Today is the feast day of St. Remigius, the great Bishop of the Fifth Century who, first among his many great works, baptized Clovis, King of the Franks in 496. For today’s feast, I thought I would reprint a post from a couple of years ago about the baptism of Clovis– one of the ten dates “every Catholic should know”, according to author Diana Moczar:

Third Date: A.D. 496– The Baptism of Clovis

France is often called the “eldest daughter of the faith”. In the history of France one sees an example and microcosm of the triumphs, defeats and challenges of the Church throughout the course of post-incarnational history.

France earned her title of eldest daughter in 496, when St. Remigius baptized Clovis, King of the Franks. And this event is the subject of Diane Moczar’s third “date” that every Catholic should know.

The Roman empire in the West finally crashed for good in 476 when Odoacer sacked Rome. Rome had a mere king for the first time since Etruscan rule was cast off around 500 B.C.

The real danger for the Church is that the various kings and chieftains who carved up the empire’s former territory were almost all Arians– members of a heresy that denied the divinity of Christ.

There was one exception to the embrace of Arianism– the Franks, who settled north of the Rhine and into Gaul, were staunch pagans. And yet within a short time, these Franks would be the defenders of Catholicism and their territory the beginnings of Christendom.

Clovis was fifteen years old when he became king (as an aside, the name Clovis is a derivation of the name Ludovici or Louis, and thus he was first of many such named). Upon his succession, St. Remigius, Bishop of Reims, wrote him a letter, containing in part the following advice:

“What matters first of all is to respond to the designs of that Providence that rewards your merit…. Take for counselors those whose choice does honor to your discernment. Be prudent, chaste, moderate; honor bishops and do not disdain their advice. As long as you live on good terms with them, the affairs of state will prosper. Raise up the souls of your peoples, relieve the widows, feed the orphans. Later on they will serve you, and thus you will conquer the hearts of the very ones who fear you. Let justice be done both in your heart and by your lips…”

In the course of his conquest of Gaul, Clovis thought to conquer Paris, but was thwarted by none other than Ste. Genevieve. She declared that no pagan would enter to rule the city, and shut its gates against him. Clovis began a siege. Ste. Genevieve herself led an expedition up the Seine to get supplies to prevent starvation of the people. In the end, Clovis was defeated–at least militarily– but Genevieve was praying for his conversion.

Perhaps in answer to these prayers, Clovis took the future Saint Clotilda for his wife, the Catholic daughter of a Burgundian king. While he was impressed with her faith, and that of her spiritual advisor (none other than St. Remigius), he remained pagan a long while.

Finally, in the midst of a difficult battle, when it seemed lost, he decided to pray to “Clotilda’s God” for victory. He promised God that if he was victorious he would believe and be baptized. You can guess he was victorious.

In a sort of second Pentecost, Clovis and three thousand Franks were baptized on Christmas in 496–just twenty years after the fall of Rome, the Church in the West had a new defender. Once baptized, Ste. Genevieve received him into his capital with joy.

It is told that the cathedral was so packed that the servant carrying the oil for confirmation could not get through the crowd. St. Remigius looked up to see a dove descending from Heaven with a vial of oil in its beak. Kings of France were anointed with this oil for over thirteen hundred years. This vial was smashed in the French Revolution, but some drops were collected and preserved, and were used for the coronation of Charles X in 1824.

Why did the Baptism of Clovis matter? Because Catholicism was no longer the religion of the conquered, only to be the weak sister to Arianism. It was plain to pagans and Arians that the Catholic religion was stronger, in that God gave his followers such dramatic victories in battle. Finally, it began the eventual conversion of the whole continent.

Dr. Moczar’s book can be obtained here: