Eparchius ruled the diocese of Clermont-Ferrand around the time that the region was under the influence of King Euric the Visigoth (r. 466-484). Bishop Eparchius was evidently an insomniac who habitually crept into his local cathedral to pray at odd hours of the night. One of his many nightly prayer sessions, however, was not like the others—on that particular evening, the bishop was horrified to find that his cathedral was infested with demons. The bizarre tale was written down by Bishop Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594) in his text, The History of the Franks, and served as some much-needed comic relief between accounts of warlords battling over the remains of post-Roman Gaul.
According to The History of the Franks, the weird haunting of Bishop Eparchius started like any other night. The sleepless bishop was restless and could not fall to sleep, so he decided, as he often did, to go pray in the cathedral to ease his mind. Yet, when he arrived at the church, Eparchius discovered that he was not alone in the sanctuary. As the drowsy bishop entered the cathedral, he was shocked to find that all the pews were filled with demons. Most outrageous of all, however, was the view of Satan, the arch-demon himself, sitting in the bishop’s own holy chair. The Devil, although in a male form, was evidently feeling particularly feminine that night, for he was reportedly “made up to look like a painted woman” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, Book II, chapter 21).
Now, most laymen would likely be afraid when faced by a demonic horde. Eparchius, however, was a mighty bishop who scoffed at the presumptuous devils. Instead of being afraid, Bishop Eparchius became very, very angry. Storming into the cathedral, the bishop shooed away the lesser demons like a flock of pigeons. With that complete, the indignant Bishop Eparchius turned to Satan and blasted him with some unkind words: “’You hideous prostitute,’ said the Bishop,…’Leave the house of God this instant and stop polluting it with your presence!’” (History of the Franks, Book II, chapter 21).
Satan was apparently extremely hurt by the bishop’s words. Therefore, the Devil decided to curse the bishop before descending down into hell: “’Since you give me the title of prostitute,’ said Satan, ‘I will see that you yourself are constantly harassed with sexual desire’” (History of the Franks, Book II, chapter 21). As the story goes, the Devil’s promise came true and Bishop Eparchius developed into a lusty old man. Even so, the bishop was able to live like a saint, for he could apparently banish all of his pesky impure thoughts by continuously making the sign of the cross.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Anonymous painting of Saint Anthony tormented by Demons, c. 1520, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.