19 June 2009

'The Oracle & Model of the Clergy'—St Claudius of Besançon

Today, 6 June on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Claudius of Besançon (c. 607-696 or 699), also sometimes known as St Claudius the Thaumaturge. Unfortunately, the only sources I have on St Claudius are online, which means that ordinarily I wouldn’t bother blogging about him, but I feel obliged since I found this icon. Here is William Smith’s brief article on St Claudius in in his and Henry Wace’s A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrines, Vol. I: A-D (London: John Murray, 1877), p. 552 (found on Google Books):

Claudius (10), St., II., 29th bishop of Besançon [Vesuntium], successor (according to the lists) of St Gervasius. On this saint the inventors of legends have compiled a vast farrago of improbabilities. It does not, however, seem unlikely that he sprang from a noble house, which afterwards produced the Salinensian princes; that from his earliest years he was enrolled amongst the clergy of Besançon; that after a novitiate in the abbey of Mount Jura [Condat] he was elected to succeed abbat Injuriosus in the year 641 or 642, under the pontificate of Pope John IV; that on the death of Gervase he was elected by the clergy of Besançon to be their archbishop; that after seven years he abdicated and returned to rule the abbey of Mount Jura; and that he died in AD 696 or 699.

St Claudius, in his lifetime the oracle and model of the clergy of Besançon, became after his death one of the most popular saints of France. In the 9th century Rabanus Maurus mentions him in his Martyrologium as an intercessor. The abbey of St Oyend in Mount Jura received his name, and became one of the most frequented points for pilgrimages. A town sprang up round it, as at Einsiedeln, which was only destroyed in 1799. His day is June 6. (Gallia Christ. xv. p. 17; Migne, Encycl. Theolog. xl.; Patrol. Lat. cx. p. 1149; Rabani Mauri, Martyrolog.)

According to the recent wholesale revision of Butler’s Lives of Saints (also on Google Books!), ‘Some of the people of the area were convinced that demons lived in the dark valleys of the Jura Mountains, and Claud was often invoked for his protection’ (Kathleen Jones, Butler’s Lives of the Saints, New Full Edition: June [Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1997], p. 54). This article also points out the long-standing confusion between our St Claudius, and another bishop of Besançon named Claudius who lived a century earlier and attended the council of Epaonum in 517. According to this site, the later St Claudius (whom we are celebrating today) was born 'in the castle of Bracon, near Salins, from the Gallo-Roman family of Claudia', and served as a border guard before laying down his arms for the life of a canon (hence the sword and helmet at his feet in the icon).

What Smith calls ‘the abbey of Mount Jura’ is the Condat Monastery, the lives of the founders of which are told in the anonymous Lives of the Jura Fathers (see The Lives of the Jura Fathers, trans. Tim Vivian, Kim Vivian, and Jeffrey Burton Russell [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1999]). The ‘town [that] sprang up round it’ was originally named ‘St-Oyend’ for St Eugendus of Condat, but came to be called St-Claude due to the latter’s great popularity. Smith neglects to mention the specific fate of St Claudius’s relics, which were preserved incorrupt for at least four or five hundred years, but then burned by the barbaric revolutionaries in 1794. According to a 1976 account by an anonymous pilgrim printed in ‘Introduction to Orthodox Gaul’ by Fr Seraphim (Rose) (in Vita Patrum: The Life of the Fathers, by St Gregory of Tours, trans. Hieromonk Seraphim [Rose] & Paul Bartlett [Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1988], p. 147), the cathedral of St-Claude contains a chapel dedicated to the Saint, where there is preserved a finger of his left hand. According to this site:

In the cathedral, the St Claude chapel keeps a shrine with the wax replica of the body of the saint; the treasure 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 [mentioned by Smith].

The same article mentions, incidentally, that as a canon in Besançon, St Claudius ‘became a famous professor and ascete’, and that as abbot of Condat, he ‘imposed the Benedictine rule and was compared to the Egyptian monks Antoine and Pacôme the Great’.

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