The Baptism of Clovis, by Gregory of Tours, 594

Book Two
28. … And since Clovis often sent embassies to Burgundy, the maiden Chrotchildis was found by his envoys. And when they saw that she was of good bearing and wise, and learned that she was of the family of the king, they reported this to King Clovis, and he sent an embassy to Gundobad without delay asking her in marriage. And Gundobad was afraid to refuse, and surrendered her to the men, and they took the girl and brought her swiftly to the king. The king was very glad when he saw her, and married her, having already by a concubine a son named Theodoric.

29. He had a first-born son by queen Chrotchildis. And since his wife wished to consecrate the child in baptism, she tried unceasingly to persuade her husband, saying: "The gods you worship are nothing, and they will be unable to help themselves or any one else. For they are graven out of stone or wood or some metal. And the names you have given them are names of men and not of gods, … such as Jove himself, the foul perpetrator of all shameful crimes, committing incest with men, mocking at his kinswomen, not able to refrain from intercourse with his own sister…. But [the true God should] be worshipped, he who created by his word heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is out of a state of nothingness, who made the sun shine, and adorned the heavens with stars, who filled the waters with creeping things, the earth with living things and the air with creatures that fly, at whose nod the earth is decked with growing crops, the trees with fruit, the vines with grapes, by whose hand mankind was created, by whose generosity all that creation serves and helps man whom he created as his own."

But though the queen said this, the spirit of the king was not moved to believe, and he said: "It was at the command of our gods that all things were created and came forth, and it is plain that your God has no power…."

Meanwhile the faithful queen made her son ready for baptism; she gave command to adorn the church with hangings and curtains, in order that he who could not moved by persuasion might be urged to belief by this mystery. The boy… died after being baptized….

At this the king was violently angry, and reproached the queen harshly, saying: "If the boy had been dedicated in the name of my gods he would certainly have lived; but as it is, since he was baptized in the name of your God, he could not live at all."

To this the queen said: "I give thanks to the omnipotent God, creator of all, who has judged me not so unworthy, that he should decide to take to his kingdom one born from my womb. My soul is not stricken with grief for his sake, because I know that, summoned from this world as he was … he will be fed by the vision of God."

After this she bore another son, whom she named Chlodomer at baptism; and when he fell sick, the king said: "It is impossible that anything else should happen to him except what happened to his brother, since he would die at once, if he were baptized in the name of your Christ." But through the prayers of his mother, and the Lord's command, he became well.

30. The queen did not cease urging [Clovis] to recognize the true God and cease worshipping idols. But he could not be influenced at all to this belief, until at last a war arose with the Alamanni….

It came about that as the two armies were fighting fiercely, there was much slaughter, and Clovis's army began to be in danger of destruction. He saw it and raised his eyes to heaven, and with remorse in his heart he burst into tears and cried: "Jesus Christ, whom Chrotchildis asserts to be the son of the living God, who is said to give aid to those in distress, and to bestow victory on those who hope in thee, I beseech the glory of thy aid, with the vow that if thou wilt grant me victory over these enemies … I will believe in thee and be baptized in thy name. For I have invoked my own gods but, as I find, they have withdrawn from aiding me; and therefore I believe that they possess no power, since they do not help those who obey them. I now call upon thee, I desire to believe thee. Only let me be rescued from my enemies."

And when he said thus, the Alamanni turned their backs, and began to run away. And when they saw that their king was killed, they submitted to the rule of Clovis, saying: "Let not  more people die; we beg you; we are yours now."
And he stopped the fighting, and after encouraging his men, withdrew in peace and told the queen how he had had merit to win the victory by calling on the name of Christ. This happened in the fifteenth year of his reign.

31. Then the queen asked the blessed Remigius, bishop of Rheims, to summon Clovis secretly, urging him to introduce the king to the word of salvation. And the bishop sent for him secretly and began to urge him to believe in the true God, maker of heaven and earth, and to cease worshipping idols, which could help neither themselves nor any one else. But the king said: "I gladly hear you, most holy father; but there remains one thing: the people who follow me cannot endure to abandon their gods; but I shall go and speak to them according to your words."

He met with his followers, but before he could speak the power of God went before him, and all the people cried out together: "O pious Remigius, we reject our mortal gods, and we are ready to follow the immortal God whom Remigius preaches."

This was reported to the bishop, who greatly rejoiced, and ordered them to get the baptismal font ready.
The squares were shaded with tapestries as canopies, the churches adorned with white curtains, the baptistery set in order, incense spread, candles of fragrant odor burned brightly, and the whole shrine of the baptistery was filled with a divine fragrance: and the Lord gave such grace to those who stood by that they thought they were placed amid the aromas of paradise. And the king was the first to ask to be baptized by the bishop.... And so the king professed the all-powerful God in the Trinity, and was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and holy Spirit, and was anointed with the holy ointment with the sign of the cross of Christ. And of his army more than 3000 were baptized.

Adapted from the translation of The History of the Franks from Ernest Brehaut, 1916, pp. 38-41.


Last Updated: 2 February 2017