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Leger

(c. 616—679)


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(c.616–79),

bishop of Autun and martyr. He was educated at the court of King Clotaire II and by a priest of Poitiers, chosen by Dudon, Leger's uncle and bishop of that city; he became a deacon at twenty and archdeacon soon after. Once ordained priest he became abbot of Saint-Maixent (653), which he reformed by introducing the Rule of St Benedict. He was chosen as bishop of Autun by Bathild, the regent, of Anglo-Saxon origin. His appointment followed a long vacancy and put an end to the strife and bloodshed caused by rival candidates; he ruled as a reforming bishop: building churches, caring for the poor, holding synods, but also, like other bishops of his time, fortifying the town and becoming involved in secular and court affairs. In 673, on the death of Clotaire III, he supported Childeric II against the intrigues of Ebroin, the Neustrian palace-mayor. For a time all went well, but Childeric married a near-relative against his advice and without ecclesiastical approbation. Leger fell from favour and was banished to Luxeuil. Theoderic, however, restored Leger to Autun, but Ebroin pursued him with an army. Leger surrendered to avoid bloodshed, was blinded, mutilated, and finally beheaded.

Although his death was for political reasons, he was regarded as a martyr and his cult, centred on his tomb at ‘Sarcingum’ (= Saint-Léger in the Pas-de-Calais) and on Saint-Maixent, to which his relics were translated in 682, rapidly spread in France, came to England before the Norman Conquest, and became well established in monastic calendars and in the Sarum Rite. Five ancient English churches are dedicated to him. He is represented on screens at Ashton and Wolborough (Devon). But the famous horse-race is named not after him, but after an 18th-century Colonel St Leger. Feast: 2 October.

AA.SS. Oct. I (1765), 355–491 (contains two early but not contemporary Lives, based on a lost original, provisionally reconstituted by B. Krusch, M.G.H., Scriptores rerum merov., v (1910), 249–362); F. Camerlinck, Saint Léger (1910) and A. Lesage, Le Fondateur de Liège (1919); B.L.S., x. 10–11; N.C.E., viii. 654–5.

Subjects: Christianity.


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