French hermit, holy man, patron of prisoners and pregnant women (fifth-sixth century AD)
Saint Leonard of Noblac was born to a well-respected noble Frankish family near the end of the fifth century AD. His exact dates of birth and death are unknown, and scant evidence of his life exists. Still, scholars consider him to be a historical figure, rather than a fabrication or composite sort of character.
His family lived in Gaul, present-day France, probably somewhere in the region of Orleans. Leonard was baptized by Saint Remigius and this holy man, who was the bishop of Reims inspired him to great piety, charity and self-sacrifice. As a young man, Leonard served in the court of King Clovis I and his prayers helped turn the tide of a battle against the Alemanni which was going against the king's army in 496.
King Clovis was a pagan, but was so impressed by this show of godly might that he immediately converted to Christianity along with a thousand of his subjects. Leonard became a monk under the tutelage of Remigius and began taking care of prisoners. He asked the king if he could be given the right to liberate anyone whom he found worthy. The king allowed him that privilege.
Leonard and his brother, Saint Lifiard, were not to stay in the service of nobility, however, he only desired a life of quiet charity, as espoused by Jesus. He then undertook a life of austerity, sanctification, and preaching, particularly to prisoners. It was said that those who were wrongly imprisoned or criminals who were truly sorry for their crimes could obtain freedom with petitions to Saint Leonard, and many brought their chains as offering to the holy man.
When the wife of King Clovis was in childbirth, she was in peril for her life. Clovis begged Leonard for aid. Through the power of prayers, the woman and child were saved. The king, in gratitude, told the holy man that he could have as much land as he could ride around on his donkey in a day. Saint Leonard picked a portion of the Limousin forest.
With his land, he built an oratory to the Virgin Mary where he withdrew, living simply and preaching. This area was named Noblac, it is now called Saint-Léonard near Limoges. He had two novices stay at the oratory and pray when he went on pilgrimages. When more brothers begged to be included in this community, it turned into a full-fledged monastery.
As his reputation grew, the poor and ailing came for his blessings from far and wide. He preached to them a message of patience, humility and grace. Leonard travelled among the pagans in the area of Limoges and preached to them. He built himself a crude home of branches in the mountains and blessed the freedom and simplicity of this lifestyle. Miracles attended him where ever he went in the form of healings and liberations.
On the 6th of November, sometime around the year 559, Leonard died at his oratory. Miracles attributed to the saint have since occurred all over the world. His cult became very popular in the Middle Ages throughout Europe, especially in his native France. Churches to Saint Leonard have been dedicated in England, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Poland and, of course, France.
Leonard of Noblac is patron saint against burglaries, robberies and robbers. He is the patron of blacksmiths, captives, childbirth and women in labour, miners (especially coal miners), coopers, coppersmiths, grocers, horses, imprisoned people, locksmiths, porters, prisoners of war and of the city of Castelmauro, Italy. His feast day is 6th of November.
Another man, Saint Leonard of Vandoeuver was abbot and founder of the village of Vandoeuvre which is now known as Saint Leonard aux Bois near Le Mans. Saint Leonard of Vandoeuver's feast day is 15th of October. There are at least seven other men who have the title Saint Leonard.
Blush Response's excellent writeup under Clovis
Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 13.
Lives of the Saints online http://magnificat.ca/cal/engl/11-06.htm
Catholic Forum on-line: http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/saintl09.htm
Farmer, David Hugh, “Oxford Dictionary of Saints,” Third Edition (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996).
Loxton, Howard, “the Encyclopedia of the Saints” (Brockhampton Press, London, 1996).
Watkins, Dom Basil, “the Book of Saints,” Seventh Edition (Continuum, New York, 2002).