Clotilda was the daughter of Chilperic, King of Burgundy. She lived in the turbulent era when the Germanic nations were invading the weakened Roman Empire and destroying what was left of Roman political power.
One of these Germanic peoples was the Franks. They swept over the Rhine River into Roman Gaul. Eventually they would give to Gaul their own name: Frankland or France. Leader of the initial invasion and settlement was Chlodovech or Clovis, a shrewd and often bloody young leader who hammered the disunited Frankish clans into a united army and in 486 defeated the Roman governor, Syagrius, at Soissons in northeast France.
Some of these invading Germanic peoples, though already Christian, professed the heretical Arian Christianity, denying the divinity of Christ. Arian Germans often persecuted the Catholic Christians whom they defeated. Luckily, the Franks were still pagans, so their arrival in Gaul did not involve heretical discrimination. Fortunately, too, in 492 Clovis married Clotilda of Burgundy, a devout Catholic Christian.
As Clovis’ queen, Clotilda was in a position to persuade him to receive baptism. She did not neglect that opportunity. Years later Bishop Nicetas of Trier wrote to her granddaughter: “You have heard from Clotilda, of happy memory, how she drew to the faith her royal husband, and how be, a man of keen intelligence, would not yield until he was convinced of the truth. ”
Even though he long kept his counsel regarding conversion, he did permit Clotilda to have their first son baptized. When that child died young, he still did not object to the baptism of his second son, Clodomir. But it was only in 496, when he was baffling with the German Alemanni, that Clovis committed himself. The Alemanni seemed to be winning the battle. Clovis thereupon vowed to “Clotilda’s God” that he would embrace the Christian faith if granted a victory.
He won the battle and he followed through. On Christmas Day in 499 he received baptism from St. Remigius, the bishop of Rheims. He did so with the consent of his people, who then followed him to the baptismal font. “Thus France earned the name of “Eldest Daughter of the Church”. Clovis and his queen later founded in Paris the church of the Apostles Peter and Paul.
Unfortunately, the conversion of the Franks did not mean that they immediately practiced all the Christian virtues. Clotilda realized that within her own family. After Clovis’ death in 511, the Queen Mother was shocked by the feuding of her three sons, who had been baptized with the ponderous Germanic names of Clodomir, Childebert and Clotaire. Clodomir killed Sigismund, King of Burgundy, and his whole family, and was, in turn, murdered out of vengeance by Sigismund’s brother. Clotilda then adopted Clodomir’s three children, intending to raise them as her own, but her other two sons, unwilling to share Clodomir’s inheritance with his children, killed two of the boys. Only the youngest, Clodoald, was saved. He became a monk.
Clearly, Clovis’ sons were not yet refined Christian gentlemen. Their mother finally left Paris to get away from this violence. She went to the shrine-city of Tours, where she would pass her remaining years serving the poor. Even after she departed Paris, however, her sons continued to quarrel. One day word reached her that both were ready to declare war on each other. She prayed all that night at the tomb of St. Martin that they would not commit this sin. Her prayer was granted. On the next day, when the battle was about to commence, a terrible storm arose, which rained out the battle and cooled off the tempers of the two princes.
St. Clotilda died a month later. Legends have attached to her, too, some of the brutal traits that her sons displayed. These legends have now been discredited. So she remains as a reminder of the good influence that a devout wife can have on her husband. She is also a special patron of those all-too-many good women whose children have broken their hearts.
–Father Robert F.McNamara