Stories of the Saints - Grace Hall

St Clothilde's Banner

It was St Clothilde, wife of Clovis, first King of the Francs, who largely Christianized France. She was a Burgundian princess; her father, Chilperic, had been murdered by her uncle Goudebald, yet she was none the less obliged to live at the uncle's court. Here she became a Christian; here also she was seen and loved by Clovis when he was but fifteen years old, and later, in 493, was married to him at Soissons.

They were happy, but Clothilde could not continue happy as long as her lord remained a pagan. He in no wise crossed her in her Christian practices of prayer and good works, but this was not sufficient; she knew that she must lead him to honour and worship her God.

By slow degrees, with great delicacy and wisdom, she drew him toward the right path, through his affection for her, and his respect for her gifts of mind and spirit. With infinite sagacity she induced him to listen when she spoke upon matters of worship, and discredited the power of the idols before which he bowed.

At last, in the year 496, Clovis was waging war against the Alemanni, who dwelt beyond the Rhine. At Tolbiac, near what is now Cologne, he was engaged in a battle which was proceeding in an alarming and disheartening manner. Shameful defeat seemed inevitable when, suddenly struck by an illuminating thought, the King drove the staff of his standard into the earth. Kneeling before it he called upon Clothilde's God to save him and his host. From that hour the tide of battle turned, and Clovis won a historic victory.

After this, in gratitude both to Clothilde's God and to Clothilde herself, Clovis could do no less than accept Christianity.

Clothilde's joy was complete when at Rheims her spouse received baptism at the hands of St Remi.

As St Remi was about to perform the ceremony, and when Clovis was already immersed in the font, the Saint uttered the much-quoted words over him:" Bow thy head, proud Sicambrian, adore that which thou hast burned, burn that which thou hast adored!"

At this moment the Holy Spirit in the form of a white dove descended, bringing to St Remi in a sacred phial oil from heaven with which to anoint the first Christian King of France.

An angel descending to earth at the same moment gave him three lilies, which he receiving in turn gave to Clothilde, who was standing beside the King.

These white lilies, the fleur-de-lys, symbol of purity and regeneration, she substituted upon the banner and royal arms of France for the three toads, the crapauds, which had formerly been there.

The heavenly oil contained in the "Sainte Ampoule" remained in the Cathedral of Rheims, and with it always the kings of France were consecrated.