Saint Eligius: The Iconography

In Noyon, Belgium, St. Eligius, Bishop, whose admirable life is commended by a great number of miracles. – Roman Martyrology for December 1

A vita attributed to Dado of Rouen presents a detailed account of the life of this important church reformer of Merovingian France. Dado provides a physical description:
He was tall with a rosy face. He had a pretty head of hair with curly locks. His hands were honest and his fingers long. He had the face of an angel and a prudent look. At first, he was used to wear gold and gems on his clothes… [But] as he proceeded to perfection, he gave the ornaments for the needs of the poor. Then you would see him, whom you had once seen gleaming with the weight of the gold and gems that covered him, go covered in the vilest clothing with a rope for a belt.
In Dado, St. Eligius first comes to the attention of King Clotar II when the latter calls for a golden saddle to be made.1 No one employed by the palace is able to create such a thing, but Eligius is. The saint then becomes first a goldsmith to Clotar, then later an adviser to him and to his successor Dagobert, and finally a bishop.

According to Duchet-Suchaux (132-33) one legend has it that Eligius started out as a farrier who one day "cut off a horse's hoof to shoe it with greater ease; once the work was done, he simply replaced the whole hoof." This episode is the usual subject of narrative images (examples: detail from a predella, manuscript illus­tra­tion). It also leads to portraits that use the hoof and the farrier's tools as attributes, as in the second and third pictures at right. Yet it is not in Dado or any medieval source that I could locate. Perhaps it arose from the saddle story.

Other portraits show Eligius as a goldsmith, as in the first picture at right.

Duchet-Suchaux (ibid.) writes that Eligius is also sometimes shown pinching the devil's nose, resuscitating a hanged man, or advising Clotar or Dagobert.

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University, revised 2015-10-30.


The Metropolitan Mu­se­um sug­gests that in this paint­ing by Pet­rus Chris­tus the gold­smith at his work table may be St. El­i­gius. (See the de­scrip­tion page.)

St. Eligius as a bishop with a chalice and his farrier's tools (See the description page)

Portrait of St. Eligius with the horse's leg and farrier's hammer (See the description page)


  • Feast day: December 1
  • Lived circa 590-659


  • This is the "Seinte Loy" by whom Chaucer's Prioress swears (Canterbury Tales, I, 120).



1 In the Latin presented by the Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Vita Eligii Episcopi Noviomagensis, 672), the object is definitely a saddle (sella). So too Graesse, 952, and Caxton. But in the Medieval Sourcebook translation it is a "seat."