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Though he lived in the “dark age” of seventh century AD, much factual information is available for St. Eligius. He was born near Limoges, France, c. 588, into a family of Gallo-Roman artisans. As a youth, he was apprenticed to Abbo, the master of the mint at Limoges where he acquired great skill at working in precious metals.
Upon completing his apprenticeship, he went to Paris where he was mentored by Bobbo, the King’s Treasurer. Eligius was commissioned to make a golden throne, enhanced with gems. With the materials provided, he made two chairs-of-state, thereby greatly impressing the king with his honesty and skill. King Chlotar then took him into his household and appointed him Master of the Mint.
Despite his position of wealth and power, Eligius was known for his good deeds and charity. It was said that one could easily find his house by the number of poor people surrounding it. He ransomed and freed slaves, and converted many people to Christianity merely by setting a good example. His piety–and his power–continued to grow. Though highly influential at court, he lived according to the Irish Monastic Rule, introduced by St. Columbanus. He founded many monasteries and convents and also built fine churches, including the basilica of St. Paul in Paris. Ordained in 640, he was soon appointed Bishop of Noyon and of Tournai.
He was said to perform miracles and predict future events, including the date of his own death. In 659, upon falling ill with a fever, he called together his household and told them: “Do not weep. Congratulate me instead.” He died a few hours later.
Widely respected during his own time, he also became one of the most beloved saints of the Middle Ages (and one of the “Fourteen Holy Helpers”). St. Eligius is particularly honoured in Flanders, in the province of Antwerp, and at Tournai, Ghent, Bruges, and Douai. His remains are in Noyon Cathedral
His association with horses originates from an instance occurring after his death. He had apparently willed one of his horses to a poor priest. However, a bishop decided the horse was too good for a lowly priest and appropriated it for himself. The horse soon became ill under the bishop’s roof and nothing could cure him, so the bishop gave him back to the priest. The horse promptly recovered, and his cure was attributed to the priest’s prayers. Since that time Eligius has been invoked on behalf of horses. In some places, horses are blessed on his feast day. (By extension Eligius gained the patronage of auto mechanics and garages–modern versions.)
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