|Saint Eligius (St. Eloy),
Bishop (circa 590-659): The Iconography
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" (image). This episode is the usual subject of narrative images, yet it is not in Dado nor in any medieval source that I could locate. It may have arisen from the saddle story, or perhaps early images with the goldsmith's implements shown large enough to be recognizable led later artists and storytellers to misinterpret them as farrier's tools.
Duchet-Suchaux (ibid.) writes that Eligius is also sometimes shown pinching the devil's nose, resuscitating a hanged man, or advising Clotar or Dagobert.
Portraits represent him either at work in his shop, as in the image at left, or standing dressed as a bishop with the tools of his former trade as his attributes (example).
Feast day: December 1
At left, portrait by Petrus Christus - Metropolitan Museum, New York
Rood screen portrait, Norfolk, England
A Botticelli predella
19th or 20th century statue
William Caxton's Life of St. Eligius: html or pdf
Dado of Rouen's Life of St. Eligius, tr. J. McNamara (cached)