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Eloi

(c. 588—660)


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(c.588–660),

bishop of Noyon. Born at Chaptelet (Haute-Vienne), he became a goldsmith and entered the service of Bobon, the royal treasurer. His reputation was based not only on excellent design, but also on economical use of materials. When he made two golden thrones out of metal allocated for one, Clotar II (d. 629) took him into his own service and commissioned him, as did his successor Dagobert I, to decorate tombs and shrines and make chalices, crosses, and plaques. Eloi became a priest, then bishop of Noyon in 641.

He became a very successful preacher and founded monasteries at Noyon, Paris, and Solignac. He was especially active in the Tournai area and was a pioneer apostle in much of Flanders. Of his supposed surviving homilies one is specially notable for his warnings against pagan superstitions such as fortune-telling, watching the omens, and keeping Thursday holy in honour of Jupiter. Instead of these, Christians should arm themselves with the sign of the cross, with prayer, and the Eucharist. Late in life he became a counsellor of Bathild, the queen-regent, an Anglo-Saxon who had been liberated from slavery and subsequently made good. To their influence may be traced the decree of the Council of Chalon, which forbade the sale of slaves out of the kingdom and insisted on their freedom to rest on Sundays and holy days.

It seems that no surviving piece of goldsmith's work is certainly Eloi's, although shrines of Quentin, Julian, Germanus, Brice, and Martin were attributed to him; his plaque above the altar of St Denis was admired in the Middle Ages, and his chalice at Chelles, which disappeared during the French Revolution, is known from surviving drawings. His reputation both as an apostolic bishop and as a distinguished craftsman who became the patron of goldsmiths, blacksmiths, and farriers ensured the diffusion of his cult from Picardy and Flanders over most of Europe. In England, where only one ancient church was dedicated to him, he was so well known through his feast, legends, and representations, such as that at Shorthampton (Oxon.), that Chaucer's Prioress's strongest oath was ‘by St Eloi’. His principal emblem is a horseshoe; like Dunstan he is depicted holding the devil by the nose with a pair of pincers (13th-century glass at Angers). Perhaps his most picturesque representation (14th century) is that of him shoeing a horse whose leg he first removed and then restored. He is a good example of a genuine saint of antiquity whose cult attained its widest popular diffusion in the later Middle Ages. Feast: 1 December; translation (Ely), 25 June.

AA.SS. Belgii III, 194–331; near-contemporary Life based on one by St Ouen, his friend, ed. B. Krusch in M.G.H., Scriptores rerum meroving., iv (1902), 634–761 (also in P.L., 87, 481–94 with homilies attributed to him, 593–654); see also ‘Inventio reliquiarum S. Eligii anno 1183’, Anal. Boll., ix (1890), 423–36;P. Parsy, Saint Eloi (1907);S. R. Maitland, The Dark Ages (1889), pp. 101–40;E. Vacandard in D.T.C., iv. (1908), 340–9.

Subjects: Christianity.


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