Bishop Felix of Nantes led his bishopric from the year 547 to 582, and did an admirable enough job to be recognized as a saint by his countrymen and the church. Praise for Bishop Felix, however, was not unanimous. A contemporary saint, Bishop Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), decried Felix of Nantes as a long-winded, greedy and arrogant man. Such negative labels were no doubt influenced by a decades-long personal feud between St. Felix and St. Gregory, and they were known to send each other insulting letters from time to time. Unfortunately for St. Felix, Gregory of Tours wrote The History of the Franks, and between describing the actions of the lords and ladies of the realm, St. Gregory made sure to add some embarrassing stories and descriptions of his ecclesiastical rival. One such tale recounted the dramatic courtship of St. Felix’s niece by a persistent man named Pappolen.
As told by Gregory, Pappolen and St. Felix’s niece (left unfortunately unnamed) were madly in love and engaged to be married. Cruel uncle Felix, however, did not approve of the match and quickly forbade the marriage from going forward. The distraught niece was told never to see Pappolen again, and, as a more definitive move, she was summarily quarantined to a small chapel. In response to this, Pappolen, a man of unknown rank, gathered a militia of his friends and family, then marched to the chapel to rescue his beloved. The rescue mission succeeded, and the reunited couple fled to the church of Saint Albinus in Angers, where they sought sanctuary together.
Unfortunately for Pappolen and the niece, Bishop Felix was determined to separate the couple. The saint plied his influence in church and government to have his niece retrieved from the church of Saint Albinus. With his rebellious kinswoman back in custody, Bishop Felix immediately sent her back into confinement. Learning from the past, the saint decided a private chapel was not secure enough for his lovestruck niece. This time, he had her shipped off to the south and arranged for the niece to be placed in a convent at Bazas. With such distance and security separating the pair, Pappolen and the niece could only continue their relationship by smuggling letters to each other with the help of sympathetic couriers.
Fortune changed for the long-parted couple, however, when Bishop Felix of Nantes was stricken with disease and died in 582. When news of the bishop’s death became known to Pappolen and his detained beloved, their clandestine correspondence soon turned to thoughts of another prison break. Unfortunately, Gregory of Tours did not mention any detail of the escape, so whether Pappolen used stealth or force remains unknown. Yet, the mission, whichever way it was carried out, proved to be a great success. According to Gregory of Tours, “He [Pappolen] organized her escape from the nunnery, and married her. He had the King’s formal approval, so that she was able to disregard the threats of her relations” (The History of The Franks, VI.16). After their long-overdue and royally-backed marriage, Pappolen and the niece, as far as we know, lived happily ever after.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Tristan and Isolde painted by Edmund Leighton (1852–1922), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.