In the 6th century there lived a certain clergyman named Leunast, who reached the rank of archdeacon in the city of Bourges. According to Bishop Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), author of The History of the Franks, Archdeacon Leunast long suffered from terrible cataracts in both of his eyes, rendering him completely blind. Leunast, however, was determined not to relinquish his sight without a fight. In his quest to fix his cloudy eyes, Archdeacon Leunast shocked his clerical peers by not simply praying for his eyes to be healed, but instead taking the near-blasphemous action of seeking out the advice of secular doctors. The state of the medical field in 6th-century France, however, was quite abysmal, much less the study of eye care. As the ideas of laymen doctors did not help his eyes, Archdeacon Leunast traveled to the church of St. Martin in Tours, where he fasted for several months, praying for a miracle. Leunast’s prayers, it was said, were answered on St. Martin’s feast day, and his sight began to return. The miraculous healing, however, was not perfect—Archdeacon Leunast’s eyesight, although improved, was still not clear or crisp.
As the story goes, Leunast, still not content with his imperfect eyes, decided to reconnect with some of the secular doctors who had attempted to treat him earlier, hoping they could fine-tune his newfound vision. The archdeacon’s favorite medical practitioner, who remained unnamed, agreed to try his hand at improving Leunast’s already clearing eyesight. After receiving consent for the operation, the doctor prepared his instruments and tried some of the dubious medical techniques of the Middle Ages, including blood-letting and the use of cupping-glasses. Suffice it to say, the procedures did not help poor Leunast’s eyes, at all. Instead, the archdeacon unfortunately left the doctor’s office with his eyes, once more, reduced to a state of blindness.
Upon losing his eyesight for a second time, Leunast reportedly rushed back to the church of St. Martin and resumed his fasting, hoping for a second miracle. Unfortunately, his sight reportedly never returned. The moral of this story, at least according to Gregory of Tours, was: “Let this story be a warning to every Christian man, that when it has been granted to him to receive a cure from Heaven, he should not then seek earthly remedies” (History of the Franks, V.6).
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Tobias healing his blind father, from the workshop of Rembrandt (1606–1669), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.