Posted by: anna | October 15, 2010

St. Leger, bishop of Autun

Chaumont – BM – ms. 0033, f. 450. Martyre de saint Léger. Bréviaire à l’usage de Langres, après 1481. From the Enluminures database by the French Ministry of Culture. 

Today (2 October) we comemorate St. Leger (Leodegar, Leodegarius), bishop of Autun (677). From Baring-Gould:
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S. LEODEGAR OR LEGER, B.M. (a.d. 678.)
S. Leodegar, or as he is more commonly called, S. Leger, was born about the year 616, in the reign of Clothair II., on the banks of the Rhine, of a stock connected with the Merovingian reigning princes. His mother’s name was Sigrada ; his aunt, his mother’s sister, Bereswintha, was married to Ethico or Adalric, Duke of Alsatia. The brother of Leger was Warin or Barin, Count of Poitiers, and his uncle Dido was Bishop of Poitiers. At a very early age, Leger was committed to the care of King Clothair, whose queen, Radegund, daughter of Berthar of Thuringia, or one of his other wives, seems to have been a relative of the saint. Clothair sent the boy to Dido of Poitiers, to be educated for the Church, and he was ordained deacon at the age of twenty, and advanced almost immediately to the office of archdeacon by his uncle. About the year 651, when he was thirty-five years old, he was made Abbot of S. Maxentius at Poitiers. His contemporary anonymous biographer thus describes him at this period : — “There shone in him such a blaze of science and firmness, that he surpassed all his predecessors; not being ignorant of the rule of the laws of the world, he was a terrible [I take this in the sense of ‘awe-inspiring’ rather than ‘very bad’!] judge of seculars, and full of the science of canon law, exhibiting himself as an excellent doctor of clerics. Never having been softened by the pleasures of the flesh, he was rigorous in his treatment of sinners ; he watched always carefully at the offices of the Church, was skilful in his reasonings, prudent in counsel, and shining in discourse.”
After having ruled the Abbey of S. Maxentius for six years, he was summoned to court by S. Bathild, the queen regent for the infant Clothair III., who was only five years old when his father, Clovis II., died (a.d. 656). Bathild had been a Saxon captive of exquisite beauty, with whom Clovis II. had fallen in love, and whom he had married.’ She was the holiest and most devout of women. She succeeded to some part of the authority, to none of the crimes or ambition, of Brunehild or Fredegund. Her pious munificence knew no bounds ; remembering her own bondage, she set apart vast sums for the redemption of captives. Not a cathedral, not a monastery, but records the splendid donations of Queen Bathild ; not farms only, but forests, districts, almost provinces. This was the woman who called to aid in her councils the holy abbot of S. Maxentius. She raised him almost immediately to the great Burgundian bishopric of Autun. This see had been widowed for two years. Two rivals fought for its crosier. One killed, or obtained the assassination of, the other, and for the crime was deprived of his claim. Thus the way to the episcopal throne of Autun was cleared for S. Leger, and he was consecrated bishop about the year a.d. 660. He at once entered Autun, supported by the soldiers of Queen Bathild, and with strong hand quelled the tumults of the people. ” On his arrival, all the enemies of the Church and of the city were struck with terror, even those who fought with fury and killed each other ; those whom preaching would not bring back to concord, justice and terror constrained.”
S. Leger founded a hospital in Autun, enriched the church with vessels of gold and silver, adorned the baptistery, translated the body of S. Symphorian, repaired the city walls, re-laid the pavement of the Cathedral, gilded the rafters, and set up a stately portico to the church.
But Leger, though he attended to the wants of his diocese, did not neglect political affairs. He directed the councils of Queen Bathild, till the young king took into his own hand the reins of government, and the queen-mother was forced to retire into the convent of Chelles.
The death of the young king, Clothair III. (a.d. 670), was the signal for the breaking out of a fierce contest for supremacy between two factions in the kingdom. At the head of one stood Ebroin, mayor of the palace; at the head of the other, Leger, Bishop of Autun. Clothair died childless, leaving two brothers, Childeric and Theodoric. Of these Theodoric was the elder. Leger and Ebroin had been at rivalry in the lifetime of Clothair. Leger represented the domination of the hierarchy over the affairs of the realm, Ebroin the despotism of the mayor of the palace. Leger represented the Burgundian interests, Ebroin those of Austrasia. Before the death of Clothair, Ebroin had persuaded the king to drive all the Burgundians from his court, and to pass an edict that no Burgundian might appear before the king without a special permission.
On the death of Clothair, Ebroin, instead of summoning the nobles to consult, relying on his own authority and power, proceeded to enthrone Theodoric. Leger at once placed himself at the head of the opposite party, and offered the sovereignty of Burgundy and Neustria to Childeric. The policy of Ebroin, the depression of the higher nobles, the elevation of the lower, the subordination of all to the throne, had stirred him up a host of powerful foes. What the higher nobility and some of the bishops called rebellious tyranny, his partisans held to be high and rigid justice. Some saw that the policy of Ebroin was the consolidation of the kingdom, and S. Praejectus of Auvergne, S. Reolus of Rheims, S. Agilbert of Paris, and S. Ouen of Rouen, joined his party. But the great chiefs saw their independence and autocracy menaced, and rallied round S. Leger. Ebroin fell before the fierce onslaught of the Burgundians, who threatened fire and sword to all who should support the mayor of the palace and the elder prince.
Ebroin fled to a church, and clung to the altar. His house and treasures fell a prey. It was held to be a splendid effort of Christian virtue, that the saint spared the life of his rival. He was banished to the monastery of Luxeuil, compelled to give up his wife, to submit to the tonsure, and to take the irrevocable vows. Leodegar ruled supreme, and in the highest episcopal splendour, in his cathedral city of Autun. If his biographer be right, he assumed even the title of mayor of the palace.
Childeric ordered his elder brother to be brought before him, and some, thinking to please the young king and secure his place on the throne, hastily shaved the head of Theodoric, and invested him with the monastic habit. In this plight the unfortunate prince was brought before Childeric, who ordered him to be confined in the monastery of S. Denys, ” where,” says the anonymous biographer of S. Leger, ” he lived in security till his hair grew again.” The nobles who had carried Childeric to the throne now insisted on the king issuing edicts confirming the independence and privileges of the separate provinces, which had been menaced by the policy of Ebroin. He consented, but afterwards seeing that this was a disastrous policy, withdrew his edicts. As long as possible, Leger, acting as mayor of the palace, governed the mind of the young king and the affairs of state. But a strong, compact body of malcontents was formed against him, a body favouring the concentrating, not the disintegrating policy, as that most conducive to the welfare of the realm.
S. Leger is said to have remonstrated with Childeric for having married his cousin, and this served to alienate Childeric from him, added to the fact that Leger advocated a course which obviously enfeebled the crown, and left it a prey to the dictation of the great nobles. Leger was obliged to surrender his office of mayor of the palace to Wulfoald. S. Leger invited the king to celebrate Easter at Autun, a.d. 673. At that time one Hector, a patrician of Marseilles, came to Autun to make a request of the king, and obtain the intercession of the bishop. The biographer of S. Leger calls him a ” very prudent man,” and only speaks vaguely of his ” certain affair.” But the contemporary life of S. Praejectus gives us a fuller account of the matter. S. Praejectus, Bishop of Auvergne, belonged to the party of Ebroin, and his biographer shared in the dislike in which Leger was held by that party. He tells us that Hector had carried off a young girl of Marseilles, and made her his concubine. Her mother left some farms in Auvergne to the Church. Hector claimed them for his concubine. S. Praejectus opposed his claim. Then Hector, “an infamous man,” says the biographer of S. Praejectus, “having associated with him another, Leodegar, in his crime, came to the king.” Strong suspicions were roused in the king’s mind that Leger and Hector were in conspiracy with others against him. How far there was such a plot, and it was known to S. Leger, we cannot decide, but that there was one appears probable. Leger was restless under his loss of favour, and there was a large party of nobles which shared his discontent.
The king, on Easter Eve, came to the baptistery of the Cathedral shouting for Leger, but when he saw the bishop in the blaze of wax lights, with incense smoking round him as he blessed the font, he retired awestruck. When the service was accomplished, Leger went to the king’s lodgings, and high words passed between them. The king raised his hand with his poignard, and would have killed the bishop, but for the interference of the bystanders. Leger retired, and fearing for his Hfe, fled from Autun. He was overtaken, and ordered to be imprisoned at Luxeuil. Thus, by a sudden revolution, the bishop found himself an exile in the same monastery with his fellow-rival, Ebroin. Hector and all his followers were put to death. The banishment of S. Leger was approved by all the bishops of the opposite faction, and there were canonized saints among them; so that it is probable that there were circumstances with regard to a conspiracy against Childeric which had come to light, and tended to incriminate him.
But the banishment of S. Leger was of short duration. Childeric was stabbed while hunting. At the same time two dukes had withdrawn Leger from Luxeuil, and guarded him in their castle, waiting for the explosion of the conspiracy, when he could be put forward again. Ebroin took advantage of the death of Childeric to escape from Luxeuil. Like a second Julian, says the old biographer of Leger, he cast off his religion, that is, his enforced monastic vows ; his free locks again flowed, he rejoined his wife. Throwing himself into Austrasia, he set up a child named Clovis as the son and successor of Childeric, and assembled about him all the troops of the Austrasian nobles.
Theodoric III., the second son of Clovis II., brother of Clothair and Childeric, who had been imprisoned in the abbey of S. Denys, and tonsured to incapacitate him for the throne, was brought forth by the party which detested Ebroin, to act the part of king. Ebroin felt the necessity of at once cutting off Leger, his most subtle and dangerous rival. He therefore detached an army, under two officers, Diddo and Waimer, Duke of Champagne, to take Autun and its bishop. When S. Leger saw the walls of his city surrounded, he brought all the gold and silver plate out of his palace, on which he had fared with almost royal magnificence, had it smashed into bits, and distributed among the poor, to encourage them to defend the city and his person with enthusiasm. Then he went round the walls, bearing relics, and prayed and genuflected at each gate.
The assault was made, and it became evident that the town could not hold out. The abbot Meroald was let down the rampart by a rope, to offer terms. The servants of Ebroin would accept none. Next day the gates were flaming; further resistance was impossible. S. Leger ordered the gates to be opened, and came forth with calm countenance. He was at once brought before Diddo and Waimer, who had his eyes put out with instruments of iron. “Many illustrious men, then present, affirm that he would not allow his hands to be tied, that no groan escaped his mouth while his eyes were being torn out, but that he continued singing psalms and praising God.” Bobbo, Bishop of Valence, was placed over the city, the town was given up to spoil, and then the army marched on to Lyons to obtain possession of Genes, the archbishop.
Ebroin spread a report that Leger was dead, and even ordered a sepulchre to be raised to contain his ashes. But Leger languished in a castle of Duke Waimer of Champagne, who showed him great kindness, and gave him large sums of money, seeing apparently that the chances of Clovis, whether he were truly or not the son of Childeric, were declining, and uncertain lest the turn of the wheel of fortune should send Leger up again.
But Ebroin saw that the cause of Clovis was hopeless, and he adroitly flung himself into that of Theodoric, and secured for himself the place of mayor of the palace against Leudes, whom Leger had set up. Ebroin, finding himself again supreme, and learning that Leger was not dead, ordered the arrest of Werin, or Gerin, the brother of S. Leger, who had been involved in the conspiracy against Childeric, and that both Werin and Leger should be brought before him. Leger turned his sightless eyes on the mayor, and said : “By thy oppression of the inhabitants of France, thou losest the high rank thou hast acquired without deserving it.” Ebroin, highly incensed, ordered Werin, the brother of S. Leger, to be taken forth and put to death. As he left, Leger turned to him and said : ” Be calm, my dear brother, we must suffer these things; but the ills of this present life are not to be considered beside the glory that awaits us. Our sins are grievous, but the mercy of the Most High surpasses all, and is ever ready to cleanse the sins of those who publish its praises. We must suffer in this world, for we are debtors to death ; but if we endure suffering with patience, the life in which we shall meet again will recompense us with celestial joy.” Werin was taken forth, tied to the trunk of a tree, and stoned to death.
Ebroin ordered Leger to be made to walk over sharp flints, and that his lips and tongue should be slashed with a razor. He was then given over to a certain Waring, to be conducted to his house. Waring placed him on a poor beast, and accompanied by Abbot Winobert, he was taken to the residence of Waring, where he was laid on straw, and covered with an old tent-cloth. Winobert was amazed to hear the wounded bishop stutter words through his cut lips and with his bleeding tongue. Hermenar, who had been consecrated bishop of Autun in the room of Leger, obtained permission to visit the sufferer, and he ministered to the patient, plastering over the cut lips, and feeding him with gruel which could not hurt his wounded tongue. After a while S. Leger was able to speak, and Waring took him to Fecamp, in Normandy, and left him in the charge of a community of religious women, under the abbess Childemark. He was able there to speak and preach to the people with his former facility, and to say mass daily.
A letter written by S. Leger to his mother, after the death of Werin, exists. It bears the title : “The consolatory epistle, which S. Leodegar, bishop of the Edui, sent to his mother, after the death of his brother, Girenius, and the loss of his eyes and the slashing of his lips,” It begins as follows : — ” To madam, my very holy mother Sigrada, who, already my true mother by blood, is more so still by the bond of spirit; in whom is accomplished the saying of the Truth itself, ‘ Whoso doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.’ “Leodegar, servant of the servants of Jesus Christ our Lord. ” Grace and peace be with you, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God, who has not withdrawn His mercies from me, but Who has caused me to hear a word of joy and gladness, because of our common faith and patience in all persecutions, and those tribulations which are in Him, which you endure, following the example of God, the Just Judge, in order that we may be found worthy of His kingdom.” The letter, which is long, breathes the most fervent piety and calm resignation. ” How truly God has recompensed thee! In place of a crowd of servingmen. He has given thee holy brethren praying daily for thee; in place of serving-women, sisters whose society is a delight ; in place of many cares in the world, the peace of a convent ; in place of earthly goods. Holy Scripture, meditation, and prayer.” Not one word throughout the letter about his own sufferings and cruel mutilation.
His pitiable aspect attracted the reverence of the people of the neighbourhood. Two years passed, and then Leger was brought before a council of bishops assembled at Marly, near Paris, and he was charged with having been privy to the murder of Childeric. Leger admitted that he had not been exempt from human frailty, but would not allow that he had had any hand in the commission of the crime. The bishops were, however, satisfied that, though he had not been a party to the murder, he had been one of the moving spirits in the conspiracy, and his episcopal robe was torn from his neck to his feet, and he was forbidden to offer the holy sacrifice. Having been thus deprived and degraded by the ecclesiastical power, he was returned to Ebroin, who condemned him to death, and ordered Chrodobert, count of the palace, to execute him.
As he was being led away, Chrodobert, seeing him weak and faint, ordered his page to bring him something to drink. The day was cloudy, but as the cupbearer approached, the clouds divided, and a sudden glory of golden sunlight fell on the head of the blind and mutilated old bishop. S. Leger was retained a few days in the house of Chrodobert, before the final sentence, signed by the king, arrived. Then Chrodobert reluctantly ordered four of his servants to execute the holy old man. He himself would not, could not, endure to be present. His wife burst into a storm of tears. Leger consoled her: “Do not cry about me; you are in no way guilty of my death ; dispose of my body with reverence, and heaven will bless thee.”
The four servants led him into a forest. They looked about for a well into which they might fling his body, but could not find one. Three of the executioners knelt and besought his pardon. The fourth drew his sword silently from his scabbard. The saint knelt, prayed, and extended his neck ; and whilst he was in prayer his head was smitten off. As the body remained for a moment still kneeling, the executioner thrust it down with his foot.
Then, by orders of the wife of Chrodobert, the body was taken with reverence, and buried at Serein. The man who had executed him, it is said, seized with remorse, went mad, and falling into a fire, was so burnt that he died.
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to judge of the conduct of S. Leger. In the midst of the political affairs of his day he exercised a preponderating influence. Several great saints were opposed to him, and condemned him as a conspirator against the king he had set up in opposition to his elder brother, when he found that his own authority was waning. But there can be little question that when Leger was at the head of affairs during the regency of Queen Bathild, the kingdom was governed in peace, and enjoyed a prosperity it had not tasted for many previous years. Great saints at that period mixed in the revolutions which devastated France. Not long after the death of S. Leger, Martin, one of the grandsons of Pepin of Landen, with his cousin Pepin, aspired to at least the mayoralty of Austrasia. S. Reolus, Archbishop of Rheims, and S. Agilbert, of Paris, swore upon certain relics that Martin’s life would be spared if he would surrender himself But they had withdra\vn the holy witnesses, and swore on the empty case. Martin was seized, and the bishops made no protest against the death of the deluded youth.
Ebroin perished by the blow of an assassin — perished not in this world only. A monk on the shores of the Saone, who had been blinded by Ebroin heard a boat rowed furiously down the stream. A terrible voice thundered out : “It is Ebroin, whom we are bearing to the caldron of hell.”
St. Leger is represented in art with gimlets in his eyes, or with pincers holding his eye-balls. Relics at. Poitiers ; the head at Chaux-les-Chatillon; the upper jaw at Mercier, near Soissons ; in the seminary church at Soissons, part of the lower jaw. Another head is exhibited as that of S. Leger, at Morbach, in Alsace ; another head, and a hand, at Maymac, in the diocese of Limoges ; another head at Jumieges, in the diocese of Rouen ; another at S. Vast, in Artois; another at Preaux, in the diocese of Lisieux, with four teeth adhering to the jaw. The eyes, scooped out some years before the death of the saint, were discovered after his death. One was shown in the abbey of S. Victor, at Paris ; another at S. Denys ; a third at Dijon, in the church of S. Magloire. The entire body at Brain e-le-Comte, in Burgundy.

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Well well, here we have a saint who is not exactly the meek and gentle turn the other cheek type, but brings justice as a flaming sword! crumbs, not one to get in the way of.

More:

  • wikipedia
  • proper link to the MS picture in the KB
  • Orthodox parish of St Aidan and St Chad, worshipping in the church of St Leodegarius in Nottingham

London, BL MS Royal 17 A XVI f. 13v Calendar page for the month of October. Top left, a bishop’s mitre supported by a drill, for Leger (Leg’) on 2 Oct.

Châteauroux – BM – ms. 0002, f. 360 . Saint Léger . Bréviaire à l’usage de Paris, vers 1414. From the Enluminures database by the French Ministry of Culture.

There are several other images available (not very high resolution) from the BNF’s Image Bank.

Tropaire à saint Léger, évêque d’Autun, (Natalice en 678 A.D.)

Membre d’une famille franque riche et noble,*
Elevé par ton oncle l’évêque Didon,*
Tu devins évêque de la ville d’Autun*
Pendant des troubles politiques, sagement,
Tu sauvas ta ville en te livrant au martyre*
Saint Léger, prie Dieu pour le salut de nos âmes!

Troparion to St Leger, bishop of Autun
Member of a rich and noble Frankish family,
Elevated by your uncle, the bishop Dido
You became bishop of the city of Autun
During times of political turmoil, wisely,
You saved your city by giving yourself up to martyrdom
Holy Leger, pray to God for the salvation of our souls!

 Holy St Leodegar, pray to God for us.
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