*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 1st of December 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Today is the feast day for St. Eligius- also called St. Eloi- a Frenchman in the 7th century. He is said to have been born in 588 and died on this, the 1st of December in 660.
We know that he was a goldsmith and later a bishop. He was known for his piety, honesty, for teaching, and in a curious twist a love of animals that comes through in the story of the exorcism of a horse.
Like so many stories from the early middle ages, we have a number of incomplete biographical sources written for various reasons. And perhaps the most obvious reason for writing was for posterity to know of this man and to imitate him. It can’t be said enough that the life of Christ and the New Testament writings place an emphasis on imitation. Imitation of Christ, imitation of Paul as he imitates Christ, and so on and so forth. Regardless of variations in theological systems, the New Testament calls Christians to be copycats. And thus we get stories like that of Eligius for us to.. well, imitate if possible.
But, in this medieval context, the embellishing of stories seemingly knew no end. If you’ve listened to this show for a while you know that a book called “the Golden Legend” by Jacob Voragine became a repository for stories about those people we might consider imitating. But these stories… er… well… we call it “hagiography”- that is “the writing about the saints” but the stories come down to us with a certain fantastical and miraculous quality. Check out the beginning of Elegius’ tale in the Golden Legend
“What time his mother was conceived with him, she saw in her sleep, an eagle fly over her bed, and thrice bowed and inclined to her, and promised to her something. And with the voice of the eagle, she awoke and was much abashed, surprised, discomfited and began to think what her dream might signify.
And when the time came of childing and that she should be delivered, she was in great peril, and anon she sent for a holy man to come and pray for her. When the good man came, anon he said to her: Have no doubt fear dame, nay nor dread, for this child shall be holy and much great in the church.”
Of course, miraculous birth stories were kind of par for the course in the Old and New Testaments.
But here’s what we do know about Eligius. He was apprenticed as a goldsmith and apparently was very talented. He was commissioned by a King in a neighboring kingdom to create a throne (or saddle, there are variations) and Eligius creates 2 of them- both beautiful and at the cost of the material for one. Seeing this, the King made him the master of coinage and the royal mint. His honesty and piety led him to serve the church as a priest and monk. He was known as a founder of monasteries, schools, he was a popular teacher, and a friend of animals (please note how often being friendly to animals is seen as a kind of piety in the early church- obvs. St. Francis of Assisi is the gold standard).
His holiness, care for animals, and smithing ability come to the forefront in a curious story about St. Eligius. He came upon a group whose horse was possessed by a demon, who threw his horseshoe and was thrashing wildly. Eligius attempted to calm the horse but to no avail. And so he cut off the front leg of the horse from which the demon was exorcised. Then, showing the horse his own severed leg, he re-shoed him, reconnected the leg, and went on his way. On account of this, St. Eligius is one of a few patron saints for Veterinarians (although I’m sure my veterinarian friends would advise against that particular horse maneuver).
Today we remember St. Eligius- a man esteemed by the church for his life, faith, and piety- and we can too esteem him- even in the midst of some bizarre hagiography. St. Eligius or St. Eloy (in French) is said to have died on this, the 1st of December over 1300 years ago in 660.
The last word for today comes from Philippians 3:
17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 1st of December 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose father always told him, “first exorcise the demon, then shoe the horse” he is Christopjer Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man whose father gave him no such advice about exorcism and horseshoes and well, it’s a story for another time. I’m 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.