Saints of the Day – Eligius 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

(also known as Eloi, Loy)

Born at Chaptelet (Chaptel or Chatelac), near Limoges, France, c.588; died at Noyon, December 1, 660.

Saint Eligius’s parents (Eucherius and Terrigia) were both of Gallo-Romans. Eucherius was a goldsmith and metalworker who lived near Limoges, and when his son showed similar talent, he apprenticed Eligius to Abbo, the master of the mint at Limoges. Eligius acquired great skill at working in precious metals, his handiwork can still be seen in the catalogue of Merovingian coins at the National Library in Paris).

When Eligius finished his apprenticeship, he decided to seek his fortune in Paris. There he came to the notice of Bobbo, treasurer to King Chlotar (Clotaire) II. The king needed a treasurer at Marseilles, and the post was given to Eligius. Chlotar gave Eligius an order to make him a chair of state, decorated with gold and precious stones. With the materials given to him, Eligius made two chairs, which impressed the king with the saint’s honesty and skill. Chlotar took him into his household and made him master of the mint.

Soon Eligius’s great talent for engraving and smithing made him a person of rank and wealth. He wore clothes embroidered with gold and adorned with precious stones; he sometimes wore nothing but silk, which was very rare in France then. But he was not corrupted by his good fortune. His wealth was devoted to the poor. Once a stranger asked the way to his home in Paris and was told to go to a certain street where he would recognize the house by the great concourse of poor persons outside. Eligius developed into a deeply religious man.

Eligius postponed swearing an oath of allegiance to Chlotar, which angered the king. Finally, Chlotar came to understand that conscience was the motive, and he assured Eligius that this was a more secure pledge of allegiance than the vows of others.

He held on to this post after Chlotar’s death in 629, and gained considerable influence with Chlotar’s son and successor, Dagobert I, who also valued Eligius and appointed him chief counsellor in 629. You can imagine the extent of his power when you realize that no ambassador visited the King of the Merovingians without arranging for an interview with Eligius.

The saint was pious, influential, and sought after as a counsellor. Desiderius (who later became bishop of Cahors) and young Dado (a.k.a. Ouen or Audenus, future bishop of Rouen) were his best friends. They formed a small, very religious society related to Saint Columbanus’s monastery in Luxeuil, protecting the new monasteries and, with a munificence that became legendary, honoring the relics of the saints.

Eligius had accumulated sufficient wealth that when King Dagobert gave him land at Solignac in Limousin, he founded a monastery there, as well as setting up the first ever workshop for producing Limoges enamels. In 632 the monastery was filled with monks who followed a combination of the rules of Saint Columba and Saint Benedict.

Dagobert also gave Eligius a house in Paris, and the saint used his considerable resources to convert it into a convent for women under the supervision of Saint Aurea. Eligius asked for and received an additional piece of land to complete the construction; when he found he had gone over its border, he went to the king to apologize. Dagobert, taken aback at his honesty, said, “Some of my officers do not scruple to robe me of whole estates; whereas Eligius is afraid of having one inch of ground which is not his.”

Dagobert selected Eligius to go on a diplomatic mission to the Bretons in 636, during which the saint convinced the Breton King Judicael to accept the authority of the Frankish king. (Dagobert I died in January 639.)

Saint Eligius was ordained in 640. In 641 Dagobert’s successor, Clovis II, chose him to be bishop of Noyon and Tournai, at the same time his friend Saint Audoenus was named bishop of Rouen. During this period, bishoprics were often given as benefices to retiring ministers of state. But, Christians to the end, both Eligius and Audoenus decided to be real bishops rather than pensioners. And, so, Eligius discharged that office with vigor for 19 fruitful years.

With concentrated enthusiasm he spread the Gospel through his vast diocese and into Flanders among the heathen Frisians. He preached in Antwerp, Ghent, and Courtrai. The crude inhabitants shunned him as a foreigner, they couldn’t understand him, but he persisted. After taking care of the sick, protecting them from oppression, and undertaking other charitable causes, he won them over, and some were converted. Where speech and acts of charity failed, miracles worked.

His sermons sprang from deep faith. They were direct, simple and straight forward. Of the surviving homilies attributed to Eligius, one is notable for his warnings against pagan superstitions such as fortune-telling, watching for omens, and keeping Thursdays holy in honor of Jupiter. His homilies revealed a modest man with sure learning.

At Noyon, he established a convent and brought his protege Saint Godebertha from Paris to govern it. He also wrote the rule for the sisters.

As bishop he also actively promoted the cultus of local saints; the beautiful reliquaries of Saint Martin of Tours, Saint Dionysius at Saint- Denis, Saint Germanus of Paris, Saint Geneviève, and others are attributed to his workmanship, in addition to the Great Cross of Saint Denis, and at least some of which still exist.

After Clovis II came to the throne, he became a friend and counsellor to the queen Saint Bathildis, in part, because they shared a concern for slaves (she had originally been brought to the court as a slave). Eligius ransomed many slaves, some of whom remained in his service for the rest of his life. One of them, a Saxon named Tillo, also became a saint. These men and women became Eligius’s most loyal assistants. During the Council of Chalon, c.677, the sale of slaves was forbidden in the kingdom, and it was decreed that slaves must be free to rest on Sundays and holidays.

He was generous to the poor and to the Church – founding many convents and churches.

Eligius had the gift of clairvoyance, which later became a gift of prophecy. He sometimes gave direct proof – about Mayor Flaochad, Mayor Erchinoald, some public disorders, and his own death. He prophesied it often enough with a patience and longing the people appreciated. As mentioned, Eligius foresaw his own death and told his clergy of it. Falling ill with a fever, on the sixth day he called together his household. As death approached in 659, Eligius said to his flock, ‘Do not weep. Congratulate me instead. I have waited a long time for this release.’ He commended his people to God and died a few hours later.

Hearing of his illness, Queen Bathildis set out from Paris, but she arrived the morning after his death. She prepared to carry the body to her monastery at Chelles, and others wished to take it to Paris, but the people of Noyons strongly opposed the removal, and so his body lies in Noyon cathedral. Eligius was widely respected during his own time and became one of the most beloved saints of the Middle Ages – one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Encyclopedia, White).

Saint Eligius is a bishop with a hammer, anvil, and horseshoe. At times he is depicted (1) shoeing a horse; (2) holding a horse’s leg, which he detached to shoe it more easily; (3) with a horse by him; (4) with hammer and crown, smithy in the background; (5) with hammer, anvil, and Saint Anthony; (6) holding a chalice and goldsmith’s hammer; (7) working as a goldsmith; or (8) with Saint Godeberta, to whom he gives a ring. Sometimes he is shown as a bishop, at other times as a courtier (Roeder).

He is the patron of all smiths, farriers, jewelers, craftsmen, and metal workers (Attwater, Roeder). He is also patron of coin and metal collectors, horses and veterinarians, of blacksmiths, and garage or gas-station workers (White). To this list is added the patronage of harness makers, cartwrights, boilermakers, cutler, watchmakers, locksmiths, farmers, jockeys, gilders, and minters (Encyclopedia).

His association with horses originates from an episode occurring after his death. A horse that Eligius had been riding was inherited by a priest, but the new bishop liked the horse and took it for himself. The horse became ill as soon as he was stabled under the bishop’s roof and nothing could cure him. Meanwhile the priest prayed for the horse’s return. The bishop gave back the useless horse, and the animal promptly recovered, a cure attributed to Saint Eligius. Since that time Eligius is invoked on behalf of sick horses and, in some places, are blessed on his feast day. By extension Eligius gains patronage of gas stations and garages, which can be considered modern versions of stables (White).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 20 August 2020. Web. 2 December 2020. <>