ruins of a grand old abbey of the Premonstratensian Order, dedicated in the name of St. Radegund, may be seen at Alkham, near Folkestone. It was built in the reign of Richard I. and was of considerable strength. She has other dedications in England. One of the chief authorities for the daily life of the good queen within the nunnery walls is her secretary and biographer, Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus, who has been called the last representative of Latin poetry in Gaul, and who was for some years an inmate of the monastery and eventually became bishop of Poitiers. In his Life of Radegund he speaks with great affection of the Queen and the Abbess Agnes, of their strictness to themselves and their indulgence towards others. He tells us that even when their rule compelled them to fast, they provided a luxurious little dinner for a favoured guest, strewing the table with rose leaves and enhancing the pleasures of the repast by their charming conversation. Radegund was indulgent to her nuns in the matter of recreation. She allowed them to see friends from outside the monastery. She sometimes permitted those dramatic entertainments which were beginning to be introduced into the religious world. Miss Eckenstein, in Woman under Monasticism, gives extracts from some of Radegund s poems. Her life was also written by one of her nuns. She is mentioned by Gregory of Tours, and all the historians of the time. EM. AA.SS. Sismondi. Butler. Montalembert, Moines d’Occident. Thierry, Recits Merovingiens. Fortunatus. Migne, Cursus completus, LXXXVIIL, 506. Adams, Cyclopaedia of Female Biography.
Radegund’s whole history is so well authenticated and so rational that it is almost a pity to add a miraculous legend, which is borrowed from the story of the flight of the B. V. MARY into Egypt. The story told by Cahier is that when Radegund’s husband was pursuing her, she passed through a field where the peasants and serfs were sowing corn. She said to the workmen, ‘If any one asks you whether I passed through your fields, be sure you say it was when you were sowing the corn.’ They promised. The corn grew up and ripened in a single night, and next day, when the king and his men came that way and asked whether the queen had been seen, they pointed to the ripe corn, and said, ‘Yes, she was here when we were sowing this field.’ So the pursuers were thrown off the track.
Akathist to St Radegund (in French)
translation of Venantius’ Life of Radegund from Medieval Women at McMaster
St Radegund’s Priory at Jesus College, Cambridge and a little more of its history from the VCH
essay on the ORB
Tropaire à sainte Radegonde, reine et moniale (natalice 587 A.D.) Ton 5
Fille d’un roi germain et reine de France,
Tu fus à jamais l’épouse de Jésus-Christ.
Lorsque ton époux mit à mort ton propre frère,

Tu pris le voile des mains du hiérarque Médard,

Et tu fondas le couvent de la Sainte Croix.

Sainte Radegonde prie pour nous le Christ-Roi!

Daughter of a germanic king and Queen of France,

You were ever the wife of Jesus Christ .
When your husband put your own brother to death,
You took the veil from the hands of hierarch Medard,
And you founded the Convent of the Holy Cross.
St. Radegund pray for us to Christ the King!

Holy St Radegund, pray to God for us.
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