Venantius Fortunatus: Life of St. Radegund

Source: “St. Radegund,” from Sainted Women of the Dark Ages, ed. and trans. Jo Ann McNamara, John E. Halborg, with E. Gordon Whatley (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1992), pp.70-86.

Taken from an Internet site no longer available (29 Sept. 2004):
<> Copyright: McMaster University, 2000
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[Venantius Fortunatus (530-609), the author of this text, served as advisor and secretary to Queen Radegund (b. 520-5; d. 587), who had fled her husband, the Frankish King Clothar I (d. 561), founded an abbey at Poitiers and become a nun. Venantius Fortunatus wrote a number of saints’ lives and religious songs and poems; he became Bishop of Poitiers c. 590.]

In the text below, numbers in parentheses refer to endnotes, which can be found at the end.

The Life of the Holy Radegund, by Venantius Fortunatus

1. Our Redeemer is so richly and abundantly generous that He wins mighty victories through the female sex and, despite their frail physique, He confers glory and greatness on women through strength of mind. By faith, Christ makes them strong who were born weak so that, when those who appeared to be imbeciles are crowned with their merits by Him who made them, to garner praise for their Creator who hid heavenly treasure in earthen vessels. For Christ the king dwells with his riches in their bowels. Mortifying themselves in the world, despising earthly consort, purified of worldly contamination, trusting not in the transitory, dwelling not in error but seeking to live with God, they are united with the Redeemer’s glory in Paradise. One of that company is she whose earthly life we are attempting to present to the public, though in homely style, so that the glorious memory that she, who lives with Christ, has left us will be celebrated in this world. So ends the Prologue.

Here begins the life.

2. The most blessed Radegund was of the highest earthly rank, born from the seed of the kings of the barbarian nation of Thuringia. Her grandfather was King Bassin, her paternal uncle, Hermanfred and her father, King Bertechar.(1) But she surpassed her lofty origin by even loftier deeds. She had lived with her noble family only a little while when the victorious Franks devastated the region with barbaric turmoil and, like the Israelites, she departed and migrated from her homeland.(2) The royal girl became part of the plunder of these conquerors and they began to quarrel over their captive. If the contest had not ended with an agreement for her disposition, the kings would have taken up arms against one another. Falling to the lot of the illustrious King Clothar(3), she was taken to Athies in Vermandois, a royal villa, and her upbringing was entrusted to guardians.(4) The maiden was taught letters and other things suitable to her sex and she would often converse with other children there about her desire to be a martyr if the chance came in her time.(5) Thus even as an adolescent, she displayed the merits of a mature person. She obtained part of what she sought, for, though the church was flourishing in peace, she endured persecution from her own household. While but a small child, she herself brought the scraps left at table to the gathered children, washing the head of each one, seating them on little chairs and offering water for their hands, and she mingled with the infants herself.(6) She would also carry out what she had planned beforehand with Samuel, a little cleric.(7) Following his lead, carrying a wooden cross they had made, singing psalms, the children would troop into the oratory as somber as adults. Radegund herself would polish the pavement with her dress and, collecting the drifting dust around the altar in a napkin, reverently placed it outside the door rather than sweep it away. When the aforementioned king, having provided the expenses, wished to bring her to Vitry she escaped by night from Athies through Beralcha with a few companions.(8) When he settled with her that she should be made his queen at Soissons, she avoided the trappings of royalty, so she would not grow great in the world but in Him to Whom she was devoted and she remained unchanged by earthly glory.(9)

3. Therefore, though married to a terrestrial prince, she was not separated from the celestial one and, the more secular power was bestowed upon her, the more humbly she bent her will-more than befitted her royal status. Always subject to God following priestly admonitions, she was more Christ’s partner than her husband’s companion. We will only attempt to publicize a few of the many things she did during this period of her life. Fearing she would lose status with God as she advanced in worldly rank at the side of a prince, she gave herself energetically to almsgiving. Whenever she received part of the tribute, she gave away a tithe of all that came to her before accepting any for herself. She dispensed what was left to monasteries, sending the gifts to those she could not reach on foot. There was no hermit who could hide from her munificence.(10) So she paid out what she received lest the burden weigh her down. The voice of the needy was not raised in vain for she never turned a deaf ear. Often she gave clothes, believing that the limbs of Christ concealed themselves under the garments of the poor and that whatever she did not give to paupers was truly lost.

4. Turning her mind to further works of mercy, she built a house at Athies where beds were elegantly made up for needy women gathered there.(11) She would wash them herself in warm baths, tending to the putrescence of their diseases. She washed the heads of men, acting like a servant. And before she washed them, she would mix a potion with her own hands to revive those who were weak from sweating.(12) Thus the devout lady, queen by birth and marriage, mistress of the palace, served the poor as a handmaid. Secretly, lest anyone notice, at royal banquets, she fed most deliciously on beans or lentils from the dish of legumes placed before her, in the manner of the three boys.(13) And if the singing of the hours started while she was still eating, she would make her excuses to the king and withdraw from the company to do her duty to God. As she went out, she sang psalms to the Lord and carefully checked what food had been provided to refresh the paupers at the door.

5. At night, when she lay with her prince she would ask leave to rise and leave the chamber to relieve nature. Then she would prostrate herself in prayer under a hair cloak by the privy(14) so long that the cold pierced her through and through and only her spirit was warm. Her whole flesh pre- maturely dead, indifferent to her body’s torment, she kept her mind intent on Paradise and counted her suffering trivial, if only she might avoid becoming cheap in Christ’s eyes.(15) Re-entering the chamber thereafter, she could scarcely get warm either by the hearth or in her bed. Because of this, people said that the King had yoked himself to a monacha [nun] rather than a queen.(16) Her goodness provoked him to harsher irritation but she either soothed him to the best of her ability or bore her husband’s brawling modestly.

6. Indeed, it will suffice to know how she bore herself during the days of Quadragesima [Lent], a singular penitent in her royal robes.(17) When the time for fasting drew near, she would notify a monacha named Pia, who, according to their holy arrangement, would send a hair cloth sealed carefully in linen to Radegund. Draping it over her body through the whole of Quadragesima, the holy woman wore that sweet burden under her royal garment. When the season was over, she returned the hair cloth similarly sealed. Who could believe how she would pour out her heart in prayers when the king was away? How she would cling to the feet of Christ as though He were present with her and satiate her long hunger with tears as though she was gorging on delicacies! She had contempt for the food of the belly, for Christ was her only nourishment and all her hunger was for Christ.

7. With what piety did she care solicitously for the candles made with her own hands that burned all night long in oratories and holy places? When the king asked after her at table during the late hours, he was told that she was delayed, busy about God’s affairs. This caused strife with her husband and later on the prince compensated her with gifts for the wrong he did her with his tongue.

8. If she received a report that any of God’s servants was on his way to see her, either of his own accord or by invitation, she felt full of celestial joy. Hastening out in the night time, with a few intimates, through snow, mud or dust, she herself would wash the feet of the venerable man with water she had heated beforehand and offer the servant of God something to drink in a bowl. There was no resisting her. On the following day, committing the care of the household to her trusted servants, she would occupy herself wholly with the just man’s words and his teachings concerning salvation. The business of achieving celestial life fixed her attention throughout the day. And if a bishop should come, she rejoiced to see him, gave him gifts and was sad to have to let him go home.

9. And how prudently she sought to devote everything possible to her salvation. If the girls attending her when she dressed praised a new veil of coarse linen ornamented with gold and gems in the barbarian fashion as particularly beautiful, she would judge herself unworthy to be draped in such fabric. Divesting herself of the dress immediately, she would send it to some holy place in the neighborhood where it could be laid as a cloth on the Lord’s altar.

10. And if the king, according to custom, condemned a guilty criminal to death, wasn’t the most holy queen near dead with torment lest the culprit perish by the sword?(18) How she would rush about among his trusty men, ministers and nobles, whose blandishments might soothe the prince’s temper until the king’s anger ceased and the voice of salvation flowed where the sentence of death had issued before!

11. Even while she remained in her worldly palace, the blessed acts which busied her so pleased Divine Clemency that the Lord’s generosity worked miracles through her. Once at her villa in Péronne, while that holiest of women was strolling in the garden after her meal, some sequestered criminals loudly cried to her from the prison for help.(19) She asked who it might be.

The servants lied that a crowd of beggars were seeking alms. Believing that, she sent to relieve their needs. Meanwhile the fettered prisoners were silenced by a judge. But as night was falling and she was saying her prayers, the chains broke and the freed prisoners ran from the prison to the holy woman. When they witnessed this, those who had lied to the holy one realized that they were the real culprits, while the erstwhile convicts were freed from their bonds.

12. If Divinity fosters it, misfortune often leads to salvation. Thus her innocent brother was killed so that she might come to live in religion.(20) She left the king and went straight to holy Médard at Noyon. She earnestly begged that she might change her garments and be consecrated to God.(21) But mindful of the words of the Apostle: “Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed,”(22) he hesitated to garb the Queen in the robe of a monacha. For even then, nobles were harassing the holy man and attempting to drag him brutally through the basilica from the altar to keep him from veiling the king’s spouse lest the priest imagine he could take away the king’s official queen as though she were only a prostitute.(23) That holiest of women knew this and, sizing up the situation, entered the sacristy put on a monastic garb and proceeded straight to the altar, saying to the blessed Médard: “If you shrink from consecrating me, and fear man more than God, Pastor, He will require His sheep’s soul from your hand.” He was thunderstruck by that argument and, laying his hand on her, he consecrated her as a deaconess.(24)

13. Soon she divested herself of the noble costume which she was wont to wear as queen when she walked in procession on the day of a festival with her train of attendants. She laid it on the altar and piled the table of Divine Glory with purple, gems, ornaments and like gifts to honor Him. She gave a heavy girdle of costly gold for the relief of the poor.(25) Similarly, one day she ornamented herself in queenly splendor, as the barbarians would say-all decked out for stapione.(26) Entering holy Jumerus’ cell, she laid her frontlets, chemise, bracelets, coif and pins all decorated with gold, some with circlets of gems on the altar for future benefit.(27) Again, proceeding to the venerable Dato’s cell one day, spectacularly adorned as she should have been in the world with whatever she could put on, having rewarded the abbot, she gave the whole from her woman’s wealth to the community. Likewise going on to the retreat of holy Gundulf, later Bishop of Metz, she exerted herself just as energetically to enrich his monastery.(28)

14. From there her fortunate sails approached Tours. Can any eloquence express how zealous and munificent she showed herself there? How she conducted herself around the courts, shrines, and basilica of Saint Martin, weeping unchecked tears, prostrating herself at each threshold! After mass was said, she heaped the holy altar with the clothing and bright ornaments with which she used to adorn herself in the palace. And when the handmaid of the Lord went from there to the neighborhood of Candes whence the glorious Martin, Christ’s senator and confidant, migrated from this world, she gave him no less again, ever profiting in the Lord’s grace.(29)

15. From there, in decorous manner, she approached the villa of Saix near the aforesaid town in the territory of Poitiers, her journey ever prospering.(30) Who could recount the countless remarkable things she did there or grasp the special quality of each one? At table she secretly chewed rye or barley bread which she had hidden under a cake to escape notice. For from the time she was veiled, consecrated by Saint Médard, even in illness, she ate nothing but legumes and green vegetables: not fruit nor fish nor eggs. And she drank no drink but honeyed water or perry [cider made from pears] and would touch no undiluted wine nor any decoction of mead or fermented beer.(16) Then, emulating Saint Germanus’ custom, she secretly had a millstone brought to her. Throughout the whole of Quadragesima, she ground fresh flour with her own hands.(31) She continuously distributed each offering to local religious communities, in the amount needed for the meal taken every four days.(32) With that holy woman, acts of mercy were no fewer than the crowds who pressed her; as there was no shortage of those who asked, so was there no shortage in what she gave so that, wonderfully, they could all be satisfied. Where did the exile get such wealth? Whence came the pilgrim’s riches?

17. How much did she spend daily on relief? Only she who bore it to the beggars ever knew. For beyond the daily meal which she fed to her enrolled paupers, twice a week, on Thursday and Saturday, she prepared a bath.(33) Girding herself with a cloth, she washed the heads of the needy, scrubbing away whatever she found there. Not shrinking from scurf, scabs, lice or pus, she plucked off the worms and scrubbed away the putrid flesh. Then she herself combed the hair on every head she had washed. As in the gospel, she applied oil to their ulcerous sores that had opened when the skin softened or that scratching had irritated, reducing the spread of infection. When women descended into the tub, she washed their limbs with soap from head to foot. When they came out, if she noticed that anyone’s clothes were shoddy with age, she would take them away and give them new ones. Thus she spruced up all who came to the feast in rags. When they were gathered around the table and the dinner service laid out, she brought water and napkins for each of them and cleaned the mouth and hands of the invalids herself. Then three trays laden with delicacies would be carried in. Standing like a good hostess before the diners, she cut up the bread and meat and served everyone while fasting herself. Moreover, she never ceased to offer food to the blind and weak with a spoon. In this, two women aided her but she alone served them, busy as a new Martha until the “brothers” were drunk and happily satisfied with their meal.(34) Then, leaving the place to wash her hands, she was completely gratified with her well-served feast. And if anyone protested, she ordered that they sit still until they wished to get up.

18. Summer and winter, on Sundays, she followed a praiseworthy rule. She would provide an undiluted drink of sweet wine to the assembled paupers. First she doled it out herself and then, while she hurried off to Mass, she assigned a maid to serve everyone who remained. Her devotions completed, she would meet the priests invited to her table for it was her royal custom not to let them return home without a gift.

19. Doesn’t this make one shudder, this thing she did so sweetly? When lepers arrived and, sounding a warning,(35) came forward, she directed her assistant to inquire with pious concern whence they came or how many there were. Having learned that, she had a table laid with dishes, spoons, little knives, cups and goblets, and wine and she went in herself secretly that none might see her. Seizing some of the leprous women in her embrace, her heart full of love, she kissed their faces. Then, while they were seated at table, she washed their faces and hands with warm water and treated their sores with fresh unguents and fed each one. When they were leaving she offered small gifts of gold and clothing. To this there was scarcely a single witness, but the attendant presumed to chide her softly: “Most holy lady, when you have embraced lepers, who will kiss you?” Pleasantly, she answered: “Really, if you won’t kiss me, it’s no concern of mine.”

20. With God’s help, she shone forth in diverse miracles. For example, if anyone was in desperate straits because of pus from a wound, an attendant would bring a vine leaf to the saint speaking with her about what was to be done with it. As soon as the saint made the sign of the cross over it, the attendant would take it to the desperate one, placing it on the wound which would soon be healed.(36) Similarly an invalid or someone with a fever might come and say that he had learned in a dream that to be healed he should hasten to the holy woman and present one of her attendants with a candle. After it had burned through the night his disease would be killed while the invalid was healed. How often when she heard of someone lying bedridden would she sally forth like a pilgrim bearing fruit, or something sweet and warm to restore their strength? How quickly would an invalid who had eaten nothing for ten days take food when she served it herself and thus receive both food and health together? And she ordered these things herself lest anyone tell tales.

21. Weren’t there such great gatherings of people on the day that the saint determined to seclude herself that those who could not be contained in the streets climbed up to fill the roofs?(37) Anyone who spoke of all the most holy woman had fervently accomplished in fasting, services, humility, charity, suffering and torment, proclaimed her both confessor and martyr. Truly every day except for the most venerable day of the Lord, was a fast day for that most holy woman. Her meal of lentils or green vegetables was virtually a fast in itself for she took no fowl or fish or fruit or eggs to eat. Her bread was made from rye or barley which she concealed under the pudding lest anyone notice what she ate. And to drink she had water and honey or perry and only a little of that was poured out for her, however thirsty she was.

22. The first time she enclosed herself in her cell throughout Quadragesima, she ate no bread, except on Sundays but only roots of herbs or mallow greens without a drop of oil or salt for dressing. In fact, during the entire fast, she consumed only two sestaria of water.(38) Consequently, she suffered so much from thirst that she could barely chant the psalms through her desiccated throat. She kept her vigils in a shift of hair cloth instead of linen incessantly chanting the offices. A bed of ashes served her for a couch which she covered with a hair cloth. In this manner, rest itself wearied her but even this was not enough to endure.

23. While all the monachas were deep in sleep, she would collect their shoes, restoring them cleaned and oiled to each. On other Quadragesimas, she was more relaxed, eating on Thursday and again on Sundays.(39) The rest of the time when health permitted, except for Easter and other high holy days, she led an austere life in sackcloth and ashes, rising early to be singing psalms when the others awoke. For no monasterial offices pleased her unless she observed them first. She punished herself if anyone else did a good deed before she did. When it was her turn to sweep the pavements around the monastery, she even scoured the nooks and crannies, bundling away whatever nasty things were there, never too disgusted to carry off what others shuddered to look upon. She did not shrink from cleaning the privies but cleaned and carried off the stinking dung. For she believed that she would be diminished if these vile services did not ennoble her. She carried firewood in her arms. She blew on the hearth and stirred the fire with tongs and did not flinch if she hurt herself. She would care for the infirm beyond her assigned week, cooking their food, washing their faces, and bringing them warm water, going the rounds of those she was caring for and returning fasting to her cell.

24. How can anyone describe her excited fervor as she ran into the kitchen, doing her week of chores?(40) None of the monachas but she would carry as much wood as was needed in a bundle from the back gate.(41) She drew water from the well and poured it into basins. She scrubbed vegetables and legumes and revived the hearth by blowing so that she might cook the food. While it was busy boiling, she took the vessels from the hearth, washing and laying out the dishes. When the meal was finished, she rinsed the small vessels and scrubbed the kitchen till it shone, free of every speck of dirt. Then she carried out all the sweepings and the nastiest rubbish. Further she never flagged in supporting the sick and even before she took up the Rule of Arles did her weekly tour of service preparing plenty of warm water for them all. Humbly washing and kissing their feet, the holy one prostrated herself and begged them all to forgive her for any negligence she might have committed.

25. But I shudder to speak of the pain she inflicted on herself over and above all these labors. Once, throughout Quadragesima, she bound her neck and arms with three broad iron circlets. Inserting three chains in them, she fettered her whole body so tightly that her delicate flesh, swelling up, enclosed the hard iron. After the fast was ended, when she wished to remove the chains locked under her skin, she could not for the flesh was cut by the circlet through her back and breast over the iron of the chains, so that the flow of blood nearly drained her little body to the last drop.(42)

26. On another occasion, she ordered a brass plate made, shaped in the sign of Christ. She heated it up in her cell and pressed it upon her body most deeply in two spots so that her flesh was roasted through. Thus, with her spirit flaming, she caused her very limbs to burn. One Quadragesima, she devised a still more terrible agony to torture herself in addition to the severe hunger and burning thirst of her fast. She forced her tender limbs, already suppurating and scraped raw by the hard bristles of a hair cloth, to carry a water basin full of burning coals. Then, isolated from the rest, though her limbs were quivering, her soul was steeled for the pain. She drew it to herself, so that she might be a martyr though it was not an age of persecution. To cool her fervent soul, she thought to burn her body. She imposed the glowing brass and her burning limbs hissed. Her skin was consumed and a deep furrow remained where the brand had touched her. Silently, she concealed the holes, but the putrefying blood betrayed the pain that her voice did not reveal. Thus did a woman willingly suffer such bitterness for the sweetness of Christ! And in time, miracles told the story that she herself would have kept hidden.

27. For example, a noble matron of Gislad named Bella, who had suffered from blindness for a long time, had herself led from Francia to Poitiers into the saint’s presence.(43) Though won over with difficulty, she had her brought in during the silence of a foul night. Prostrate at the saint’s knees, the woman could barely ask her to deign to sign her eyes. As soon as she impressed the sign of the cross on them in the name of Christ, the blindness fled; the light returned. Daylight shone on the orbs so long darkened beneath the shades of night. Thus she who had been led there, went home without a guide.

28. Similarly, a girl named Fraifled, whom the Enemy vexed, was violently contorted and most wretched. Without delay, she was found worthy of a cure at the saint’s hands at Saix. Nor should we omit to mention the following miracle, revealed through the blessed woman at this time. The next day a woman named Leubela, who was gravely vexed in the back by the Adversary, was publicly restored to health when the saint prayed for her and Christ worked a new miracle of healing. For a rustling sound came from under the skin of her shoulder blades and a worm emerged. Treading it underfoot, she went home liberated.

29. What she did secretly was to become known to all people. A certain monacha shivered with cold by day and burned with fire by night through an entire year. And when she had lain lifeless for six months, unable to move a step, one of her sisters told the saint of this infirmity. Finding her almost lifeless, she bade them prepare warm water and had the sick woman brought to her cell and laid in the warm water. Then she ordered everyone to leave, remaining alone with the sick woman for two hours as a doctor. She nursed the sick limbs, tracing the form of her body from head to foot. Wherever her hands touched, the sickness fled from the patient and she who had been laid in the bath by two persons got out of it in full health. The woman who had been revolted by the smell of wine, now accepted it, drank and was refreshed. What more? The next day, when she was expected to migrate from this world, she went out in public, cured.

30. Let us increase her praise by recounting another miracle that has rightly not been forgotten. A certain woman labored so heavily under an invasion of the Enemy that the struggling foe could scarcely be brought to the saint. She commanded the Adversary to lie prostrate on the pavement and show her some respect. The moment the blessed woman spoke, he threw himself down for she frightened him who was feared. When the saint, full of faith, trod on the nape of her neck, he left her in a flux that poured from her belly. Also from small things great glory may accrue to the Creator. Once, a ball of thread which the saint had spun was hanging from the vault, when a shrew mouse came to nibble it. But, before he could break the thread, he hung there dead in the very act of biting.(44)

31. Let our book include another event worthy to be called a miracle. One of the saint’s men named Florius was at sea fishing when a whirlwind appeared and a mass of billows surged. The sailor had not even begun to bail when a wave came over the side, the ship filled and went under. In his extremity, he cried out, “Holy Radegund, while we obey you, keep us from shipwreck and prevail upon God to save us from the sea.” When he said this, the clouds fled away, serenity returned, the waves fell and the prow arose.

32. Goda, a secular girl who later served God as a monacha, lay on her bed for a long time. The more she was plied with medicine, the more she languished. A candle was made to the measure of her own height, in the name of the holy woman, and the lord took pity on her. At the hour when she expected the chills, she kindled the light and held it and as a result, the cold fled before the candle was consumed.

33. The more we omit for brevity’s sake, the greater grows our guilt. Therefore, as we dispose quickly of the remainder, our relief is slowed. A carpenter’s wife had been tormented by diabolic possession for many days. Jokingly, the venerable abbess said of her to the holy woman: “Believe me, Mother, I will excommunicate you if the woman is not purged of the Enemy and restored in three days.”(45) She said this publicly but she made the holy woman secretly sorry that she had been so slow to heal the afflicted. To be brief, at the saint’s prayer on the next day, the Adversary went roaring out of her ear and abandoned the little vessel he had violently seized. Unhurt, the woman returned to the hospice with her husband. Nor should we neglect a similar deed. The most blessed one asked that a flourishing laurel tree be uprooted and transferred to her cell so she could enjoy it there. But when this was done all the leaves withered because the transplanted tree did not take root. The abbess jokingly remarked that she had better pray for the tree to take root in the ground, or she herself would be separated from her food. She did not speak in vain for, through the saint’s intercession, the laurel with the withered root grew green again in leaf and branch.(46)

34. When one of the monachas closest to her suffered because her eye was flooded with a bloody humor, she laid hold of some wormwood which the saint had about her breast for refreshment. When she placed it on her eye, the pain and blood soon fled and, from the freshness of the herb, the eye was suddenly clear and bright again. And that reminds me of something I almost passed by in silence. Children were born to the blessed one’s agent, Andered, but he scarcely saw them before he lost them and the sorrowing mother had to think about burying her child even while birthing it. During the preparations, the tearful parents wrapped the lifeless babe in the saint’s hair cloth. As soon as the infant’s body touched that most medicinal garment and those noble rags, he came back from the dead to normal life. Blushing away his tomblike pallor, he rose from the mantle.

35. Who can count the wonders that Christ’s merciful kindness performs? A monacha Animia suffered so with dropsical swelling that she seemed to have reached her end. The appointed sisters awaited the moment when she would exhale her spirit. While she was sleeping, however, it seemed to her that the most venerable blessed Radegund ordered her to descend nude into a bath with no water in it. Then, with her own hand, the blessed one seemed to pour oil on the sick woman’s head and cover her with a new garment. After this strange ritual, when she awakened from her sleep, all trace of the disease had disappeared. She had not even sweated it away for the water was consumed from within. As a result of this new miracle, no vestige of disease was left in her belly. She who was thought to be ready for the tomb rose from her bed for the office. Her head still smelled of oil in witness of the miracle but the pernicious disease was no longer in her belly.

36. Let us now tell a tale in which the whole region may rejoice. One evening as twilight cast its shadows, the layfolk were singing noisy songs near the monastery as they danced around accompanied by musicians with cithars. The saint had spent some time exhorting two listeners. Then one monacha said, joking: “Lady, I recognize one of my songs being preached by the dancers.” To which she responded: “That’s fine if it thrills you to hear religion mingled with the odor of the world.” Then the sister stated: “Truly, lady, I have heard two or three of my songs which I have bound together in this way.” Then the saint said: “God witness that I have heard nothing of any worldly song.” Thus it was obvious that though her flesh remained in the world, her spirit was already in Heaven.

37. In praise of Christ, let us proclaim a miracle from our own time patterned after an ancient model in the tradition of the blessed Martin. When the most blessed female was secluded in her cell, she heard a monacha crying. At the signal, she entered and asked what was the matter. She answered that her infant sister was dead, and though still warm she was laid out and ready to be washed in cold water. Consoling with her, the saint bade her bring the corpse to her in her cell. There she took it into her own hands, closing the door behind her and ordering the other to withdraw to a distance lest she sense what she was doing. But what she did secretly could not be concealed for long. By time the services for the dead were prepared, she had handled the corpse of the dead little girl for seven hours. But seeing a faith He could not deny, Christ utterly restored her health. When the saint rose from prayer, the infant rose from the dead. The old woman got up when the infant revived. When the signal was repeated, she joyfully restored alive the one who was dead when she had tearfully received her.

38. And this noble deed should be commemorated. On the day the holy woman migrated from earth, a tribune of the fisc named Domnolenus who was wasting away with a suffocating disease dreamed that he seemed to see the saint approach his town in state. He ran out and saluted her and asked what the blessed one wished. Then she said that she had come to see him. And since it was the wish of the people to establish an oratory for blessed Martin, the most blessed one seized the tribune’s hand, saying: “There are venerable relics of the Confessor here with which you could build a shrine which he would consider most fitting.” Behold the mystery of God! The foundation and the pavement where a basilica had been built were revealed. Then, in addition, in his slumber she drew her hand over his jaws and stroked his throat for a long time, saying: “I came that God might confer better health on you.” And he dreamed she asked: “On my life, because of me, release those whom you have in prison.” Waking, the tribune recounted what he had seen to his wife, saying: “Indeed, I believe that at this hour the saint has gone from this earth.” He sent to the city to confirm the truth of this. He directed the prison that the seven prisoners held there should be admonished and released. The messenger, returning, reported that she had migrated from the world in that very hour. And the saint’s oracle was proved by a triple mystery: the relief of the prisoners, the restoration of the tribune’s health, and the temple building.

39. But let this small sample of the blessed one’s miracles suffice, lest their very abundance arouse contempt. And even this should in no way be reckoned a small amount, since from these few tales we may recognize in the miracles the greatness with which she lived in such piety and self-denial, affection and affibility, humility and honor, faith and fervor, with the result that after her death wonders also ensued upon her glorious passing.


1 Fortunatus tactfully suppresses the information that Hermanfred killed Bertechar and took his orphaned daughter into his own household. Gregory of Tours, HF [=History of the Franks], 3:4.
2 Again, Fortunatus omits Hermanfred’s atrocities, which Gregory of Tours says provoked the Frankish attack. Ibid., 3:7.
3 Clothar was the third son of Clovis and Clothild, Vita Chrothildis, 9, 10, and shared his kingdom with Childebert until the latter’s death in 558. One purpose of marriage was to prevent too much competition for these crowns. In 555, Clothar attempted to marry the widow of Theudebald, Clovis’s grandson through another woman. Gregory of Tours, HF, 4:9. Episcopal opposition prevented him from doing so, and in 558 he contented himself with exiling Childebert’s widow and her children.
4 This villa later formed part of her morning gift, and she established a hospital there. A parish was later formed in her honor. Higounet. “Saints in Úrovingiennes,” 155-67.
5 See C. 26. This is a deliberate part of Fortunatus’s hagiographical scheme.
6 Cox interprets this as mixing them a drink.
7 Although “with Samuel” seems clearly to indicate that she had the cooperation of a clergyman, it is also possible that Fortunatus intended to draw a parallel between his heroine and the prophet Samuel who was raised as a child in the Temple. I Samuel 2-4; Aigrain, Sainte Radegonde, 27. This is the meaning Cox prefers.
8 Krusch, ed., MGH, SRM, 366, n. 2, adds, “Nescio quid intelligitur.” Variant readings supply “from Athies” as often as “to Athies.” Aigrain, Sainte Radegonde, 29, n. 27, summarizes various attempts to associate Beraicha with Biaches on the Somme, not far from Soissons. Even more ingeniously, some have transcribed it as per barcham (by boat). Aubrun, Radegonde, 21, cites a local legend from Missy-sur-Aisne, ten kilometers from Soissons, where a rock has been preserved purporting to bear miraculous marks where the stone acted of itself to trap a soldier searching for the escaping bride.
9 Soissons was the capital of Clothar’s kingdom. In “Queens as Jezebels,” 34-35, Nelson discusse the problem of defining the office of Queen in this period. She is hesitant to accept the polygyny of Clothar, and therefore avoids the problem of whether his other wives also exercised the office. In any case, Fortunatus emphasizes more than once that Radegund was Clothar’s official queen.
10 It is not clear what is happening in this passage-whether her “tribute” was a gift from her husband or an official income from the taxes. See Goffart, Barbarians and Romans, for a broad discussion. It is also unclear whether her dispensation of alms exceeded the expectations from a charitable queen, or whether it reflects the biblical tithe, or tenth. Nelson, “Queens as Jezebels,” 36, discusses the role of Merovingian queens as receivers and distributors of wealth. Duby, Early Growth, 48ff.. discusses the role of the church in facilitating the circulation of pillage into sacrificial gifts and charity.
11 A hospice dedicated to Radegund still exists at Athies.
12 Cox reads this to mean “workers worn out with toil.”
13 Daniel 1:12.
14 Ante secretum
15 Krusch, ed., MGH, SRM 2:380. n.1, notes the use of the term mens intenta by Baudonivia as a possible translation of Radegund’s Germanic name.
16 Monacha, which also appears in Monegond’s life, appears to have been common usage in the early sixth century, and we have retained it throughout. Thereafter, it virtually disappeared, to be replaced by sanctimonial, which we have translated as nun.
17 As we have done with other legal and institutional terms, we have followed our text in retaining Quadragesima instead of the more modern Lent.
18 See Vita Genovefa, 25. The intervention of women on behalf of prisoners may indicate an aspect of the division of labor whereby the harsh military face of kingship could be softened through the merciful quality of queenship without making the king appear weak or indecisive.
19 Prandium, a late breakfast or lunch taken about noon.
20 See “The Thuringian War,” and n. 22. This sequence of events likely occurred between 550 and 555, ending a childless marriage often to fifteen years.
21 Médard, d. 558, Bishop of Noyon and Tournai whose cult, patronized by subsequent Merovingian rulers, flourished locally from his own time. Wallace-Hadrill, Frankish Church, 194, sees him as one of the three great patron saints of the dynasty, along with Denis and Germanus. He remained a favorite with Clothar, who buried him at Soissons. Gregory of Tours, HF, 4:19.
22 Corinthians 7:22.
23 Reginam non publicanam sed publicam: “a queen who was no whore but a lawfully wedded wife”(Cox).
24 The choice of deaconess rather than nun or sanctimonial seems to be deliberately indicated. Wemple, Women in Frankish Society, 142, gives a cautious overview of the questionable legal status of a deaconess in this period. There is no reason to suppose that a deaconess was bound to celibacy. Conceivably, Médard had found an ingenious solution to his particular dilemma in consecrating a woman who was still married to the king. On this point, Delaruelle, “Sainte Radegonde,” 67, remarks that the promotion of women as saints and their role in the sanctification of public life was an innovation of Merovingian spirituality. He sees Radegund as exempt from the restrictions of claustration in Caesarius’s rule because of her diaconal status, which explains her charity and social life. Our text however, suggests that once she entered her nunnery at Poitiers she did live as a cloistered nun, but that was after Clothar’s death.
25 The belt is described as fractum auri; broken or unworked seem less appropriate than the less common translation, costly from CCSL, Lexicon, but Cox argues that the gold was broken up to be given away.
26 Conposito…stapione. Krusch, ed., MGH. SRM 2:369, n.1 does not gloss the Germanic word stapione, but cites Graf, Althochdeutsches Sprachschatz, 6:655. This seems to refer to the old high German word that corresponds to the archaic modern German Stapf, footstep. A possible translation might be “with stately pace,” but there is no apparent reason why Fortunatus should have used a vernacular word in place of the ordinary Latin gradus. Used in conjunction with compositus, as it is, it seems to have something to do with her outfit instead-possibly some slang version of “dressed for stepping out.”
27 We have here translated sanctus simply as holy because the text seems to refer to a living hermit, and no Saint Jumerus appears in any of the standard reference works.
28 Krusch notes that Gundulf does not appear in any other sources as the bishop of Metz.
29 Gregory of Tours, HF, I:48.
30 Discussing the spread of Radegund’s cult, in “Saints mérovingiennes,” Higounet shows that parishes were dedicated to her at Athies, where she grew up, near Tours, where she stopped on her way to Poitiers, at Saix, the site of John’s hermitage, and at a variety of other locations in Neustria and Aquitaine. It is also worthwhile to note that Saix was given to Radegund by Clothar, as was the property where she built her nunnery in Poitiers. She was acting with his permission, however grudging it might have been, and she never went out of the lands that he ruled.
31 Krusch, ed., MGH, SRM 2:369, n.10. St. Germanus was in fact content to mill and sift barley flour for his own bread. “Vita S. Germani Autisiodorensis episcopi.” ed. Narbey, 47. In subsequent notes, Krusch indicates that many of Radegund’s austerities appear to be inspired by Germanus’s example.
32 Aubrun, Radegonde, 35, n.15, suggests that this may refer to altar breads whose manufacture is still a major activity at Sainte Croix.
33 The recipients of her banquets are called matriculam, suggesting a regular role of dependent paupers. Salin, Etudes mérovingiens, 270, says that cemeteries in the Poitiers region yield evidence of widespread malnutrition, especially in women and children, and the remains even give rise to suspicions of cannibalism. More recent research supports this archeological hypothesis; see Bullough and Campbell, “Female Longevity.”
34 Luke 10:40. Martha, as later texts will also show, is customarily presented as the type of the active religious life for women, whereas her sister Mary symbolizes the contemplative life. This public activity appears to mark Radegund’s life at Saix before she built her nunnery.
35 This formula, signo tacto, appears in different contexts in a number of contemporary monastic texts, including the Benedictine rule, C. 43, and that of Caesarius of Aries, C. 12. Herbert Thurston, The Catholic Encyclopedia, 2:418-24. interprets it as some sort of a bell, although he thinks that a gong or a clapper might have been used in some cases. He ultimately concludes that it would be more prudent to translate the term as a signal.
36 In this passage and in the preceding one concerning the lepers we have translated the word ministra as attendant to preserve the possibility that this person was more specialized in caring for the sick than an ordinary ancilla or puella. The practical nature of Radegund’s nursing extended to cooperation with even more skilled medical practitioners, witnessed in Gregory of Tours, HF, book 9. Some years after Radegund died, rebellious nuns accused the Abbess Leubevera of harboring a lover disguised as a woman in the convent. The man at whom suspicion pointed came forward and claimed that he wore female garb to symbolize his loss of male potency. His testicles had been so diseased that, after consulting with Reoval, a surgeon, Radegund had advised his castration.
37 Fortunatus jumped abruptly over the end of Radegund’s sojourn at Saix, the building of Holy Cross monastery, and her advent at Poitiers; see Baudonivia for an account of these events. Ever the courtier, the poet may have found the account too unfavorable to King Clothar, whereas Baudonivia writing later, may no longer have been concerned with such repercussions. The stress laid on the idea of enclosure within the small city built against the fortified walls of Poitiers facing the River Clain may reflect Radegund’s fear of being forced to marry another king after Clothar’s death. The powers and claims of widows in this age were not to be taken lightly, as the long war between Brunhild and Fredegund amply attests. Clothar himself, in 555, would have married his nephew Theudebert’s widow, had not the bishops prohibited it, and he contented himself with exiling Childebert’s widow Ultragotha in 558, Gregory of Tours, HF, 4;9, 4.20. Radegund was perhaps voluntarily emulating the forced imprisonment of Charibert’s widow in the convent at Arles from which she had probably already received the rule from Caesaria II, who died in 558 or 559.
38 A sestarius is approximately a pint. In 1971, archeological exploration in Poitiers, guided by a map of 1787, uncovered Radegund’s cell. Her isolation may mark her continuing peculiar status as a deaconess rather than a nun within the community. In any case, she could close herself away in this manner because, as she wrote “to the Bishops,” she had appointed Agnes, “whom I have loved and brought up from childhood like a daughter,” as abbess. Gregory of Tours, HF, 9:42. The date of this letter is unknown, but conceivably it was sent to the Council of Tours in 565. Germanus of Paris, who consecrated Agnes, was there. Chamard, , 2:401, also thought that the letter of the bishops to Radegund might have come from this council. See Gregory of Tours, HF, 9:39. Aigrain, Sainte Radegonde, 117, and more recently Labande-Mailfert in “Les débuts,” disagree with this hypothesis, believing that Radegund personally went to Arles in 570 and did not adopt the Caesarian rule before that time.
39 See Vita Genovefa, 13, for a possible precedent.
40 The Rule of Caesarius of Arles, which Radegund adapted for her community, required that every nun except the abbess be required to spend a week in turn doing kitchen work. The passages just preceding in this text suggest that she introduced the same requirement for the infirmary.
41 Presumably left there by the monks attached to a small service community nearby, noted by Aigrain, Sainte Radegonde, 60-61, who thinks this may be the first of the great double monasteries of Gaul.
42 These and other extreme tortures appear to be unique to Radegund. No other saint in this collection imposed so much exotic self-inflicted pain. In fact, Gregory of Tours makes no reference to such mortifications in connection with Radegund. Fortunatus may have been overanxious to promote her claims to a place among the martyrs. Baudonivia refers only briefly to “greater tortures” than a hair shirt in connection with her frantic reaction to Clothar’s attempt to remove her from the convent, c.4. However, there may also be some penitential activity here if Radegund’s final bargain with Clothar involved an exchange between his support for the community and her support for his absolution in heaven, particularly pressing in view of his brutal slaughter of his son Chramn and his family in 560. The spread of formal rules for monks and nuns in the seventh century would in any case put an official limit to similar exercises in endurance.
43 Ewig, Spätantikes und fränkisches Gallien, 158, places much emphasis on this early appearance of the designation Francia.
44 She had probably hung her distaff from a hook or niche in the wall beam.
45 Meaning to exclude her from the community meals, a common monastic punishment. Both stories here illustrate that the tartly jesting relationship with Agnes, whom Radegund had placed over her community, was not without its storms. Fortunatus, Carmina, app. 20, celebrated their reconciliation after one quarrel.
46 Aigrain notes that a laurel tree has customarily been cultivated near the site of Radegund’s cell in Poitiers.