Saint of the Day – 13 August – Saint Radegunde (c 518-587) Queen, Nun, Abbess, Ascetic, Founder of a female Convent of enclosed Nuns,named and dedicated to the Holy Cross of which a relic was enshrined, Sainte-Croixwho also cared for the sick within their Convent. Born c 518 in Erfurt, Saxony and died on 13 August 587 in Poitiers, France of natural causes. Also known as – Radegund, Rhadegund, Radegonde, Radigund, Radegundes. Patronages – against drowning, against fever, against leprosy, against scabies, against scabs, against the death of parents, against ulcers, difficult marriages, potters, weavers, Poitiers, France.
Radegunde was born about 518 to Bertachar, one of the three Kings of the German land Thuringia. Radegunde’s uncle, Hermanfrid, killed her father, Bertachar in battle and took Radegunde into his household. After allying with the Frankish King Theuderic, Hermanfrid defeated his other brother Baderic. However, having crushed his brothers and seized control of Thuringia, Hermanfrid reneged on his agreement with Theuderic to share sovereignty.
In 531, Theuderic returned to Thuringia with his brother Clotaire I. Together they defeated Hermanfrid and conquered his kingdom. Clotaire I also took charge of Radegunde, taking her back to Gaulwith him. He sent the child to his villa of Athies in Picardy for several years, before marrying her in 540.
Radegunde was one of Clotaire I’s six wives or concubine . She had no children with him. Radegunde was noted for her almsgiving and care of the poor and sick.
By 550 Radegunde’s brother was the last surviving male member of the Thuringian Royal family. Clotaire had him murdered. Radegunde fled the Court and sought the protection of the Church, persuading the Bishop of Noyon to ordain her as a Deaconess and founded the Monastery of Sainte-Croix in Poitiers in around 560, where she cared for the infirm. Radegunde was widely believed to have the gift of healing.
Living under the Rule for Virgins of Caesarius of Arles, the Nuns were required to be able to read and write and to devote several hours of the day to reading the Sacred Scriptures and copying manuscripts, as well as traditional tasks such as weaving and needlework. This Rule strictly enclosed women, to the point that Nuns of Sainte-Croix were unable to attend Radegunde’s funeral.
Her Abbey was named for the relic of the True Cross that Radegunde obtained from the Byzantine Emperor Justin II. Although the Bishop of Poitiers, Maroveus, refused to install it in the Abbey, at Radegunde’s request, King Sigebert sent Eufronius of Tours to Poitiers to perform the ceremony. To celebrate the relic and its installation into Sainte-Croix, St Venantius Fortunatus (c 530 – c 609) composed a series of hymns, including the famous Vexilla Regis, considered to be one of the most significant Christian hymns ever written, which is still sung for services on Good Friday, Palm Sunday, as well as the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Radegunde was a close friend of St Junian of Maire;, Abbot. Junian and Radegunde are said to have died on the same day, 13 August 587.
She was known for her asceticism and penance and has been described as an “extreme ascetic.” She followed a vegetable diet,refusing all animal products. She ate nothing but legumes and green vegetables: – neither fruit nor fish nor eggs. She also abstained from wine, mead and beer. During Lent she abstained from bread, oil and salt, and only drank a little water. She acted against the advice of others who warned her that her extreme ascetism might make her ill. She bound her neck and arms with three iron circlets; her flesh was badly cut because of this. On one occasion she heated a brass cross and pressed it on her body.
The Saint Poet Venantius Fortunatus and the Bishop, hagiographer and historian, St Gregory of Tours, were close friends with Radegunde and wrote extensively about her. She wrote Latin poems to Fortunatus on tablets that have been lost. The three of them seem to have been close and Fortunatus’ relations with Radegunde were deeply spiritual. There are two poems written in the voice of Radegunde, De Excidio Thoringiae and Ad Artachin. While it has been proposed that Venantius wrote them, recent historians see her as the author.
Another biography was written by the Nun Baudovinia following a rebellion at the Abbey described by St Gregory of Tours.
Radegunde’s funeral, which St Venantius Fortunatus and St Gregory of Tours attended, was three days after her death. She was buried in what was to become the Church of St. Radegonde in Poitiers. Her tomb can still be found in the crypt of that Church, which remains the centre of devotion to her. In the 1260s a Church decoration program included stained-glass windows depicting Radegunde’s life. These were later largely destroyed by Huguenots.
In her book Woman Under Monasticism: Chapters on Saint-Lore and Convent Life between 500 and 1500 (1896) Lina Eckenstein drew the attention of modern readers to the rebellion of the Nuns at Poitiers after the death of Radegunde, during which, for a period of two years, they refused to accept a new Abbess who had been appointed by the male hierarchy.
For the Life of St Radegunde by St Venantius Fortunatus go here:
For the Life of St Venantius go here: