The 6th-Century Battle Over The Bishopric Of Dax (And Bishop Faustianus’s Luxurious Severance Package)

A certain priest named Faustianus had the misfortune (or perhaps luck) to have his name put forward as a candidate for the bishopric of Dax by a strange character named Gundovald. This Gundovald was a pesky adventurer who claimed that he was a long-lost member of the Merovingian Dynasty, a powerful family that ruled over the various kingdoms of the Frankish Empire. Despite the fact that the Merovingian kings of the time adamantly rejected the adventurer’s claims, Gundovald boldly set out to grab a piece of the Frankish lands for himself. He appeared in Marseilles around 582 and became a great annoyance for the Merovingian kings.

During Gundovald’s years-long rampage, he gathered several rebellious dukes, counts and bishops to his cause. In addition to recruiting nobles and clergymen of questionable loyalties who were already in power, Gundovald also began setting up his own candidates in vacated government offices within the regions that he occupied. To bring the story full circle, the aforementioned Faustianus was one of these people that Gundovald put in power during his short adventure in France. Gundovald and his supporters were in Bordeaux at the time, and they discovered that the bishopric of Dax was vacant. The Merovingian kings were backing Count Nicetius to take up the position, whereas Gundovald and the bishops in his entourage put their support toward the priest, Faustianus. Moving quickly, Gundovald succeeded in having Faustianus installed as bishop of Dax, and he convinced Bishop Bertram of Bordeaux, Bishop Palladius of Saintes, and Bishop Orestes of Bazas to bless and consecrate the appointment.

Of course, Gundovald’s newfound regime would only last if he could win his war against the Merovingian kings, or at least survive until he could convince them to make a truce. This, however, did not happen, for Gundovald was captured and executed in 585 by the leading Merovingian ruler of the time, King Guntram of Burgundy (r. 561-593). After King Guntram finally rid the Frankish Empire of the pesky adventurer, the angry monarch moved quickly to punish those who had supported Gundovald. Those who displeased King Guntram the most were executed, but others faced much milder punishments. One such figure who got off easy was Faustianus—at a council of bishops convened by King Guntram at Mâcon in 585, the king and his supporters among the clergy did little but strip Faustianus of his title as bishop. The ire of the king was set more on the bishops, Bertram, Palladius, and Orestes, who had blessed and consecrated Faustianus’ appointment. In an interesting arrangement formed at the Council of Mâcon, these three bishops were forced to take responsibility for dragging Faustianus into the Gundovald mess. One of Guntram’s supporting bishops, Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), recorded how the bishops involved in the Dax incident were treated at the council, writing, “Faustianus, who had been inducted as Bishop of the town of Dax at the express command of Gundovald, was deposed, on condition that Bertram, Orestes and Palladius, who had given him the benediction, should supply him with food and should pay him a hundred gold pieces every year” (History of the Franks, VIII.20). After deposing Faustianus from the bishopric, the council named Count Nicetius—the Merovingian Dynasty’s original nominee—as the new bishop of Dax.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Ordination of Abbot Hugh of Saint-Denis from the Grandes Chroniques de France, c. 14th century, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).



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