Her subsequent sanctity, Plummer observed, ‘is not conclusive as to her character, very curious people finding their way in those days into the ranks of the saints’ (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)
Some things have been preoccupying me. I have been reading up on the mediaeval custom of the “Peace and Truce of God” or Truega Dei – a long process developed over time which helped to cut down on the somewhat wasteful system of bloodfeuds and vendettas and petty political violence. The Pax Dei, as it was also called, contributed to the the development of the rule of law over family-based and clan-based ties and loyalties… although, obviously, such loyalties persisted into the modern era and persist today.
I am also reading, in the light of current concerns about ‘the right to choose’, about infanticide; I came across the history of Queen Bathild, a seventh-century Anglo-Saxon lady who was a slave at the Merovingian court and became the wife of Clovis II, the King of Burgundy and Neustria. Saint Bathild devoted much energy to ending simony, freeing slaves and outlawing the practice of infanticide. She was in conflict with powerful episcopal interests, was accused of murder and called a Jezebel, acted as Regent after Clovis’ death and founded monasteries and convents, one of which she was forced into after a political conflict. Another source describes her as a ‘goodhearted meddler’.
It is argued that evidence of Saint Bathild’s personal piety is her surviving gown, made of unqueenly fabric. According to tradition: “[Saint Eligius] appeared three times to one of Balthild’s courtiers (the date must be between 660 and 665), with an urgent message for the queen: ‘out of reverence for Christ, she must take off the insignia of gold and the adornments of gems which till then she was in the habit of wearing when she attended religious services’. Balthild obeyed, keeping only one pair of gold bracelets, and presumably offering the rest of her personal jewellery to God (or the saint).” Source: Oxford Dictionary 0f National Biography.
When one reads about the lives and works of early European saints, whatever the mixed verdicts of history, one is struck by how much autonomy – bounded, of course, by realpolitik and the realities of life – these early-mediaeval women had relative to women in other societies of the time. Could it be that the Christian Gospel and Holy Scripture allowed the expression of an understanding of human freedom that, in spite of the brutal times, extended the rights of women, slaves and the most powerless of all God’s children – the newborn? Perhaps we could learn a thing or two.