02 March 2008

The Birth of France

Baptême de Clovis, premier roi des Francs, par saint Rémi devant la Basilique St-Rémi à Reims

Clovis was the first king to unite all the Frankish kingdoms under one rule. Three years after marrying the pious Clotilda, he rejected the Arianism of his Frankish forebears to embrace the Catholic faith.

After Clotilda convinced her husband to allow their son to be baptized, she encouraged the same of him. It was only during the battle of Tolbiac, during which he invoked God’s help and promised to become a Christian if his troops were granted victory—which they were—that Clovis agreed to baptism. Thus was born the great kingdom of France and its first Christian king.

On Christmas Day, 496, surrounded by great pomp, St. Remigius, bishop of Reims, baptized the king: Bow thy head, O Sicambrian; adore what thou hast burned and burn what thou hast adored. Clovis’s sister and 3,000 soldiers also embraced Christ.

According to one pious tradition, the baptismal chrism was miraculously brought in a vase by a dove; the Sainte Ampoule rests in the Reims Cathedral, traditional site of the coronation of French monarchs, their heads anointed with the chrism from that sacred vessel.

Clovis made Paris the capital of his kingdom. By law, Romans and barbarians were made perfectly equal, and the Salic Law was written down. He also protected and defended Holy Mother Church, and is attributed with establishing churches and monasteries all throughout his kingdom, St. Geneviève being one of them, where his remains were laid to rest until the period of the Revolution; a band of Jacobins vandalized his tomb, scattered his ashes, and wrecked the sanctuary.

His Latinized name Ludovicus evolved into the French Louis, a name that would be significant among many later French kings, and immortalized in the holy life of King St. Louis IX.

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