Lilies of the Eldest Daughter of the Church, France
Many miraculous flower events occurred in France. France has been referred to as the “Eldest Daughter of the Church” because of the establishment of a Christian monarchy in the 5th century with the conversion of the pagan king, Clovis (Louis). It came about that Clovis married a maiden, Clotilda from a neighboring territory that he wanted to be allied to. Clotilda was Christian and staunch in her faith. At the birth of their first son, Clotilda insisted that he have a Christian baptism despite her husband’s objections. Shortly after baptism, the baby died and Clovis was quick to blame Clotilda for the infant’s death because “the pagan gods were angry.” Clotilda bore another son, and patiently witnessed her faith to her husband.
Clovis was involved in regional battles for land and power. In the heat of one battle when his forces were floundering and they were close to being overtaken by their enemies, Clovis realized prayer was his only hope. His prayer was: “Most mighty God, whom my queen Clotilda worships and adores with heart and soul, I pledge you perpetual service to your faith, if only you give me now the victory over my enemies.” Very soon Clovis and his men were filled with zeal and valor to vanquish the enemy king and clan. After the enemy leader was killed, the other fighters dispersed in retreat. Clovis found the Living God through his prayer and he prevailed over his attackers. In some amazement he told his wife of the events and asked her to arrange for his baptism to fulfill the promise he made to God. There is an associated account of Clovis’s spiritual conversion during this decisive battle from a poem that chronicles the battle. It was said that Clovis’s battle shield had three toads on it, which were symbols associated with a pagan god that he worshiped, but before the battle, the toad insignia were miraculously transformed into three lilies known as fleur de lis in French. Clovis attributed the win to the God whose symbols were manifested on his battle shield. He spoke to his wife of the event and was eager to understand their meaning. Clotilda told him the fleur de lis (lilies) were a symbol of purity and the three petals of the lily were symbolic of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
In amazement and thanksgiving, Clovis asked to be baptized into the true faith. To prepare for this grand occasion, the Church at Rheims was decorated with banners and tapestry. So intoxicating were the fragrances emanating from the church, that Clovis asked Bishop Remigius upon the threshold if he was entering into the Kingdom of Heaven. “Not so,” the Bishop replied, “it is the road that leads to it.” He was baptized on Christmas Day in the city of Rheims. In prayerful preparation when Bishop Remigius was about to administer the sacrament upon Clovis, a snow-white dove descended upon the scene carrying a vial of holy oil. The scent of the oil was ravishing to all those awaiting baptism. The holy Bishop took the vial from the dove’s beak and then the bird vanished. The King took his baptismal vows in front of the assembly and thousands more were added to the ranks of Christians that Christmas Day of 496.
The ampoule of holy oil was kept in the Cathedral of Rheims and used in the consecration ceremonies of successive French Kings until the Revolution when the vial was shattered. Some of the oil was recovered and used for the consecration of Charles X in post revolution years. The baptism of King Clovis had designated France as the “Eldest Daughter of the Church.” The symbol of the fleur de lis became closely associated with the French monarchy. Many of the French Kings from antiquity had banners, clothing, shields, coins and so forth that showed the stylized fleur de lis as ornamentation. When Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor in 800, he reportedly gave him a blue banner covered with golden fleurs-de-lis.