In 981, the mighty French duke, Hugh Capet, used the threat of military force to intimidate Earl Arnulf II of Flanders into surrendering the remains of long-dead Saint Valery (d. 622). With the saintly remnants in his possession, Hugh traveled to Leuconaüs on the Somme, where he reinterred the remains—the area is now known as Saint-Valery-sur-Somme. The duke, so it was said, had not done this odd task on a whim. According to legend, he did this on the express urging of dead Saint Valery, himself. A Norman-English monk named Orderic Vitalis (c. 1075-1142) recorded the tale:
“St. Valery appeared to him when he was duke at Lutetia, the city of Parisii. He revealed to him in a dream who he was, and what he wanted, commanding him to undertake an expedition against Arnold [or Arnulf], earl of Flanders, and take his body out of the monastery of Sithieu, where that of St. Bertin also lies, and restore it to the convent of Leuconaüs in the Vimeux” (Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, I.24)
In case Hugh Capet was not enthusiastic about the proposed mission, the ghostly saint offered further incentive. As a reward for relocating the remains, the saint supposedly said that he would arrange for Hugh’s family to have great fortune and prestige in the future. According to Orderic Vitalis, Saint Valery allegedly proposed that he could help Hugh and his descendants “wear the crown of France” (Ecclesiastical History, I.24). Such was the reason, so the legend goes, that compelled Hugh Capet to concern himself with the remains of Saint Valery.
It took several years for the ghostly saint’s supposed promise to be achieved. When King Louis V died in 987, the last remaining contender to the throne from the Carolingian Dynasty was the unpopular Charles of Lorraine. Instead of allowing Charles to succeed to the throne, lords and clergymen in France worked together to elect Hugh Capet to the throne, ending the reign of the Carolingians and starting the era of the Capetian Dynasty.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (14th-century image of the Apparition of Saint Valery to Hugh Capet, designated as Français 2813, folio 216 recto, in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
- Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy by Orderic Vitalis, translated by Thomas Forester. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854.