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Medieval Sourcebook:
Gregory of Tours:
On Clovis


The history of the Franks was written about a century after the time of Clovis by Gregory, bishop of Tours. The following extracts give some notion of this valuable source, upon which a great part of Our knowledge of the Merovingian period rests

 

The Incident of the Vase at Soissons

At this time [A.D. 486] the army of Clovis pillaged many churches, for he was still sunk in the errors of idolatry. The soldiers had borne away from a church, with all the other ornaments of the holy ministry, a vase of marvelous size and beauty. The bishop of this church sent messengers to the king, begging that if the church might not recover any other of the holy vessels, at least this one might be restored. The king, bearing these things, replied to the messenger: "Follow thou us to Soissons, for there all things that have been acquired are to be divided. If the lot shall give me this vase, I will do what the bishop desires."

When be had reached Soissons, and all the booty had been placed in the midst of the army, the king pointed to this vase, and said: "I ask you, O most valiant warriors, not to refuse to me the vase in addition to my rightful part," Those of discerning mind among his men answered, "O glorious king, all things which we see are thine, and we ourselves are subject to thy power; now do what seems pleasing to thee, for none is strong enough to resist thee." When they had thus spoken one of the soldiers, impetuous, envious, and vain, raised his battle-axe aloft and crushed the vase with it, crying, "Thou shalt receive nothing of this unless a just lot give it to thee." At this all were stupefied.

The king bore his injury with the calmness of patience, and when he had received the crushed vase he gave it to the bishop's messenger, but be cherished a hidden wound in his breast. When a year had passed he ordered the whole army to come fully equipped to the Campus Martius and show their arms in brilliant array - But when he had reviewed them all he came to the breaker of the vase, and said to him, "No one bears his arms so clumsily as thou ; for neither thy spear, nor thy sword, nor thy ax is ready for use." And seizing his ax, he cast it on the ground. And when the soldier had bent a little to pick it up the king raised his hands and crushed, his head with his own ax. "Thus," he said, "didst thou to the vase at Soissons."

 

The Conversion of Clovis to Christianity

[Clovis took to wife Clotilde, daughter of the king of the Burgundians. Now Clotilde was a Christian. When her first son was born] she wished to consecrate him by baptism, and begged her husband unceasingly, saying, I , The gods whom thou honorest are nothing they cannot help themselves nor others; for they are carved from stone, or from wood, or from some metal. The names which you have given them were of men, not of gods, - like Saturn, who is said to have escaped by flight, to avoid being deprived of his power by his son; and like Jupiter himself, foul perpetrator of all uncleanness. . . . What power have Mars and Mercury ever had ? They are endowed with magical arts rather than divine power.

"The God who should be worshiped is he who by his word created from nothingness the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that in them is; he who made the sun to shine and adorned the sky with stars; who filled the waters with creeping things, the land with animals, the air with winged creatures; by whose bounty the earth is glad with crops, the trees with fruit, the vines with grapes; by whose hand the human race was created; whose bounty has ordained that all things should give homage and service to man, whom he created."

But when the queen had said these things, the mind of Clovis was not stirred to believe. He answered: "By the will of our gods all things are created and produced. Evidently your god can do nothing, and it is not even proved that he belongs to the race of gods."

Meantime- the faithful queen presented her son for baptism. She had the church adorned with tapestry, seeking to attract by this splendor him whom her exhortations had not moved. But the child whom they called Ingomer, after he had been born again through baptism, died in his white baptismal robe. Then the king reproached the queen bitterly. , if the child had been consecrated in the name of my gods he would be alive still. But now, because he is baptized in the name of your god, he cannot live."

After this another son was born to him, and called in baptism Clodomir. He fell very ill. Then the king said: "Because he, like his brother, was baptized in the name of Christ he must soon die." But his mother prayed, and by God's will the child recovered.

The queen unceasingly urged the king to acknowledge the true God, and forsake idols. But he could not in any wise be brought to believe until a war broke out with the Alemanni. Then he was by necessity compelled to confese what he had before willfully denied.

It happened that the two armies were in battle and there was great slaughter. Clovis' army was near to utter destruction. He saw the danger; his heart Was stirred; he was moved to tears, and he raised his eyes to heaven, saying - , Jesus Christ, whom Clotilde declares to be the son of the living God, who it is said givest aid to the oppressed and victory to those who put their hope in thee, I beseech the glory of thy aid. If thou shalt grant me victory over these enemies and I test that power which people consecrated to thy name say they have proved concerning thee, I will believe in thee and be baptized in thy name. For 1 have called upon my gods, but, as 1 have proved, they are far removed4 from my aid. So I believe that they have no power, for they do not succor those who serve them. Now 1 call upon thee, and I long to believe in thee -all the more that may escape my enemies."

When he had said these things, the Alemanni turned their backs and began to flee. When they saw that their king was killed, they submitted to the sway of Clovis, saying: "We wish that no more people should perish. Now we are thine." When the king had forbidden further war, and praised his soldiers, he told the queen how he had won the victory by calling on the name of Christ.

Then the queen sent to the blessed Remigius, bishop of the city of Rheims, praying him to bring to the king the gospel of salvation. The priest, little by little and secretly, led him to believe in the true God, maker of heaven and earth, and to forsake idols, which could not help him nor anybody else.

But the king said: "Willingly will I hear thee, O father; but one thing is in the way - that the people who follow me are not content to leave their gods. I will go and speak to them according to thy word."

When be came among them, the power of God went before him, and before he had spoken all the people cried out together: " We cast off mortal gods, 0 righteous king, and we are ready to follow the God whom Remigius tells us s immortal."

These thin-s were told to the bishop. He was filled with joy, and ordered the font to be prepared. The streets were shaded with embroidered hangings ; the churches were adorned with white tapestries, the baptistery was set in order, the odor of balsam spread around, candles gleamed, and all the temple of the baptistery was filled with divine odor. . . . Then the king confessed the God omnipotent in the Trinity, and was baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and was anointed with the sacred chrism with the sign of the cross of Christ. Of his army there were baptized more than three thousand.

From the accounts translated in J. H. Robinson, Readings in European History, (Boston: Ginn, 1905), pp. 51-55

 


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

(c)Paul Halsall Jan 1996
halsall@murray.fordham.edu