Saint of the Day – 6 February – Saint Vaast of Arras (c 453-539 or 540) The First Bishop of Arras, France , Hermit, Ascetic, miracle-worker., Advisor to King Clovis. Born in c 453 at Limoges, France and died on 6 February in 539–540 at Arras, France of natural causes. Patronages – against eye diseases, of the Diocese of Arras, Boulogne and Saint-Omer, France, of children, of children who late learning to walk. Also known as – Foster, Gaston, Gastone, Vaat, Vedast, Vedasto, Vedastus. Additional Memorials – 2 January (discovery of relics), 7 February (enshrinement of relics), 15 July (translation of relics in Cambrai), 1 October (translation of relics).
The Roman Martyrology reads: “In Arras in Belgian Gaul, today in France, Saint Vedastus, Bishop, who, sent by Saint Remigius Bishop of Rheims to the devastated City, catechised King Clovis, re-established the Church and held it for about forty years and brought to an end, the need of work for evangelisation among the previously still pagan peoples of the region.”
Vaast was a native of the Limoges region, born in the second half of the 5th century. He left his parents as a young man and embarked on a secluded ascetic life as a Hermit, hidden from the world in the Diocese of Toul, France. It was there, near Toul, that he accidentally met King Clovis I who, after defeating the Germans, was returning to his country.
The traditional account of the conversion of King Clovis by St Vaast, says while on the road to Rheims, they encountered a blind beggar at the bridge over the river Aisne. The man besought Vaast’s assistance. Vaast, in this account had already been Ordained a Priest, was inspired to pray and blessed the beggar, at which point the man immediately recovered his sight. The miracle convinced the King to adopt his wife’s religion. Vaast became and remained an advisor to King Clovis. until the King’s death.
They continued their journey to Rheims, where Bishop St Remigius administered Baptism to the King. On his departure, Clovis recommended his instructor to the Bishop, who, knowing of the Hermit’s moral, devotional and theological qualities, first Ordained him as a Priest and then Consecrated him as the Bishop of Arras. (in the year 500).
This City of Arras was initially sacked by the Huns and the population, already Christian since the Fourth Century, had dispersed during the invasion. Arras was slowly repopulated but its inhabitants had practically returned to paganism. The new Bishop courageously embarked on his missionary work, reorganising his Diocese, converting numerous inhabitants in his many apostolic journeys in the vast territory entrusted to him.
He remained a friend of King Clovis and Queen Clotilde throughout his life and at the same time, he always remained a disciple, as it were, of St Remigius, who became his adviser, guide and trusted example.
After having ruled the Diocese for 40 years, he died on 6 February 539 or 540.
The news concerning the efficacious nature of prayer to Vaast and the many and diverse miracles and prodigies worked by God through his intercession, continued over the centuries. This resulted in three ‘Vitae,’ being written. One of the Vita’s by St Alcuin, recounts that on one occasion, having spent the day in instructing a nobleman, his host would see him on his way with a glass of wine to sustain him but found the cask empty. Vaast bid the servant to bring whatever he should find in the vessel. The servant then found the barrel overflowing with excellent wine, just like at Cana! The image below relates to another miracle for which I cannot find the legend.
His body had many translations, due to the Norman invasion of the City of Arras in the Ninth Century. In December 880, the City was set on fire and its inhabitants massacred but the relics were rescued and hidden at Beauvais which was fortified.
In 667, St Aubert, the Seventh Bishop of Arras, began to build an Abbey for Benedictine Monks on the site of a little Chapel which Saint Vaast had erected in honour of Saint Peter. Vaast’s relics were transferred to the new Abbey, which was completed by Auburt’s uccessor and generously endowed by King Theuderic III, who together with his wife, was afterwards buried there. The relics, in the following centuries, remained in possession of the Abbey of St Vaast until the French Revolution, when the Abbey was sacked, however, the relics miraculously remained intact! They were later transferred to the Cathedral of Arras, where they still are today.
St Vaast’s cult, since ancient times, is widespread throughout France . It is reported in the litanies of the Saints and he is considered the Founder of the Episcopal See of Arras, for which he is the main Patron. In France he is more widely known as St Gastone.