Christian History Project. This site contains the text of 12 volumes on the history of mankind over the last 2,000 years written from a 'collectively-denominational' Christian perspective.

Saints from the Dark Ages |
Bright lights in a dark world

Saints from the Dark Ages is drawn from Chapter Eight, beginning on page 220, of Volume Five, The Sword of Islam of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit

In turbulent and dangerous times, six saints personify the enduring faith and piety of Christians who through their accomplishments and example illuminate the world

Saints from the Dark Ages - Bright lights in a dark world

Saints from the Dark Ages - Bright lights in a dark world

A master coin maker who despised wealth

Eloy of Noyon, senior counselor to the seventh-century Frankish king Dagobert, and master of minting his coinage, had an unusual home life. Beggars and cripples constantly surrounded his stately house in Marseilles. Every day, Eloy would personally tend to this miserable flock, washing their feet and distributing charity. Such behavior by the equivalent of a modern cabinet secretary amazed people just as much then as it would today.

Eloy was born in Gaul in 590. His father, recognizing exceptional talent in his boy, sent him to apprentice with Abbo, master of the mint at Limoges. Clotar II, the Franks’ monarch at that time, later commissioned the young craftsman to design and construct a throne. The resulting creation so impressed the king that he took Eloy into his palace, and appointed him master of the main mint at Marseilles.

Despite his new position, Eloy came to despise worldly wealth. First, he devoted his income to almsgiving and ransoming prisoners from the slave markets. When his funds were finally exhausted, the zealous bureaucrat gave away his furniture and clothing.

Eloy quickly won the confidence of Clotar’s successor, Dagobert I, who came to the throne in 629. The Christian counselor used his influence to found monasteries and convents at Solignac and Paris, assuring the king, “These are the ladders by which we will both be able to climb up to heaven.” He also helped reestablish peace between the Franks and Bretons, improved the law of the kingdom, and convinced Dagobert that those who had been executed should be given a Christian burial.

In 639, Eloy was consecrated a priest, and made bishop of Noyon in Flanders, part of France, in the same year. He traveled and preached throughout his mostly pagan diocese, often risking his life. Much of Flanders embraced Christ as a result. This holy man, later canonized by the church, died in 660. According to the pious tradition, when his tomb was opened a year later, the body was found unspoiled and exuding a pleasing scent.

This patriarch served 7,500 masters

John the Almoner (550—611), upon his consecration as the orthodox patriarch of Alexandria in 608, ordered his staff to draw up a list of his “masters.” His assistants reacted with astonishment. Who, they asked, might these masters be? “Those whom you call paupers and beggars,” John replied, “I call lords and helpers, for they truly help us, and grant us the kingdom of heaven.” He became known as the Almoner (almsgiver) for his generosity, and was soon doling out a generous ration of daily benefits to the astonishing number of seventy-five-hundred poor people.

John was born to noble parents in Cyprus. After disease killed his wife and children, he had entered religious life, distributing all of his wealth to the poor. Well beyond age fifty, his reputation for piety had earned him the patriarchate. But his large-scale charity drew envious eyes. The Byzantine governor Nicetas approached him one day, demanding church money for the state. “What is offered to the heavenly King must not be given to an earthly,” came the answer. Nonetheless, John revealed the whereabouts of the cash (it was under his bed), leaving the decision to Nicetas. The governor seized the money. Unperturbed and still kindly, John subsequently sent a personal gift to the royal official. Nicetas, conscience smitten, returned the original money, adding a substantial bonus from his own funds.

A horde of refugees fled to Alexandria when the Persians conquered Palestine with great cruelty. (See page 136.) The patriarch John, whose own diet and furnishings were exceedingly austere, had almshouses and hospitals built for the sick and wounded, and sent a huge supply of necessities to aid in the rebuilding of Jerusalem. On becoming aware that his death was imminent, the patriarch returned to his Cypriot birthplace, and left this world in 611 with great peace.

The stubborn witness got his tongue torn out

Maximus the Confessor (580—662) was a Christian of sharp and remarkably stubborn mind. In 662, the imperial court at Constantinople publicly ordered the eighty-two-year-old churchman to accept the Monothelite precept that Christ possessed only one divine will. But Maximus refused. The emperor Constans II, knowing that neither an earlier exile nor previous bribery attempts had moved the man, ordered him flogged, his right arm cut off, and his tongue torn out. The mutilated offender was then paraded through the streets as an example, and sent into exile, where he soon died.

Born of noble family, this native of Constantinople had become the highly valued secretary to Emperor Heraclius. Seeking the contemplative life, he moved to Chrysopolis, a monastery outside the capital. Fleeing the Persian siege, Maximus later spent time in Rome, where Pope Martin had become the focal point of resistance to Monothelitism. In fact, the Greek-speaking Maximus strongly advocated papal primacy, arguing that “from the coming down of the incarnate Word amongst us, all the churches in every part of the world have held that greatest church alone [i.e., Rome] as their base and foundation. . . .”

After his arrest in Rome on imperial order for rejecting Monothelitism, Maximus endured six years of exile in Thrace, where he suffered from the intense cold and from hunger. Assuming he had by now had enough, Byzantine clergy were sent by the court to secure his recantation. They found him not only defiant, but also so persuasive in his views that they themselves began agreeing with the rebel. From Thrace, Maximus went to his trial and death in Constantinople. His many writings, still honored in both the Roman and Orthodox traditions, stress the complementary union of man with God as adopted sons of God through baptism and other sacraments, leading ultimately to holy living and contemplation.

Dozing deacon awakes as a superb poet

Romanus the Melodist, a sixth-century deacon from Syria, visited Constantinople’s Church of the Theotokos for the first time on a Christmas Eve. Tradition tells how, despite the elaborate ceremonial, he fell asleep. In a dream, the Virgin Mary appeared, gave him a roll of paper, and told him to eat it. Romanus obeyed. On awakening, he discovered he had received the divine gift of sacred poetry.

Thereafter, Romanus wrote about one thousand hymns, and probably invented the kontakion, a hymn of the Eastern Liturgy. (The Greek word kontakion means “from a pole” and refers to the hymns that were published as a scroll of text wrapped around a wooden stick). Karl Krumbacher, a nineteenth-century German scholar of Byzantine poetry, says: “In poetic talent, fire of inspiration, depth of feeling, and elevation of language, Romanus surpasses all the other composers.”

The following verse, whose startling finale survives the dilution inflicted by translation, comes from a hymn Romanus wrote for Good Friday:

Heaven, tremble and be amazed.
Earth, sink down in chaos.
Sun, do not dare to look on your Master
Willingly hanged upon the tree.
Let rocks be shattered, for the Rock of life
Is now being wounded by the nails.
Let the veil of the Temple be rent in two,
As the Master’s body is pierced
With a lance by the lawless.
In short, let all creation tremble,
Groaning at the passion of the Creator.
Only Adam dances.

The mysterious man in the cell

Renowned for his prophecies and spiritual discernment, a monk named Barsanuphius lived in strict isolation at a monastery in Gaza, Palestine. Little is known of his pre-monastic life, but he seemed to have been born an Egyptian sometime around the year 540. Only the abbot Seridus ever saw him, when delivering the monk’s rations of bread and water. Although Barsanuphius received many letters from correspondents across Christendom requesting his counsel, his fellow monks began to suspect that he was no more than an invention of the abbot. To prove his existence, the recluse emerged, washed the feet of his colleagues, and reentered his cell. Barsanuphius believed there were “three men perfect before God,” whose prayers, by God’s grace, protected the entire world: John of Rome, Elias of Corinth, and “another in the diocese of Jerusalem,” i.e., himself. After his death, a blast of fire supposedly surged from the doorway of his cell.

The bishop stood barefoot in the snow

Lambert, the beloved and widely revered bishop of Maastricht (in modern Netherlands), fled from his diocese and retired as a simple monk to the monastery of Stabulaus (Stavelo). Awaking from his sleep late one night for prayer, he accidentally disturbed the monastic silence. The abbot yelled out a punishment without bothering to look at the guilty party. The renowned bishop, accepting the punishment, stood barefoot in the snow for the rest of the night. In the morning, the abbot recognized the miscreant and apologized profusely. But Lambert cheerfully replied that it had been an honor to serve God.

Born to local nobility in 635, the dedicated priest was elected to the post of his mentor, Bishop Theodard, after the latter was murdered in 671. Childeric II, the king who confirmed Lambert’s appointment, was assassinated himself four years later. Lambert then retreated to Stabulaus, where he suffered his night in the snow.

But Pepin, king of the Franks in all but title, insisted that the ascetic monk take up his bishopric again in 681. The Frankish flock grew rapidly under his care, but much savagery persisted, even among his disciples. In 708, Lambert’s followers killed two robbers who were plundering their church. An armed band, either bent on vengeance, or (some said) recruited by the court because Lambert had criticized the king’s second marriage, attacked Lambert at Liege. A lance impaled the bishop as he stood in prayer with his arms extended in the form of a cross. Many Belgians are named for this martyr, who died in 708 at the age of seventy-three.

This is the end of the Saints from the Dark Ages category article drawn from Chapter Eight, beginning on page 220, of Volume Five, The Sword of Islam. To continue reading more about Saints from the Dark Ages from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at