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Posts Tagged ‘Radegund – Queen of the Franks’

There were thousands of women who served in God’s kingdom during Medieval times. Like their female forebears in the Patristic Era these women contributed greatly to the Kingdom of God, not so they could be remembered, but so they could serve the Lord Jesus by serving others.[1]

We began our journey through the Middle Ages with the story of Genovefa of Paris (423-502). Next, we learned about Clothilde, the Queen of the Franks (470-545) who was a contemporary of Genovefa’s. Then we took a break from Medieval Christianity on the mainland continent of Europe to look at Christianity in Ireland and her most famous saint – Brigid of Kildare (451-523). We then returned our attention to the east to the Byzantine Empire and recounted the story of Empress Theodora.[2]Theodora took advantage of her position as empress to change laws so that women had more privileges and remedies for the abusive behavior they received. As a powerful woman, Theodora also saw to it that the poor and disadvantaged were cared for. Many other noble ladies used their power and resources to care for the poor. One of these was Radegund, Queen of the Franks.

 

Radegund (520-587)

When we think of Medieval women who joined cloisters or “nunneries” we often picture women who were pious but poor. While “poverty, chastity, and obedience” were the traditional vows than men and women often took in monasteries, it did not always hold true that everyone who sought a religious life forsook their wealth and privilege. The cloisters during the Merovingian Era[3]housed women from every social level. In fact, many noble women kept their wealth precisely so that they could use it to take care of the poor. Queen Radegund was such a devout and pious woman, believing that charity is a virtue also.

 

 

Radegund, a princess of Thuringia, was born around 520 AD. Her father the king, was one of three sons who inherited kingdoms from Clovis I. As an interesting note to history, Radegund would be the future bride of Clothar, (Also spelled Chlothar), son of Clothilde (See post August 5, 2019). It is not certain whether or not the two women ever met. By the time Radegund was captured by Clothar and sent to live in his villa of Athie in Picardy, Clothilde had already retired to the Abbey of St. Martin of Tours. Like her future mother-in-law, Radegund was raised in the household of the uncle who murdered her father.

Around 531 AD, Radegund’s father and brothers fought to see who would have the preeminent rule. Her uncle Clothar won, and as part of his victory demanded the child princess, Radegund. She was so beautiful that Clothar decided to educate her to be his future queen. He sent her to live at Athie where she excelled in her studies. Radegund also responded to the gospel and became a devoted Christian. After she was baptized, Radegund never wavered from the life of prayer and passion for a devoted life of following Jesus in caring for the poor.

In her nineteenth year (538) Clothar sent for Radegund. She did not want to marry him. She was one of five wives. Clothar, probably 50 years old by now, had lived a life licentiousness and debauchery and was not worthy of her. Radegund relied on all of her training in prayer and discipline and submitted herself to her husband. However, like Clothilde before her, she bravely sought to fill the role of a Christian queen. She tried to convert her lawless husband, but he rejected her and complained that she turned “his court into a cloister”[4]The other nobles and peers supported Clothar but Radegund patiently continued to espouse a godly life in spite of them. Radegund spent most of her time engaged in acts of charity. In her rare moments of solitude, she enjoyed reading or conversing with clerks and bishops who visited the palace.

Radegund delighted in helping all who came to her for aid. Having been a devout Christian since childhood, Radegund took pleasure in giving her husband’s money away, especially since he had obtained most of it from conquered enemies. While he was throwing his lavish banquets to celebrate his conquests, she distributed the ill-gotten gains to any needy who came to the door. Radegund brought lepers into the royal palace and washed and fed them herself.

The miracle is that Clothar seemed to be content to allow her to give to charity as she wished. One time, Clothar presented her with the mansion where she had been raised. Radegund gave it to the poor and sick and ministered to the lepers with her own hands. Though he was a harsh and cruel man, Clothar had his moments of generosity. Later, when Radegund decided to establish a convent at Poitiers, Clothar gave the money to build it.

After six years of fervently trying to convince her husband to repent, Radegund gave up and asked to be allowed to move into a cloister. Clothar not only gave in but seemed to have supported the idea. When Radegund left Clothar she went to live in Noyon. The bishop there consecrated her as a deaconess. She took off her gold ornaments and expensive clothes and gave them to the poor. Radegund then retired to Saix, one of the royal residences in Poitou, where she lived an austere life.

News soon came that Clothar wanted to get Radegund back. She escaped to Poitiers with some friends. She wrote to Clothar and begged him to think of her as dead to him. He agreed for a time, but eventually changed his mind again. With help from Germanus, the bishop of Paris, she prevailed on getting him to leave her alone. He was near death at this time (561). Before he died, Clothar arranged for the rich endowment of the convent in Poitiers. Queen Radegund settled there when she was a widow.

Radegund lived happily in the convent until her death. She accomplished several things that were near and dear to her heart. One was her dream of getting a relic of the cross that Jesus died on for the monastery at Poitiers. The abbey in Poitiers became known as St. Croix in honor of this relic.

Though Radegund was at peace personally, the country around her was not. Wars and striving for power continued. At one point during a battle, Poitiers was burned and looted. We don’t know how much the convent was affected. Radegund never tired of writing to her royal relatives trying to get them to make peace. It seems that her efforts were in vain because troubles continued for many years.

Radegund died in 587. She had outlived her husband and his sons. To her last day she practiced a life of penance and humbly served in the convent doing even the most menial tasks. Radegund is honored as the patron saint of Poitiers.

[1]See posts on this blog site from January 22, 2019 through June 4, 2019 for “Women in the Patristic Era”.

[2]There were two Theodora’s – our subject for this week was married to Justinian (6thcentury) and reigned in Constantinople. Later we will talk about the Empress Theodora of Byzantium of the 9thcentury.

[3]Merovingian Era – Roughly 457 – 750 AD. See post on Clothilde, August 5, 2019.

[4]“A Secular Priest”. The Lives of St. Radegund & Bathildis, Queens of the Franks (St. Pius X Press, 2019).

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