Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Eligius, Bishop of Noyon

detail from the painting 'Saint Eligius, as a Goldsmith, Hands the Wedding Couple a Ring', by Petrus Christus, 1469, oil on wood, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New YorkArticle

Saint Eligius, first a diligent and honest artist, afterwards a pious courtier, and finally a holy bishop, was born in Aquitain, about the year 588, of virtuous, though neither rich nor distinguished parents. Having in his youth studied the liberal arts with great success, he afterwards showed a strong desire and wonderful aptitude for the trade of goldsmith, and became so skillful in it, that he was accounted one of the best workmen of his time. Piety, which, according to the words of the apostle, is useful for all things, inspired his taste. He daily assisted at holy Mass, although he was sometimes overburdened with work. The Sundays and holy days he devoted entirely to the service of the Lord and the salvation of his soul. He was an enemy to all gaming, dancing and other frivolous pastimes. His savings he gave to the poor. On account of his pious conduct, and the strictness with which he observed all Christian duties, he was generally called “the religious in the world.” At Paris, his virtues and skill made him known at court: and as king Clothaire II desired to have a throne of gold richly adorned with precious jewels, Bobo, the treasurer, selected Eligius for this work and gave him as much gold and jewels as he thought were needed. The Saint, however, made, out of the materials given to him, two thrones, which so pleased the king, that he kept Eligius at court. There are still extant several pictures of Saints made by this holy artist. Eligius was in high favor with the king on account of the master-pieces of art which he produced, but he remained humble and pious, and, without participating in the enjoyments of the court, he employed the time left him after his work in prayer, devout reading and meditation. Besides this, he chastised his body with fasting, watching, wearing rough hair-shirts, and by other penances. All his income was spent for the greater honor of God and the comfort of the poor, to whom he often gave the clothes he wore. Dagobert, the successor of Clothaire, who esteemed Eligius as highly as his predecessor had done, presented him with an estate near Limoges, and a beautiful house in Paris. The holy man converted this house into a convent of nuns, while, on the estate, he erected another religious house for men. He also had a church built in Paris, in honor of Saint Paul. When he found that in measuring the place which had been given him for his abbey, he had taken one foot more than was granted by the royal patent, the Saint was greatly distressed, and casting himself at the feet of the king he asked pardon, and declared that he would not keep that foot of land against the wish of his royal benefactor. Such unusual honesty pleased the king extremely. Equally admirable was the Saint’s solicitude to avoid an unnecessary oath; for, when required to swear fidelity to the king, on the relics of the Saints, he refused to do so, and said: “God forbids me to take an oath without sufficient reason; He, however, commands me to serve your Majesty faithfully, and this ought to assure you of my unceasing fidelity.” In all respects, the holy man lived so retired a life at court, that he was called the holy courtier, or the Religious of the Court.

God, however, had destined him to become a Bishop of the Church. The clergy, as well as the people of Noyon and Tournay waited on Clovis II, after the death of their bishop, and requested him to appoint Eligius to the vacant see. The king cheerfully consented; but Eligius refused as long as he could; at last, however, he had to obey the voice of God, and was consecrated bishop at Rouen. He remained the same humble man, as before, changing nothing in his penitential life, and retaining all his kindness to the poor. The slight faults he had committed in his younger years, he endeavored to atone for by severe penances, and his zeal redeemed all past negligences. His doors were ever open to the poor and needy, who thus enjoyed the greatest part of his episcopal revenue. Twelve poor persons dined daily at his table, and he himself offered water to wash their hands before the meal and waited on them at table. He visited on foot all the churches in his diocese, endeavoring to abolish the abuses that had crept in, and to lead his flock in the path of a truly Christian life. One day, he preached in a village not far from Noyon, against the frivolities of dancing. To annoy the bishop, some young men immediately went into a certain house and began to dance. The Saint going to the place, spoke earnestly to them and admonished them not to indulge in so dangerous a pastime. But seeing that they laughed at his words, he was roused to just wrath, and prayed to God that they might be punished in their bodies for the salvation of their souls. And behold! fifty of them were immediately possessed by the Evil One, who tormented them frightfully for a whole year, when they were freed by the prayers of the Saint.

When the holy man had regulated his own diocese, he ventured into other lands to the extreme end of Brabant, where he found a great many heathens, all of whom he brought to a knowledge of the true God. He is, therefore, called the Apostle of Flanders and Brabant. During these apostolic excursions for the conversion of the heathens, Saint Eligius wrought many miracles, as he had also done before, even whilst still holding a worldly position at the court of France. He founded many convents, both in his diocese and in other places, in order to cement the Christian faith with Christian conduct. At last he sank under the many fatigues and hardships and the great labors he had undergone for the honor of the Lord and the salvation of mankind, and ended his holy life, in the 70th year of his age, by a happy death. At his tomb the blind recovered their sight, the deaf, their hearing, the lame walked, and the sick regained their lost health. It is especially remarkable that all those who dared to take a false oath at his tomb, were immediately possessed by the devil or died a sudden death.

Practical Considerations

• Saint Eligius lived piously as an artist in his workshop; piously at court; piously in his dignity as bishop: a proof that we can live piously and save our souls in all stations and places. Those belonging to the higher classes may read how Saint Eligius conducted himself at court; how he allowed no vain amusements to fascinate him nor to disturb him in his devotion; how he employed his leisure in prayer and devout reading; how austere he was to himself, how compassionate to the poor. Follow his example in these and other points, and you will live piously and gain salvation. Artists, artisans, clay-laborers, and all who earn their subsistence by the work of their hands, should read carefully the regulations which Eligius observed, and follow in his footsteps in order that they also may live piously in their station and thus earn life everlasting. Especially ought they to consider how faithful the holy man was in doing his work, and in the use of the precious materials entrusted to him. There are many who retain a considerable portion of what is entrusted to them, and they pretend to have no scruple about it. They say that this is a custom, that others do the same: that what they retain is a trifle and of no value. Let them know that this is a sinful custom, and that its being a custom does not make it less a sin. To appropriate the remnants of materials is in truth nothing but a theft, which is forbidden as well by divine as by human laws. It is true that if what is retained is only a trifle, the theft is small; but whoever commits many small thefts, may commit mortal sin; as a servant, who daily purloins only one cent, in time becomes guilty of great sin. To say that those from whom you take do not perceive it, or do not suffer by it, is not an honest way of speaking, and not at all a proof that such purloining is allowed. The Almighty sees it, though man perceives it not. If they whom you thus wrong, suffer no perceptible loss by your dishonesty, you still act against their wishes, when you retain anything of what they gave you to use for them; and therefore, you are a thief. I am convinced that many , make themselves tem- porally and eternally miserable by such dishonesty. May those whom it concerns take heed that they do not experience this to their own great sorrow. To deceive or to steal does not bring God’s blessing, but draws temporal and eternal misery after it. “The unjust shall not possess the Kingdom of God,” says the Apostle. (1st Corinthians 6)

• Saint Eligius wept bitterly over the faults of his youth, and endeavored to atone for them by severe penances. At the same time, he was zealous to redeem his past omissions by the exercise of good works. Today begins the last month of the year. I do not doubt that you have been guilty of more sins in your past life, and that you have been more negligent in the service of God, than Saint Eligius. Therefore, endeavor to repent daily, with your whole heart, during this month, and to atone for your sins, by penance. Offer to the Almighty, in atonement, all that you may have to suffer during this month, all the good you may do, in union with the good that will be done in the entire Christian world, and above all, in union with all that our dear Saviour has done and suffered for our sake. Manifest a continual zeal in the exercise of good works during this month, in order that you may repair what you have neglected in the other months. Give more time to prayer, to devout reading, to hearing the word of God, and to other pious deeds. Be more liberal to the poor, stricter in the observance of the fasts and other mortifications of the body; in one word, be most earnestly solicitous for your salvation. This month is the beautiful and holy season of Advent. Who knows whether it is not the last Advent for you? After the Patriarch Jacob had served Laban for many long years, he said: “It is reasonable, therefore, that I should now provide also for my own house.” You have, during the year, occupied yourself enough with temporal cares, with work and trouble for others, or for your own body, for your own temporal welfare. Is it not reasonable, then, that you should, at least in this month, commence to work for the salvation of your own soul? Is it not necessary, that you should employ diligently every moment, and thus redeem what until now you have neglected? “See, therefore, brethren,” admonishes Saint Paul, “how you walk circumspectly;’not as unwise, but as wise, redeeming the time.” (Ephesians 5) He wishes to say: redeem what you have neglected; “for,” as he elsewhere says, “time is short.” Perhaps before this year is over you will be called before the judgment-seat of the Almighty. How will you render your account to Him, if you do noc earnestly do penance? “Before the judgment,” says the Wise Man “prepare the justice, and thou shalt find mercy in the sight of God.” (Eccles. 18) “How many,” writes Saint Bernard, “how many die today, who if they had this one hour which you have, would do all in their power to obtain pardon for their sins!”

In conclusion, let the lovers of frivolous dancing see, by the punishment which God sent to the indecent dancers of whom we spoke above, if this amusement is as innocent and blameless as the people of our day imagine. More I need not say.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Eligius, Bishop of Noyon”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 2 June 2018. Web. 12 December 2018. <>