Radegund of Poitiers (518–587)
Radegund of Poitiers (518–587)
Queen of the Franks and saint. Name variations: Radegond; Radegonde; Radegonda; Radagunda. Born in 518 (some sources cite 519) in Thuringia; died on August 13, 587, at abbey of Sainte Croixe, Poitiers, France; daughter of Berthair, Berthaire, or Berthar, king of Thuringia; married Clothar also known as Lothair I (497–561), king of Soissons and the Franks (r. 558–561), in 534; no children.
Radegund of Poitiers is one of the most famous of medieval saints. She was born a German princess in 518, the daughter of King Berthair of Thuringia. During a battle between the Thuringians and the Franks, her family was killed, and Radegund, only 12 years old, was taken prisoner. She was brought to the Frankish royal court to later become the wife of King Lothair I, who already had four wives (Guntheuca, Chunsina, Ingunde , and Aregunde ) despite his Christian beliefs. Having been raised as a girl of exceptional piety, Radegund was understandably miserable at the court. She was, however, remarkably well educated and could read and converse in Latin. At 18, she was forced to marry Lothair, whom she had grown to despise. He was a cruel, vicious man, and Radegund spent most of her time trying to avoid him.
The biographies written of her tell of Radegund's constant prayer and charitable acts; she even supposedly avoided sleeping with her husband by praying all night beside their bed. After several years, Radegund's intense devotion to God and the fact that she remained childless weakened Lothair's interest in her. She finally found the courage to escape from him when she learned that he had murdered her brother, and feared for her own life. Radegund fled to Noen and found refuge with a bishop who, inspired by the story of this former queen, agreed to consecrate her as a deaconess (a very rare office given to a widowed holy woman who could then act with the authority of a priest).
Around 557, she founded a monastery at Poitiers, which became known as Ste. Croixe and is still standing, but she adamantly refused to become its abbess. Instead, she insisted on performing menial tasks such as cooking and cleaning, which furthered her growing reputation as a holy woman. The monastery became very popular, housing over 200 nuns, and also was known as an important center of learning. Its nuns were highly educated and included several writers; Radegund herself was a poet and corresponded with religious leaders across Europe. The ex-queen also spent her time acting as a peacemaker for various rival political factions in France. She died at Ste. Croixe about age 70.
Two of her close friends wrote biographies of her as a part of their successful campaign to have Radegund canonized; one was her sister nun, Baudonivia , and the other was Fortunatus, the wandering poet whom Radegund had patronized. It is from these works that most information about the saint's life is obtained.
Dunbar, Agnes. Dictionary of Saintly Women. Vol. I. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1904.
LaBarge, Margaret. A Small Sound of the Trumpet: Women in Medieval Life. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1986.
Uglow, Jennifer, ed. Dictionary of Women's Biography. NY: Continuum, 1989.
Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California