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St. Bathildis, Nun of Chelles and Queen of France

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Commemorated on January 30

An Anglo-Saxon by birth, Bathildis was captured by the invading armies from Denmark in 641 and sold to Erchinoald, the chief officer of the palace of Clovis II, King of France. She quickly gained favor, for she had charm, beauty, and a graceful and gentle nature. She also won the affection of her fellow-servants, for she showed them many kindnesses such as cleaning their shoes and mending their clothes, and her bright and attractive disposition endeared her to all.

Erchinoald, impressed by her fine qualities, wished to make her his wife, but Bathildis, alarmed at the prospect, disguised herself in old and ragged clothes, and hid herself away among the servants at the palace. Erchinoald, thinking she had run away, married another woman.

Her next suitor, however, was King Clovis. When Bathildis discarded her old clothes and appeared again, the king noticed her grace and beauty, and declared his love for her. In 649, the 19-year-old slave girl Bathildis became Queen of France. She bore Clovis three sons: Clotaire III, Childeric II, and Thierry III, all of whom became kings. On the death of her husband, she was appointed regent for her eldest son, Clotaire, who was only five, and she ruled capably for eight years with St. Eligius as her adviser.

She made a good queen and ruled wisely. She never forgot that she had been a slave, and did all within her power to relieve those in captivity. It was written that Queen Bathildis was the holiest and most devout of women. Remembering her own bondage, she set apart vast sums for the redemption of captives. Bathildis helped promote Christianity by following the teachings of St. Ouen, St. Leodegardius, and many other bishops.

During this period, the poorer inhabitants of France were often obliged to sell their children as slaves to meet the crushing taxes imposed upon them. Bathildis reduced their taxes, outlawed the purchase of Christian slaves and the sale of French subjects, and declared that any slave who set foot in France would from that moment be free. Thus, this enlightened women earned the love of her people and was a pioneer in the abolition of slavery.

She also founded many abbeys, such as Corbie, Saint-Denis, and Chelles, which became settlements in wild and remote areas of France. Under her guidance, forests were reclaimed and agriculture flourished. She built hospitals and sold her jewelry to help the needy.

When her son, Clotaire, came of age and ascended to the throne as King of France, Bathildis retired to her own royal abbey of Chelles, near Paris, where she served as an ordinary nun with humility and obedience.

She died at Chelles before she had reached her 50th birthday. Death touched her with a gentle hand; as she died, she said she saw a ladder reaching from the altar to heaven, and up this she climbed in the company of angels.

St. Bathildis is generally pictured as a crowned queen or nun before the altar of the Virgin, two angels support a child on a ladder, and reflects the vision she is said to have had at her death.

By permission of