Wednesday, June 27, 2012

St. Eloi, patron saint of jewelers.

From Julia DeWolf Addison's Arts and Crafts in the Middle Ages: A Description of Mediaeval Workmanship in Several of the Departments of Applied Art, Together with Some Account of Special Artisans in the Early Renaissance (published sometime before 1923)

The greatest mediæval jeweller was St. Eloi of Limoges. His history is an interesting one, and his achievement and rise in life was very remarkable in the period in which he lived. Eloi was a workman in Limoges, as a youth, under the famous Abho, in the sixth century; there he learned the craft of a goldsmith. He was such a splendid artisan that he soon received commissions for extensive works on his own account. King Clothaire II. ordered from him a golden throne, and supplied the gold which was to be used. To the astonishment of all, Eloi presented the king with two golden thrones (although it is difficult to imagine what a king would do with duplicate thrones!), and immediately it was noised abroad that the goldsmith Eloi was possessed of miraculous powers, since, out of gold sufficient for one throne, he had constructed two. People of a more practical turn found out that Eloi had learned the art of alloying the gold, so as to make it do double duty...

While Eloi was working at the court of King Clothaire II., St. Quen was there as well. The two youths struck up a close friendship, and afterwards Ouen became his biographer. His description of Eloi's personal appearance is worth quoting, to show the sort of figure a mediæval saint sometimes cut before canonization. "He was tall, with a ruddy face, his hair and beard curly. His hands well made, and his fingers long, his face full of angelic sweetness.... At first he wore habits covered with pearls and precious stones; he had also belts sewn with pearls. His dress was of linen encrusted with gold, and the edges of his tunic trimmed with gold embroidery. Indeed, his clothing was very costly, and some of his dresses were of silk. Such was his exterior in his first period at court, and he dressed thus to avoid singularity; but under this garment he wore a rough sack cloth, and later on, he disposed of all his ornaments to relieve the distressed; and he might be seen with only a cord round his waist and common clothes. Sometimes the king, seeing him thus divested of his rich clothing, would take off his own cloak and girdle and give them to him, saying: 'It is not suitable that those who dwell for the world should be richly clad, and that those who despoil themselves for Christ should be without glory.'"

Among the numerous virtues of St. Eloi was that of a consistent carrying out of his real beliefs and theories, whether men might consider him quixotic or not. He was strongly opposed to the institution of slavery. In those days it would have been futile to preach actual emancipation. The times were not ripe. But St. Eloi did all that he could for the cause of freedom by investing most of his money in slaves, and then setting them at liberty. Sometimes he would "corner" a whole slave market, buying as many as thirty to a hundred at a time. Some of these manumitted persons became his own faithful followers: some entered the religious life, and others devoted their talents to their benefactor, and worked in his studios for the furthering of art in the Church.

He once played a trick upon the king. He requested the gift of a town, in order, as he explained, that he might there build a ladder by which they might both reach heaven. The king, in the rather credulous fashion of the times, granted his request, and waited to see the ladder. St. Eloi promptly built a monastery. If the monarch did not choose to avail himself of this species of ladder,—surely it was no fault of the builder!

St. Quen and St. Eloi were consecrated bishops on the same day, May 14, St. Quen to the Bishopric of Rouen, and Eloi to the See of Noyon. He made a great hunt for the body of St. Quentin, which had been unfortunately mislaid, having been buried in the neighbourhood of Noyon; he turned up every available spot of ground around, within and beneath the church, until he found a skeleton in a tomb, with some iron nails. This he proclaimed to be the sacred body, for the legend was that St. Quentin had been martyred by having nails driven into his head! Although it was quite evident to others that these were coffin nails, still St. Eloi insisted upon regarding his discovery as genuine, and they began diligently to dismember the remains for distribution among the churches. As they were pulling one of the teeth, a drop of blood was seen to follow it, which miracle was hailed by St. Eloi as the one proof wanting. Eloi had the genuine artistic temperament and his religious zeal was much influenced by his æsthetic nature. He once preached an excellent sermon, still preserved, against superstition. He inveighed particularly against the use of charms and incantations. But he had his own little streak of superstition in spite of the fact that he fulminated against it. When he had committed some fault, after confession, he used to hang bags of relics in his room, and watch them for a sign of forgiveness. When one of these would turn oily, or begin to affect the surrounding atmosphere peculiarly, he would consider it a sign of the forgiveness of heaven. It seems to us to-day as if he might have looked to his own relic bags before condemning the ignorant.

St. Eloi died in 659, and was himself distributed to the faithful in quite a wholesale way. One arm is in Paris. He was canonized both for his holy life and for his great zeal in art. He was buried in a silver coffin adorned with gold, and his tomb was said to work miracles like the shrine of Becket. Indeed, Becket himself was pretty dressy in the matter of jewels; when he travelled to Paris, the simple Frenchmen exclaimed: "What a wonderful personage the King of England must be, if his chancellor can travel in such state!"

There are various legends about St. Eloi. It is told that a certain horse once behaved in a very obstreperous way while being shod; St. Eloi calmly cut off the animal's leg, and fixed the shoe quietly in position, and then replaced the leg, which grew into place again immediately, to the pardonable astonishment of all beholders, not to mention the horse.

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