Saint of the Day – 13 January – Saint Remigius of Rheims (c 438-533) “Apostle of the Franks,” Bishop of Rheims, Lord Chancellor of France, renowned Scholar and Rhetorician, Missionary and zealous Preacher of the Gospel for the glory of the Kingdom of God, miracle-worker. Born at Cerny-en-Laonnois, near Laon, Picardy, in c 438 and died on 13 January 533 of natural causes. Patronages – against epidemics, against fever, against plague, against religious indifference, against snakes, against throat pain, of France, Dhuy, Belgium, Rheims, France, Archdiocese and City, Arignano, Italy. Also known as – Remigius of Reims, emi…, Remigio…, Remigiusz…, Romieg…, Rémi…, Rémy… Additional Memorials – 1 October (translation of relics), 15 January (France, General Calendar), 3rd Sunday in September (Arignano, Italy).
The Roman Martyrology states: “In Rheims, still in Belgian Gaul, now in France, deposition of St Remigius, Bishop – after King Clovis was initiated into the Sacred Baptismal font and the Sacraments of faith, he converted the Franks to Christ and, after more than sixty ‘ years of Episcopate, he left this life remarkable for holiness.”
Remigius was born, into the highest levels of Gallo-Roman society. He was the son of Emilius,Ccount of Laon and of Celina, daughter of the Bishop of Soissons, which Clovis had conquered in 486. From a very early age his intelligence and aptitude for oratory garnered the admiration of teachers and classmates. He studied at RHeims and soon became so noted for his learning and sanctity and his high status, that he was elected Bishop of Rheims at age 21, although still a layman . He was both Lord Chancellor of France and Référendaire of France.
The story of the return of the sacred vessels (most notably the Vase of Soissons), which had been stolen from the Church of Soissons, testifies to the friendly relations existing between him and Clovis, King of the Franks, whom he converted to Christianity with the assistance of Saint Vedast (Vedastus, Vaast, Waast) and Saint Clotilde, the Burgundian Princess who was wife to Clovis. Even before he embraced Christianity, Clovis had showered benefits upon Remigius and the Christians of Rheims and after his victory over the Alamanni in the battle of Tolbiac (probably 496), he requested Remigius to baptise him at Rheims (25 December 496) in the presence of a large company of Franks and Alamanni; according to Saint Gregory of Tours, 3,000 Franks were baptised with Clovis.
The work of this man of only twenty-one years of age, in heading such an important Episcopal See, soon revealed the wisdom of this choice. In his famous Historia Francorum, St. Gregory of Tours writes: “St. Remigius was a Bishop of considerable knowledge who, at first, had been steeped in the study of rhetoric but who, so distinguished himself by his holiness that he equalled Sylvester in miracles.”
King Clovis granted Remigius stretches of territory, in which Remigius established and endowed many Churches. He erected Bishoprics at Tournai; Cambrai; Thérouanne, where he personally Consecrated the first Bishop in 499; Arras, where he installed St Vedast and Laon, which he gave to his niece’s husband Gunband. In 530, he Consecrated Medardus, Bishop of Noyon. Remigius’ brother Principius, was Bishop of Soissons and also corresponded with Sidonius Apollinaris, whose letters give a sense of the highly cultivated courtly literary style all three men shared.
The chroniclers of “Gallia Christiana” record that numerous donations were made to Remigius by the Frankish nobles, which he presented to the Cathedral at Rheims.
The charity and kindness of the young prelate soon won over the hearts of the faithful, whom he served devotedly—comforting all those who sought his help with material alms or with consolation and guidance for the soul. However, without neglecting the care of those belonging to the flock of Christ, through Baptism, St. Remigius burned with the desire to conquer new souls.
Although Remigius did not attend any of the Church Councils, in 517 he held a Synod at Rheims, at which after a heated discussion he converted a Bishop of Arian views.
His work in the missionary field of present day Belgium was not always successful, especially in regard to the nobles of the area. Many missionaries would have become discouraged in face of this apparent failure but not the Bishop of Rheims. Steeled by virtue, his soul possessed the mettle of a hero and the confidence of a prophet. Far from disheartening him, the death of the King of the region of Belgium, emboldened the strong-willed prelate.
Childeric left his son Clovis as successor—a 15 year-old adolescent, whom the Franks promptly proclaimed King. It became indispensable to win his friendship from the start and to instil in the youth a holy respect for the Church and its representatives.
Accordingly, Remigius sent him a letter that combined the affection of a father and the authority of a teacher: “In the first place, you must take care that the discernment of the Lord does not abandon you and that your merit remains at the height to which your humility has led you, since, according to the proverb, the actions of men are judged by their end. You should surround yourself with councillors of whom you can be proud. Do good, be chaste and honest. Show yourself to be filled with deference toward your Bishops and always have recourse to their advice. […] Divert yourself with the youths but deliberate with the elders and if you desire to reign, show yourself worthy to do so.”
This letter was the first step of a long journey that led the young King to the Baptismal font in the Cathedral of Rheims.
Many years followed for our Saint of zealous missionary work to announce the Gospel to those who are neither king nor prince, as well as diplomatic guidance of the King and his kingdom. In the final years of his life, God willed that the venerable brow of the Bishop that had been encircled by a halo of glory, be crowned with suffering – his body was bent under numerous illnesses that did not, however, dampen his enthusiasm or lessen his charity. Finally, in 533, Remigius surrendered his soul to God at the age of 96, after seventy years of Episcopal ministry.
Few authentic works of Remigius remain: his “Declamations” were elaborately admired by Sidonius Apollinaris, in a finely turned letter to Remigius, but are now lost. Four letters survive in the collection known as the Epistulae Austrasicae: one containing his defence in the matter of Claudius, two written to Clovis and a fourth to Bishop Falco of Tongres. A brief “Vita” was formerly ascribed to St Venantius Fortunatus. Another, was written by Ignatius, Bishop of Reims. A Commentary on the Pauline Epistles (edited Villalpandus, 1699) is not his work but that of St Remigius.
Remigius’ relics were kept in the Cathedral of Rheims, whence Hincmar had them translated to Épernay during the Viking invasions and thence, in 1099 to the Abbey of Saint-Rémy.
List of Churches dedicated to Saint Remigius:
Saint Remigius Church – a Roman Catholic church in Simpelveld, The Netherlands.
Long Clawson – an Anglican church in the village of Long Clawson, Leicestershire.
Stoke Holy Cross – an Anglican church in the village of Stoke Holy Cross in South Norfolk
Seething Norfolk. Church of England round tower church dedicated to St Margaret and St Remigius.
Saint Remigius Church, a Roman Catholic church in Haacht, Belgium.