It is the 6th of February 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 679.
The place was the Elnone Abbey, which after 679 would be called the Abbey of St. Amand. The town in Northern France near the Belgian border is now called St-Amand-les-Eaux. So, you might infer that there was someone named Amand who was important.
Amand was a Frank, serving as a missionary bishop in the kingdom of Neustria. "Missionary" and "Bishop" might be words you are familiar with, but let's break down the Franks and the Kingdom of Neustria to come back to St. Amand and his important place in the history of the church.
We don't need to debate exactly how or exactly when Rome fell, but it was a big deal when it did. Especially in those places that were part of the Roman Empire and would now experience either a power vacuum or too many powers vying for singular power.
The name to know is Clovis. Clovis is the king that converted to Catholic Christianity in 508, and his Frankish, Merovingian kingdom would become perhaps the most powerful post-Roman state by the 600s. The "Franks" who make up part of who we call the modern French also had the ancient Saxons, the Lombards, Slavs, etc., to deal with.
The descendants of Clovis were less able at diplomacy, and the Kingdom of the Franks would be divided between Neustria, Austrasia, and Burgundy. Now, instead of one king of the Franks, there were multiple regional rulers. Instead of one Frankish identity, there would be distinct regional differences.
And here is where the church could have a positive stabilizing effect by tying the increasingly diverse people to one joint authority. Priests and especially Bishops represented a central authority, sometimes they could become arbiters between warring factions, and they would become the local church's face.
Today in churches in the north of France and up into Belgium, you will see the ubiquitous name of St. Amand, perhaps the most beloved regional saint.
The story of Amand has what we might call the "boilerplate" elements common to many saint-stories. It is said that his father, "Count Serenus" threatened to cut off the young Amand's inheritance if he insisted on taking up the monastic life. Here we see the motif of someone giving up every earthly comfort for the sake of the Gospel. This is the flip side of the person of no esteem or estate who ends up in the opposite station based on their devotion to the Gospel.
After 15 years of study and monastic seclusion, Amand was made a missionary Bishop by King Clothair, meaning that he could travel into those lands without church property and establish a base for evangelizing the pagans. And yes, the king made him a bishop. This is going to cause problems down the line.
Amand seems to have traveled not just into Flanders and up the coast, but also into Slavic regions, into the Basque territory on the Iberian Peninsula, and for an audience with the Pope in Rome. Besides his devotion to evangelism, we don't know much about what made him so successful. But here's a hint: he was said to have never touched neither meat nor strong drink, but he is today the patron saint of winemakers, brewers, bartenders, and waitstaff. It was reportedly his great attention to hospitality and service that endeared him to those who might otherwise not give the missionary bishop the time of day. It seems his hospitality was part of his winsomeness. It should also be noted that the monasteries that were built under his direction in Belgium would become famous for their long brewing tradition.
St. Amand, the Frankish Missionary bishop of Neustria (now it makes sense!), is celebrated today, especially in Belgium and France, on the anniversary of his death on this, the 6th of February in 679.
The reading for today comes from Angelico Chavez, "Jesus at the Well."
Give me to drink this desert wine,
This water welled by men;
Amen, I say, but drink of mine,
You shall not thirst again.
Give me to drink, for I am I,
Begging from earthly jars,
Who plunged the Dipper in the sky
And splashed the night with stars.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 6th of February 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man whose favorite Franks include Sinatra, Oz, Capra, and the guy that makes the hot sauce, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.