St. Eligius

(c.588-660)

Eligius was the son of a Gallic metal craftsman. When the father saw that the son had inherited his artistic ability, he apprenticed him to a goldsmith named Abbo. Eligius demonstrated his skill so well that the treasurer of King Clotaire II commissioned him to create a jewel-studded throne for the king, and gave him the metal and jewels to work with. Out of these materials, thrifty Eligius produced not one but two thrones. The king was so pleased that he named this young engraver and metalsmith master of his mint. Some of the coins struck in the years that followed still bear the name of their young designer, and some of the handsomest reliquaries of the time (jeweled metal boxes to contain the relics of saints) have been attributed to this saintly goldsmith. The king showed Eligius great favor, not only because of his talent but because of his utter honesty and his attractive Christian candor.

While Eligius the layman, now an official member of the royal court, dressed in courtly style, he led a strongly religious life. He was most generous with the poor. He ransomed a number of slaves (one of whom, Tillo, is today venerated as a saint).

When Dagobert I succeeded his father Clotaire as king, he gave Eligius two estates, on which the goldsmith promptly founded a monastery for men and a convent for women. Because of his spiritual worth, Eligius the layman was subsequently made bishop of Noyon and Tournai. Having been advanced through the lesser holy orders, he received episcopal consecration in 641 AD.

Eligius proved to be a most conscientious bishop. He paid special attention to preaching the gospel among the rural pagans of his diocese. It was not an easy task, but Eligius gradually overcame their hostility by his care for their sick and their other needs. Every Easter he had a general baptism of those whom he had been instructing over the past year.

He preached every Sunday and holy day. In his sermons he often repudiated popular superstitions, like the use of charms, fortune telling, watching for omens and many other pagan practices that have continued among us up to the present day. To replace them he recommended prayer, Holy Communion, the anointing of the sick, the recitation of the Creed, the Our Father, and the sign of the cross. These were truly Christian acknowledgments of “invisible powers”. Meanwhile, Eligius continued as a bishop to practice his hobby of metalsmithing, especially in the creation of reliquaries.

There is no doubt that St. Eligius was deeply loved by his people. After his death at Noyon, he quickly became one of the most popular saints in France (where he was called St. Eloi or St. Loy), and in all northwest Europe.

Farriers invoked him as a patron saint because some legends connected him with horses. But he was rightly prayed to by all kinds of metal workers.

St. Eligius proved by his life that the arts of saving souls and of crafting metals are both creative skills. Both reflect the supreme skill of the God who created both man and the great universe he lives in.

–Father Robert F. McNamara

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