In the 6th century, there lived within the city of Bordeaux a boy named Anatolius. There, he was known to have been apprenticed to a local merchant. When he reached the young age of twelve, Anatolius reportedly decided to abandon the commercial life, and instead embark on a new trial phase of religious isolation. The merchant that was employing the boy evidently agreed to the plan, and released Anatolius from his duties so that the youth could become a hermit. Given permission to pursue his religious dreams, Anatolius scoured the city for an ideal place to begin his life as a holy recluse. Oddly enough, he was drawn to Bordeaux’s ancient crypt and decided to set up camp in a corner of the catacombs.
As the story goes, the boy’s whim turned into a long-term lifestyle change. After entering the catacombs at the age of twelve, Anatolius reportedly remained there for years. Life in the dark crypt soon took a great mental toll on the child. Before long, Anatolius’ mind began playing tricks on him, and he came to believe that demons were with him in the catacombs, attacking him from within and without. As if demons were not enough, Anatolius also soon imaged that spirits of saints were also coming down to his dark abode to harass him in his solitude. These perceived attacks from both demonic and holy forces in the underground drove young Anatolius insane. Falling into madness, he began ranting and raving so loud that he could be heard by bystanders outside of the crypt, and he also reportedly started vandalizing the catacomb in which he lived. Noticing these drastic changes in the young hermit, people in Bordeaux finally decided to drag Anatolius out of the crypt and find him help. Unfortunately, this intervention came after Anatolius had been living in the catacombs for a remarkable eight years.
As Anatolius had a particular reverence for Saint Martin, his friends brought him to Tours, where St. Martin’s tomb was located. Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594) was the local bishop at that time, and he learned of Anatolius’ story when the youth arrived in the city. In his Ten Books of Histories, also known as the History of the Franks, he wrote down what he heard about the hermit’s backstory:
“The boy entered this cell and there he remained for eight years or more, content with very little food and drink, and spending all his time in vigils and prayers. A great panic then seized him and he began to shout that he was being tortured internally. The next thing which happened, or so I believe, was that, with the help of some of Satan’s legions, he moved the square stones which formed his prison, knocked down the wall, and then clapped his hands together and shouted that he was being burned through and through by the holy men of God” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, VIII.34).
As reported by Gregory, Anatolius remained in the care of the clergymen of Tours for about a year. The sunlight, change of scenery and personal contact with humanity did the youth much good, and he noticeably recovered during his stay in Tours. Yet, after Anatolius returned to Bordeaux, his madness was said to have returned.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Saint John the Baptist as a Child, painted by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617–1682), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.