St. Amand and King Dagobert of the Franks

St. Amand (aka St. Amandus) was a great missionary of the 600’s and 700’s. He did mission work in what is today France, Belgium, Eastern European Slavic settlements along the Danube, and in the Basque country between France and Spain. He was a busy man.

He came from a well-to-do family in Brittany but at the age of twenty, he decided to go off and be a hermit on an island. When his father got mad at him and threatened to cut him out of the will, he told him that like the Levites, “God is my inheritance.” After a few years of hermit life, he went on the road, then lived at Bourges in a hermit cell near the cathedral, under the spiritual direction of the bishop, St. Austregisilus. He wore sackcloth and ate nothing but barley bread and water. After fifteen years of that, he went on pilgrimage to Rome, came back to France, and was ordained, consecrated a roving missionary bishop, and sent out to convert pagans and unbelievers.

After he’d been preaching and converting for a few years, St. Amand decided to talk seriously to Dagobert, King of the Franks, about his life choices.

Dagobert I was supposed to be Christian and fairly devout — but he married his aunt Gormatrude. She didn’t have kids, so he divorced her. Then he was married to three wives who ranked as queens (Nanthild, Wulfegundis and Berchildis), and he had several concubines too (including Ragnetrude, the mother of King Sigebert III of Austrasia). Dagobert also assassinated several potential claimants for thrones (who were mostly his kin). He did have a darned good prime minister (St. Eligius, honest goldsmith, engineer, statesman, and mystic) but he didn’t listen to the saint’s less secular advice much. So yeah, the kind of guy who brags about being an altarboy and a big church contributor, but who doesn’t actually clean up his own life.

King Dagobert wasn’t happy about St. Amand’s preaching to him instead of to the pagans, or that he should repent and regularize his marriage situation. He officially banished St. Amand from all the Frankish lands. St. Amand went back to the Basques to preach.

But pretty soon, Dagobert regretted his actions. He sent word to St. Amand to come back and even had him baptize his first son, a concubine’s son, the future king and saint, Sigebert III. (Notice too that St. Amand didn’t let the parents living in sin stop him from baptizing their baby. St. Amand wasn’t trying to be a big meanie; he was trying to get the maximum number of people saved. You really can be pastoral without compromising stuff you shouldn’t compromise.)


Dagobert did eventually mend his ways somewhat. He built the church of St. Denis and died at the associated monastery in Paris. He was the first Frankish/French king ever buried at St. Denis. There’s even a story that poor St. Denis had to come down from Heaven and beat up on the devil, because otherwise Satan would have gotten Dagobert’s soul.

But meanwhile, King Dagobert was still alive, and St. Amand headed back to Belgium to do more missions work. The pagans around Ghent were known to be very fierce, so missionaries didn’t go there at all. St. Amand decided this was the perfect place to settle for a while and work hard. He failed, failed, failed, and then raised a man from the dead. Obviously this got people’s attention. Ghent’s people came in crowds to receive Baptism, and they destroyed their own pagan temples. After building them some churches, in 633, St. Amand actually founded two monasteries in the area.

He did more missions elsewhere and built more monasteries and churches, including Elnon outside Tournai. He was made Bishop of Maastricht in 649, but three years later he resigned his see (to another future saint) and went off to the missions again. At 86, he returned to Elnon Monastery. His health was so poor that the monks made him abbot so that he’d have to stay. He lasted four more years, then died in the year 675 and was buried at the monastery. Elnon was eventually renamed Saint-Amand Abbey, and the village around it became Saint-Amand-les-Eaux.

St. Amand, who didn’t mind good Christian joy and fun, became one of the many patron saints of beer and brewers, as well as innkeepers and bartenders, vineyards, vineyard workers (yeah, it’s a missions joke), vintners, winesellers, and alcohol stores. Also, Boy Scouts, probably because he tramped across most of Europe. His feast day is February 6. (Right before St. Valentine’s Day!)

Meanwhile, in Antwerp, which once was one of St. Amand’s successful mission fields, Bishop Bonny thinks that the German bishops have a good idea with overlooking people’s irregular marital status when it comes to receiving Communion, and that indeed the Church should recognize same sex marriages as perfectly good marriages.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s what St. Amand the mission bishop was thinking, when he spoke the bitter truth about his multiple marriages to King Dagobert.

A lot of men and women talked and taught and risked their lives, for hundreds of years, to teach Europeans how to live like civilized Christians instead of rutting animals, or to value marriage as something you couldn’t just buy. They had a very difficult time protecting the rights – and the very lives – of lawful wives and husbands.

Nowadays, apparently this work is all mean and hateful. And anyway it’s too hard, not realistic, overly theoretical, and cold.

It wasn’t theoretical to St. Amand.

FYI, an extremely complete article on patron saints of beer.



Filed under Saint Stories

2 responses to “St. Amand and King Dagobert of the Franks

  1. Reblogged this on Head Noises and commented:
    Taking one tiny aspect out of the whole swath of interesting stuff, I find it very funny that an uncle’s name-saint is a variation of the ancient god of Wine. (Yes, this is the same one that really loves good whiskey.)

  2. Interesting history, and I can’t find a fault with how it’s applied.

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