February 20, 2020

Saint Eleutherius, Bishop of Tournai (+ 531)

St. Eleutherius of Tournai (Feast Day - February 20)

Saint Eleutherius was born in Tournai to Christian parents, whose family had been converted to the Christian faith by Saint Piatus a few centuries prior. Most Christian families after the martyrdom of Saint Piatus reverted to paganism. He grew up with Saint Medardus (June 8), who prophesied to him that he would one day become Bishop of Tournai, where the Kings of the Franks resided. Eleutherius was consecrated Bishop of Tournai by Saint Remigius in 486.

The first years of his episcopate were particularly difficult. In 476 Rome had fallen and the barbarian invasions of the Visigoths, Alemanni and Franks had already begun. The latter still pagans, they had established their own capital in Tournai, so Eleutherius was forced to take refuge, moving the episcopal see to the nearby and safer village of Blandain.

Bishop Eleutherios had as his mission to convert the Franks who were pagans, and defend the Christian faith against heretics who had wormed their way into the Christian communities. Ten years after Eleutherius became Bishop of Tournai, King Clovis was baptized at Rheims in 496. With this Saint Eleutherius baptized many pagans of Tournai.

Once, a young girl fell in love with him. The bishop would have nothing to do with her. In response she fell ill, and then passed into a coma. Eleutherius told her father, who was the governor, that he could restore her to health, but would do so only if the father promised to become a Christian. Once the girl was cured, her father reneged on his vow. At this Eleutherius is said to have brought a plague on the land - an action which soon forced the recalcitrant father to repent and believe.

When returning from the Battle of Tolbiac, King Clovis was repentant for some of his political crimes, so he went to Bishop Eleutherius as a penitent to intercede on his behalf and obtain divine forgiveness. Eleutherius revealed to him all his misdeeds before the king decided to confess them. This amazed the king and moved him to repent sincerely. After praying for the king for a full year, an angel appeared to him and revealed that Clovis had been forgiven through his intercessions.

Eleutherius opposed most zealously certain heretics who denied the mystery of the Incarnation, namely Arians. In 520 he assembled a synod to condemn the heresies that were still widespread, especially Pelagianism and Arianism. One day, after suffering a beating by a group of Arians as he came out of church, he died of the wounds some days later, on 20 February 531. His funeral was served by his friend Saint Medardus, Bishop of Noyon, who informed of the attack, had left Noyon to visit him, but came when Eleutherius was already dead.

Most of the early evidence of Eleutherius, including his relics, perished in a great fire which consumed his church in 1092. The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Tournai has a portion of his relics and serves as a shrine to his life and deeds through its beautiful artistry.