“Converter of a Nation” Feast: June 3 Lifespan: 474-585
Patronage: Queens, housewives, mothers, exiles, victims of verbal and spousal abuse
RECOLLECTION Clotilda's life legend could rival the imaginings of Shakespeare. She was royal-born, the daughter of the King and Queen of Burgundy. She also had a sister, but when they were still babies, their mother and father were murdered by a rival for the throne, Gondebad. This left Clotilda and her sister orphaned and under the dominion of their parents' assassin.
Clotilda and her sister grew in grace and beauty, but their paths would soon diverge. Clotilda’s sister took the veil, but Clotilda did not feel the call to religious life. As Clotilda was now of marriageable age, word of her beauty reached the Frankish King, Clovis.
Clovis was an extremely powerful king, and he sent an emissary to make a proposal of marriage by proxy. Clotilda accepted, and Gondebad gave his reluctant consent, not wanting to anger a ruler more powerful than he.
Clotilda left posthaste, knowing Gondebad could at any moment change his mind and force her to stay. Her instincts were right, as Gondebad did change his mind, and dis- patched soldiers to intercept her exodus.
But as fate would have it, she reached Frankish soil before being overtaken. She was free.
With little delay, she met her soon-to-be-husband. He was a pagan, and she was a Catholic, but that did not stop them from falling deeply in love.
Clotilda soon came to be held in very high esteem by her husband. She was a clever, kind, and charitable queen. Those she ruled in her household, the court, and the land loved her. It is written:
"She honored her royal husband, studied to sweeten his warlike temper by Christian meekness, conformed herself to his humor in things that were indifferent; and, the better to gain his affections, made those things the subject of her discourse and praises in which she saw him to take the greatest delight. When she saw herself mistress of his heart, she did not defer the great work of endeavoring to win him to God, and often spoke to him on the vanity of his idols, and on the excellency of the true religion. The king always heard her with pleasure; but the moment of his conversion was not yet come."
After they had their first child, a son named Ingomer, Clotilda wanted him baptized. Clovis was resistant, but Clotilda insisted:
"The gods you worship are nothing, and they will be unable to help themselves or any one else. For they are graven out of stone or wood or some metal. .... They are endowed rather with the magic arts than with the power of the divine name. But he ought rather to be worshipped who created by his word heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is out of a state of nothingness, who made the sun shine, and adorned the heavens with stars, who filled the waters with creeping things, the earth with living things and the air with creatures that fly, at whose nod the earth is decked with growing crops, the trees with fruit, the vines with grapes, by whose hand mankind was created, by whose generosity all that creation serves and helps man whom he created as his own."
The king was unmoved at her words and retorted, "It was at the command of our gods that all things were created and came forth, and it is plain that your God has no power and, what is more, he is proven not to belong to the family of the gods."
Undeterred, Clotilda went forward with preparations for her son’s baptism. She even had the church beautifully decorated for the occasion, thinking it might move Clovis to belief. In the end, the child was baptized, but he died shortly afterwards. Clovis was grieving and infuriated, and upbraided Clotilda: ”If the boy had been dedicated in the name of my gods he would certainly have lived; but as it is, since he was baptized in the name of your God, he could not live at all.”
Her response:”I give thanks to the omnipotent God, creator of all, who has judged me not wholly unworthy, that he should deign to take to his kingdom one born from my womb. My soul is not stricken with grief for his sake, because I know that, summoned from this world as he was in his baptismal garments, he will be fed by the vision of God." Time wore on and Clovis remained bitter and unbelieving. It was not until a decisive battle arose that the tide turned in favor of his conversion.
Clovis led his army in fighting a fearsome battle against an opposing kingdom. Many died on both sides, but it soon looked as if the Franks would be on the losing end. Realizing this, Clovis felt moved to turn his face to the heavens, and he shouted amidst tears, "Jesus Christ, whom Clotilda asserts to be the son of the living God, who art said to give aid to those in distress, and to bestow victory on those who hope in thee, I beseech the glory of thy aid, with the vow that if thou wilt grant me victory over these enemies, and I shall know that power which she says that people dedicated in thy name have had from thee, I will believe in thee and be baptized in thy name. For I have invoked my own gods but, as I find, they have withdrawn from aiding me; and therefore I believe that they possess no power, since they do not help those who obey them. I now call upon thee, I desire to believe thee only let me be rescued from my adversaries."
The effect was almost instantaneous, as the enemy king was killed, causing the opposi- tion to flee.
At her husband’s triumphant return, Clotilda was overjoyed to hear how the victory came about. Clovis was soon baptized in the year 496, and the rest of his kingdom soon followed his example.
Clotilda encouraged Clovis to do good works for the Church. He in turn built several churches, among them Ss. Peter and Paul, which stands in Paris today (now called St. Genevieve). All of Clotilda’s good influence took root in the heart of Clovis, and he claimed the faith for his own. He even offered his crown to the pope as a sign of his newfound devotion, and spent long hours in prayer, prostrate before the tomb of St. Martin of Tours, the soldier saint of France.
The beautiful marriage of Clotilda and Clovis was cut short when Clovis died. He was 46. This broke Clotilda’s heart, and she retired to spend her days in prayer and fasting. It was as if she had never been queen.
She went on to have many sufferings as a mother. Her daughter was married to an abusive Visigoth king and died from his maltreatment. Clotilda's three sons ruled kingdoms and warred against one another for power. After the eldest died in war, the two remain- ing sons were in a battle and on the verge of killing each other, but legend has it that Clotilda prayed for God to thwart their fight, and a huge storm blew up, causing the armies to flee before her sons could engage in hand to hand combat. Clotilda predicted her death and exhorted her surviving children to keep the faith - and the peace - before she died. She gave all her remaining possessions to the poor and requested to be buried at the feet of St. Genevieve.