Saints of the Day – Leonard of Noblac, Abbot

portrait of Saint Leonard of Noblac from the painting 'Saint Laurent between Saint Stephen and Saint Leonard' attributed to Raffaellino del Garbo, early 16th century; basilica of San Lorenzo, Florence, Italy; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

(also known as Lienard, Lithenard)

Born c.466; died c.559. Leonard of Noblac was one of the most popular saints of Western Europe in the late Middle Ages, but the account of his life is unreliable because it was not written until the 11th century. Doubtless his popularity was due to the very large number of miracles and aids attributed to his intercession, and to the enthusiasm of the returning crusaders, who looked on him as the patron saint of prisoners. Tradition has it that, like many young nobles, when Leonard was about six years old he went to live with Saint Remigius, archbishop of Rheims. About 495 he went to the court of his cousin Clovis, King of the Franks, at the summons of Queen Clotilde. After accompanying Clovis in a victorious war against the Germans, Leonard was baptized by Saint Remigius, who had previously baptized Clovis, Leonard’s godfather (some say they were baptized the same day). Clovis offered Leonard a bishopric, but he turned it down. Seeking no earthly rewards, Leonard renounced the life of a Frankish nobleman and withdrew from the court about the year 501. Instead he went to the monastery of Micy in Orleans and became a monk under Saint Mesmin and Saint Lie. Seeking even more solitude he built himself a little hut in a forest of Pauvin near Limoges, Aquitaine, in a place called Nobiliac and lived on vegetables and fruit. His zeal and devotion sometimes carried him to the neighboring churches where his preaching would inflame others to imitate his life.

The legend says that one day the king went hunting in this forest, accompanied by his wife, who was pregnant. The moment of birth arrived, and it was clear that the queen was in difficulties. Leonard fell to prayer on her behalf, and her baby was delivered safely. In gratitude the king said that the saint should be given as much land as he could ride round in one day on his donkey. Leonard rode all day, was granted many acres and there founded the abbey of Noblac around which grew the town of Saint-LĂ©onard. He used this abbey as a base to preach the Gospel throughout the whole region. Leonard was also known for the miracles wrought on his behalf.

A more conservative version says that after saving Clotilde, he left his solitude to preach to the people and to try to pacify warring princes. In 540, after visiting Saint Remy and living for several years in a monastery at Micy, he returned from his mission. The saint appears to have had a remarkable charity towards prisoners for whom he provided both corporal and spiritual help. Some were miraculously delivered from their chains by his prayers; others were released by the king at Leonard’s request out of respect for his sanctity – a frequent privilege of certain holy bishops during that period. Leonard died in solitude in his monastery in the forest of Pauvin in Limousin about 599, aged about 99 years.

Leonard was the first saint of the French royal family. Although he was nearly 100 when he died, he is usually represented in art as a young man of about 30, because he appeared to many people at different times as a handsome young man in the flower of his youth. Today Leonard is regarded as the patron saint of childbirth, prisoners (because King Clovis promised that any prisoner converted by the saint would be released), prisoners of war (Bohemond, the crusader prince of Antioch, was released from a Islamic prison in 1103 and visited Noblac to make an offering in gratitude), and those in danger from brigands, robbers, and thieves (perhaps because the public was in danger from the very prisoners whom Leonard was responsible for releasing ) (Attwater, Bentley, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Husenbeth, White).

He is portrayed in art vested as an abbot holding chains in his hand of a deacon with fetters or locks. Sometimes shown freeing prisoners, with prisoners nearby in stocks, or with a horse or ox near him (Roeder). He is venerated at Orleans (Abbey of Micy) and Noblac, and is the patron of cattle, domestic animals and prisoners (Roeder)

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 10 August 2020. Web. 18 September 2020. <>