Friday, December 01, 2023

An Altarpiece of St Eligius

Most of the dioceses of France have traditionally kept today as the feast of St Eligius (“Éloi” in French), who was born near Limoges in about 590, and died on this day in 660 after serving as bishop of Noyon for 19 years. In youth, he was trained as a goldsmith, and has long been honored as the heavenly Patron of that art; his biography attributes to him reliquaries of several prominent French Saints, including Martin of Tours, and Denys and Genevieve of Paris. Under the Merovingian King Dagobert I (629-39), and his son Clovis II (639-57), he served as the royal treasurer, and several coins with his name on them are still extant. When he was elected bishop of Noyon in 641, the majority of the inhabitants in the regions to the north of that city, which are now the southern part of Flanders, were still pagan; it was in no small measure his preaching, and the example of his great charity to the poor and sick, that helped to convert them to Christianity. He was also the founder of several monasteries, including an enormous convent at Paris which housed 300 nuns.
A reliquary bust of St Eligius, in the church of the goldsmiths’ guild in Rome. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by JTSH26, CC BY-SA 4.0)
The church itself was commissioned from the painter Raphael in 1509, but only completed in 1575, 55 years after his death, by Baldassare Peruzzi and Aristotele da Sangallo. Because of its proximity to the Tiber, it was frequently damaged by the river’s winter flooding, and frequently restored. It is now almost never open, one of the many Roman churches that fall under the nickname “Santa Maria Sempre Chiusa - St Mary’s Always Closed.” (Image from Wikimedia Commons by JTSH26, CC BY-SA 4.0)
A reliquary of the Saint in the cathedral of the Holy Savior in Bruges, one of his many relics venerated in various parts of northern France and Belgium. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Zairon, CC BY-SA 4.0)
The National Gallery of Cagliari on the island of Sardinia preserves the remains of a large retable dedicated to him, painted in the 16th century for the local Franciscan church. It was the work of three artists, one of whom is identified as the Master of Sanluri, the name of a small town about 30 miles to the north of Cagliari; the other two are unknown. (All images from Wikimedia Commons by Sailko, CC BY 3.0.)
Saint Eligius
The Saint formerly shown at the upper left of the central section is now lost; at the upper right, St Leonardo (who seems to have been confused with St Lawrence); at the lower left, St Louis of Toulouse; and at the lower right, St Francis. On the left border, an unidentified bishop, and a saint called Julian; on the right, Ss Anthony Abbot and Sebastian.  
The first panel of the predella shows the legend that shortly before Eligius was born, his mother had a vision of an eagle hovering over her bed and crying out, which a holy man interpreted for her to mean that her son would become a great Saint.
The second panel shows Eligius in his shop working as a goldsmith.

The third panel depicts an episode which took place after the young Eligius had finished his apprenticeship with a goldsmith named Abbo, master of the mint in his native city of Limoges. The royal treasurer of King Clotaire II, one Bobbo, hired him to make a saddle (as seen here, but in some tellings, a throne) out of gold and gems. With the amount of such material provided to him, Eligius was able to make two saddles, which, when weighed together, proved both his skill and his honesty, since he might easily have pocketed the difference for himself.

The central panel, would would be directly in front of the priest as he celebrated Mass, is a Pietà of Christ in the tomb, born up by angels.
Eligius gives alms to the poor.
The Saint is consecrated bishop. Note that he appears no older than he did in the previous panel; in reality, he had a prominent position as a layman at the Merovingian court for many years before being chosen bishop at the age of 51.

The faithful venerate him at his funeral. Directly above his body there float what appear to be detached limbs of various kinds: these represent the ex votos left at the tomb of Saint, in the form of the healed part of the body. 
Details of other sections:
Saint Leonard
Saint Anthony
Saint Sebastian
Saint Julian

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