In the late 6th century, there lived a certain Bishop Droctigisel of Soissons, who was quite an interesting fellow. Information on his career up to becoming a bishop is vague, and he might very well have been an admirable figure in his early life; yet, after he gained the venerable title of bishop, he eventually let himself fall dramatically off the proverbial wagon. To put it simply, Bishop Droctigisel had a drinking problem, and it got so bad that the people of Soissons and other neighboring bishops had to take action.
For much of his career as a bishop, Droctigisel seemed to be a functioning alcoholic. He was particularly well-behaved if he was carrying out church missions, either by traveling abroad or hosting important guests in Soissons. When Droctigisel was left all to his lonesome in-between these tasks, however, he lost himself to his vices. At first, he just overindulged. Another bishop contemporaneous to that time, Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), commented, “Everyone agreed that he ate and drank far more than is seemly for a bishop…” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, IX.37). Yet, Bishop Droctigisel’s condition began to worsen dramatically, especially after the year 585. To Droctigisel’s credit, even in his worst times, he was able to still function to some extent when he set his mind to church business. The bad behavior that he exhibited in Soissons, nevertheless, soon outshined the good works he did between drinks.
Droctigisel’s dramatic decline shocked his peers. People who did not want to blame the bishop’s state on mere alcohol came up with other theories, such as diabolical witchcraft, or the sudden onset of madness. The aforementioned Gregory of Tours addressed these theories, describing the condition of Doctigisel as of the year 589: “He had been out of his mind now for nearly four years, through drinking to excess. Many of the citizens maintained that this was brought about by witchcraft, through the action of an archdeacon whom he had dismissed from his post. He was certainly more mad when he was inside the city walls, whereas whenever he ventured outside he behaved fairly normally” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, IX.37). At some point during Droctigisel’s darkest phase, the city-folk and nobility in Soissons actually decided to kick their bishop out of town. They succeeded in their plan, banning Droctigisel from the city, and a council of bishops was convened to decide what to do with their wayward colleague.
What exactly occurred at the meeting of bishops is unknown. If they organized an intervention or demanded Bishop Droctigisel to change his ways was not mentioned. At the end of the council, however, the clergymen involved reaffirmed Droctigisel’s position as bishop of Soissons, and they encouraged the city to allow their bishop to come home. Whether or not his lifestyle improved after his return remains a mystery.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (12th-century illustration of Cuthbert’s miracle of the wine from a manuscript labeled BL YT 26, f. 66 in The British Library, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.