French Saint, patron saint of millers. Feast Day 2nd October. 616 - 678

" It is primarily his political supporters who advanced his veneration. Only God knows if Leodegarius was one of his own"

Also known as Leodegare or Léger, Leodegarius was born of noble Frankish parents, Bobilo and Sigrada. He was raised in the court of King Clotaire II, and was taken by his uncle Didon, the bishop of Poitiers, to study there. Didon felt that his nephew had more than just spiritual qualities, and made him a deacon, to help administer the diocese. He was later ordained, was appointed abbot of Maxentius Abbey between 651 and 653. According to some sources it was at this time that he "acquired a humble spirit" (hence may have been playing the game to fool his uncle). Whatever the truth of this, when he arrived he tightened up on many of the traditions and introduced the Rule of St. Benedict.

He held this position for some six years, and later returned to the court of Queen Bathild, as a tutor to her children, and to advise her while her son Clotaire III was in his infancy, following the death of the king in 656. He returned to his calling and became bishop of Autun in 663, (although he continued to advise the Queen).

Autun was in almost in anarchy, not having had a bishop for two years - of the two who had come forward, one was murdered, the other exiled for "abuses of power". He quickly gained a reputation for strictness and adopted a no-nonsense approach to his bishopric, fortifying the town's walls and the cathedral, alongside his religious reforms. These included kicking out some of the lay clergy, re-introducing the sacrament of baptism and doing his best to bring together the warring factions. Again, he introduced Benedictine ways, and made certain that priests preached the gospel and took care of the poor.

When Politicians Attack

Whilst many supported him in his cleanup quest, he did attract some enemies. He remained involved with the Royal household, and when Clotaire III died, he supported Childeric II for king, as opposed to his brother Thierry, who was favoured by the mayor of the palace Ebroin. Ebroin was exiled to Luxeuil, became a monk and an outspoken critic of Leodegarius (who became one of the new king's advisers). Still a strict and religious man, Leodegarius gained more enemies, even his former friend Childeric, who grew angry when his proposed marriage to his cousin was publicly denounced by the bishop.

Leodegarius' comments were seen as interference in affairs of state, and his enemies old and new were delighted when he was exiled to Luxeuil in 673, where he became reconciled to his old enemy Ebroin. On Childeric's death later that year he was asked by the new king Theodoric III to return to Autun, as bishop. He did so, but was caught up in a series of arguments - the power-hungry Ebroin (similarly restored as mayor) had the incumbent Leudesius murdered, then persuaded other nobles (notably the duke of Champagne and the bishops of Chalons and Valence) to attack Autun.

The city came under siege in 675, and rather than stand by and witness the destruction of the town and the unnecessary deaths of the population, he surrendered himself. Ebroin was delighted with this outcome, and took Leodegarius prisoner, torturing him by boring his eyes out, cutting his lips off, and tearing out his tongue.

It is at this point that many of the histories diverge. According to some, Leodegarius was taken into the forest to be abandoned but taken in by his guard out of pity. In still others, he miraculously regained both speech and sight.

The most likely true history is that he was abandoned or exiled, re-arrested at the behest of Ebroin and charged (along with his brother Gerinus, who was stoned to death) with the murder of Childeric III. Certainly he was tortured again - many are the tales of his limbs being broken during his two-year imprisonment in the monastery of Fecamp. Finally, in 678 he was taken into the woods near Sarcing and beheaded.

Saint and Martyr

Shocked by his treatment and execution, his political supporters campaigned for his beatification. His bones (originally buried at Sarcing were held as relics and moved to the abbey at Saint Maxentius in 782, and later to Ebreuil (now Saint-Leger). Some of them remain to this day in the cathedral at Autun and some at Soissons, as do many documents relating to his trial.

He is venerated as a martyr, for his self-sacrifice at Autun. Images of him show him either having his eyes bored out, or holding an awl or a two-pronged hook. His feast day is still kept in parts of Switzerland, and his name may be invoked by those praying for relief from blindness of afflictions of the eyes. Why he is the patron of millers I have been unable to discover.

Inspired by my local church in Basford, dedicated to the saint.
Encyclopædia Britannica

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