June 6, 2018

Saint Claude the Wonderworker, Bishop of Besançon (+ 696)

St. Claude of Besancon (Feast Day - June 6)

Claude (Claudius) was born in the castle of Bracon near Salins, which is in the region of Franche-Comté of eastern France, of a noble Gallo-Roman family named Claudia around the year 603. He was entrusted to tutors at a young age and in addition to studying academic subjects, Claude spent hours reading devotional works, particularly the lives of the saints. Until the age of twenty, he served as a border guard, but in 627 he was appointed as a priest by Donatus, Bishop of Besançon. Donatus had written regulations for his canon priests; Claudius followed them assiduously. He became famous as a teacher and ascetic, eating only one frugal meal per day.

After serving as a priest at Besançon, Claude entered the Abbey of Condat, at Saint-Claude, then called Jura (which was named after him after his death), in the Jura mountains. He was then elected to succeed as the twelfth abbot at Condat at the age of 34 in 641 or 642, during the pontificate of Pope John IV. He brought the Benedictine Rule to Condat. He obtained support from Clovis II (whose wife, Balthild, had persuaded him to do so), obtaining from the monarch an annuity. Under Claude's rule, the abbey thrived. Claude had built new churches and reliquaries, and fed the poor and the pilgrims in the area.

On the death of Saint Gervase (Gervasius), Bishop of Besançon, the clergy of that city elected Claude as their bishop in 685. Fearing the obligations of that charge, he fled and hid himself, but was discovered and compelled to take it upon him. During seven years he acquitted himself of the pastoral functions with the zeal and vigilance of an apostle; but finding then an opportunity of resigning his see, which out of humility and love of solitude he had always sought, he retired to the great Abbey of Condat on Mount Jura, and there took the monastic habit in 690.

Soon after he was again forced to take the position of abbot of the monastery. Such was the sanctity of his life, and his zeal in conducting his monks in the paths of evangelical perfection, that he deserved to be compared to Anthony and Pachomios, and his monastery to those of ancient Egypt. Manual labour, silence, prayer, reading of pious books, especially the Holy Bible, fasting, watching, humility, obedience, poverty, mortification, and the close union of their hearts with God, made up the whole occupation of these fervent servants of God, and were the rich patrimony which Saint Claude left to his disciples.

He reposed around the year 696. His body was buried in the church of the Abbey of Condat, and hidden during the Arab invasions. It was discovered there in 1160, and put into a silver shrine. It was found and still preserved without the least blemish of corruption. The bowels were entire in the body, and the joints flexible. The feet were exposed bare three times every day to be kissed by pilgrims, for his shrine has been for many ages one of the most famous pilgrimages in France. The monastery and town changed their former names of Condat and Saint Oyand for that of Saint Claude. Some of the people of the area were convinced that demons lived in the dark valleys of the Jura Mountains, and Claude was often invoked for his protection. This great abbey of Benedictines was secularized and converted into a collegiate of canons, in 1723. Claudius's relics were burned in March 1794, during the French Revolution. It converted into a cathedral in 1743, a rich bishopric being erected in it.

In the cathedral, the Saint Claude Chapel keeps a shrine with the wax replica of the body of the Saint; the treasury of the cathedral includes the authentic forearm of the Saint, that escaped desecration in 1794, whereas his left little finger is kept in a separate reliquary. When the revolutionaries burned the body of the Saint, his forearm and little finger were stolen and hidden by François Joseph Jacquet, whose house was the only one to escape the 1799 blaze.