France received the distinguished grace of being called the “first-born daughter of the Church” primarily because of St. Remigius and the apostolate he accomplished.
Newsroom (October 6, 2021, 20:00 PM, Gaudium Press) He was born in 437 in Laon, Northern France, from a Catholic and noble family. A blind hermit who lived nearby had told Remigius’ elderly parents that they would have a male child who would become great before God and perform miracles, the first of which would be the healing of his blindness. Indeed, on the day Remigius was born, the hermit was cured.
Since he was a teenager, he went to live as an anchorite in the outskirts of Laon, devoting himself to prayer, penance, and study. He progressed so far in virtue and knowledge that the fame of his sanctity and wisdom spread throughout the country.
Bishop of Reims, when he was only 22 years old
When the Bishop of Reims – a city near Laon – died, the clergy and people acclaimed Remigius as his successor; there were no dissenting votes. Knowing that a crowd was heading to his cell to pay homage to him, he tried to escape, but he could not.
He tried to dissuade people by saying he was too young – he was only 22 years old – but to no avail. Then a luminous halo descended from heaven over his head, and his hair became impregnated with a balm that exuded a pleasant perfume. They took him to Reims, where he was ordained a priest and soon after a bishop.
Battle of Tolbiac
In 493, the pagan king of the Franks, Clovis, married St. Clotilde, who, guided by St. Remigius, began to do apostolate with her husband to convert him to Catholicism, but in vain.
On one occasion, the Alemannians attacked the Franks, and there was a great battle at Tolbiac, near Cologne, in southern Germany. The Alemannians outnumbered the Franks and started to defeat them. Distressed, King Clovis made a promise to God: if he won the battle, he would convert to the religion of Clotilde, that is, to the Catholic Church. His prayers were answered, and King Clovis defeated the Alemannians by a wide margin.
St. Remigius catechized Clovis and the members of his army. When the Saint described to them the Passion of Our Lord, the monarch cried out, “Ah, if I had been there with my Franks, I would have avenged the insults done to my God!”
Father Rohrbacher comments, “These words already announced the Christian sword of Charles Martel, of Charlemagne, of Godfrey and Tancred.” The last two were great heroes of the First Crusade.
“Holy Father, is this Heaven yet?”
On Christmas Eve 496, St. Remigius baptized Clovis in the Cathedral of Reims. The streets from the king’s palace to the church were carpeted and full of flowers, and the people walked in procession.
Many torches illuminated the main façade of the church. Inside, they were burning incense that perfumed the atmosphere and singing chants. Upon entering the temple, Clovis asked St. Remigius, who was holding his hand:
– Holy Father, is this already the Heaven you have promised me?
– No, replied the bishop. It is the entrance to the path that leads there.
As he poured the water over Clovis, the Saint said to him, “Bow your head, sicambro, worship what you have burned and burn what you have worshipped!”
The Sicambros were Germanic people, from which came the Franks. Clovis rejected the idols he worshipped and began to worship our Lord Jesus Christ.
A dove brought a vial containing the holy chrism
The temple was so crowded that the acolytes could not walk to bring the bishop the oil for the anointing of King Clovis.
Suddenly, a dove with snow-white plumage approached St. Remigius. It was, carrying in its beak a small vial filled with the holy chrism. He opened it, and a pleasant aroma exhaled throughout the room. The bird disappeared, and the venerable bishop sprinkled some of the oil into the baptismal pool.
The vial remained in Reims until the French Revolution. In 1793, commissioners of the Convention broke it sacrilegiously. However, a man faithful to God managed to collect some of the oil. They later mixed it with the chrism used for the consecration of the kings of France in the Cathedral of Reims.
Charles X was the last French sovereign to receive royal anointing with this oil; the ceremony took place in 1825.
On that same day, two of Clovis’ sisters received special graces: one was baptized and became a nun, and the other, an Arian, renounced to heresy. Members of the court, army chiefs, about 3,000 Frank soldiers, and their wives and children also received the sacrament.
His reasonings reminded the impetuosity of thunder
St. Remigius possessed an extraordinary physique. According to the measurements of the time, he was almost seven feet tall, or 2.31 meters. He looked kindly on the good but looked at the wicked with terrifying majesty.
When he walked through the fields, little birds surrounded him and perched on his shoulders. He healed the sick, exorcised the possessed, resurrected a dead man; he put out a terrible fire that raged in the city of Reims with holy water and signs of the cross.
St. Sidonius Apollinarius (430-486), who was mayor of Rome, senator, and then bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, followed St. Remigius closely and wrote that reading his sermons, one can observe: “the nobility of his thoughts, the beauty of his figures, the force of his reasoning, which can be compared to the impetuosity of thunder.”
Such was the grandeur of St. Remigius that Pope St. Hormisda, whose pontificate lasted from 514 to 523, wrote a letter to him in which he said:
“We entrust you with representing us in the whole extent of the Estates conquered by our spiritual and well-beloved son, King Clovis, whom you have recently restored with the grace of God by the water of Baptism, under the circumstances reminiscent of the series of prodigies once performed by the Apostles.”
St. Remigius ruled the diocese of Reims for 74 years. His only illness was the loss of his sight.
On January 13, 533, God took his beautiful soul to Heaven. He was 96 years old. His mother Celina and his brother Principius, Bishop of Soissons, also obtained the glory of the altars by their heroic virtues.
By Paulo Francisco Martos
Compiled by Ena Alfaro