Saint Clotilde (475–545), also known as Clothilde, Clotilda, Clotild, Rotilde etc. (Latin Chrodechildis, Chlodechildis from Frankish *Hrōþihildi or perhaps *Hlōdihildi, both "famous in battle"), was the second wife of the Frankish king Clovis I, and a princess of the kingdom of Burgundy. Venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church, she was instrumental in her husband's famous conversion to Catholicism and, in her later years, was known for her almsgiving and penitential works of mercy.
Clotilde was born at the Burgundian court of Lyon, the daughter of King Chilperic II of Burgundy. Upon the death of Chilperic's father King Gondioc in 473, he and his brothers Gundobad and Godegisel had divided their inheritance; Chilperic II apparently reigning at Lyon, Gundobad at Vienne and Godegesil at Geneva.
From the sixth century on, the marriage of Clovis and Clotilda was made the theme of epic narratives, in which the original facts were materially altered and the various versions found their way into the works of different Frankish chroniclers. According to Gregory of Tours (538–594), Chilperic II was slain by his brother Gundobad in 493, and his wife drowned with a stone hung around her neck, while of his two daughters, Chrona took the veil and Clotilde was exiled - it is, however, assumed that this tale is apocryphal. Butler's account follows Gregory.
After the death of Chilperic, her mother seems to have made her home with Godegisil at Geneva, where her other daughter, Chrona, founded the church of Saint-Victor. Soon after the death of Chilperic, Clovis asked and obtained the hand of Clotilda. They were married in the same year.
The marriage produced the following children:
- Ingomer (born and died 494).
- Chlodomer (495–524), King of the Franks at Orléans from 511.
- Childebert I (496–558), King of the Franks at Paris from 511.
- Chlothar I (497–561), King of the Franks at Soissons from 511, King of all Franks from 558.
- Clotilde (500-531), married Amalaric, King of the Visigoths.
Clotilde was brought up in the Catholic faith and did not rest until her husband had abjured Arianism (the version of Christianity named after its founder Arius) and embraced the Roman Catholic version of the Christian faith. According to Gregory of Tours' Historia Francorum (History of the Franks), when Clotilde had their first child baptised, he died soon after. Clovis upbraided her; but when Chlodomer was born, she insisted on baptising him also. Although Chlodomer did indeed fall ill, he soon after recovered. More healthy children followed.
Clotilde's victory came in 496, when Clovis converted to Catholicism, baptised by Bishop Remigius of Reims on Christmas Day of that year. According to tradition, on the eve of the Battle of Tolbiac against the Alamanni, Clovis prayed to God, swearing to be baptised if he emerged victorious on the battlefield. When he did indeed triumph, Clovis readily took the faith. With him Clotilde built at Paris the Church of the Holy Apostles, afterwards known as the Abbey of St Genevieve. After Clovis' death in 511, she retired to the Abbey of St. Martin at Tours.
In 523 Clotilde's sons went to war against her cousin, King Sigismund of Burgundy, the son of Gundobad, which led to Sigismund's deposition and imprisonment. Sigismund was assassinated the following year and his body thrown down a well in symbolic retaliation for the deaths of Clotilde's parents. Gregory of Tours claimed - and many others have followed - that Clotilde incited her sons to war as a means to revenge the supposed murder of her parents by Gundobad while others, such as Godefroid Kurth, find this unconvincing and apocryphal. Subsequently, her eldest son Chlodomer was killed during the following Burgundian campaign under Sigismund's successor King Godomar at the Battle of Vézeronce. Her daughter, also named Clotilde, also died about this time. Clotilde tried in vain to protect the rights of her three grandsons, the children of Chlodomer, against the claims of her surviving sons Childebert and Chlothar. Chlothar had two of them killed, while only Clodoald (Cloud) managed to escape and later chose an ecclesiastical career. She was equally unsuccessful in her efforts to prevent the civil discords between her children.
After these failures, Clotilde appeared to dedicate herself to a saintly life. She occupied herself with the building of churches and monasteries, preferring to distance herself from the power struggles of the court. Churches associated with her are located at Laon, and Rouen.
Clotilde died in 544 or 545 at Tours, of natural causes; she was buried at her husband's side, in the Church of the Holy Apostles (now the Abbey of St Genevieve).
Clotilde's cult made her the patron of queens, widows, brides and even those in exile. In Normandy especially she was venerated as guarding the lame and those who suffered violent death and ill-tempered husbands. In art she is often depicted presiding over the baptism of Clovis, or as a suppliant at the shrine of Saint Martin. Several fine images of her remain, particularly in the 16th century stained glass window at Andelys. Her relics survived the French Revolution, and are housed in the Église Saint-Leu-Saint-Gilles in Paris.
Clotilde is the patron saint of Les Andelys, Normandy. In 511, the Queen founded a convent for young girls of the nobility here. It was destroyed by the Normans in 911. In its place was erected Our Lady’s Collegiate Church, which contains a statue of Saint Clotilde. Also in Les Andelys is Saint Clotilde's Fountain. The spring is popularly believed to heal skin diseases.