The concept of achieving saint status is one that many people would have trouble qualifying for, let alone coming up with the requirements for. The two readings about St Radegund set out to define what qualities made her distinctly a saint, though they do that in different ways.
In the first passage, the author is Venantius Fortunatus, who is a trained rhetorician.
His background is extremely important to keep in mind when trying to decipher the differences between the two different hagiographies. In Fortunatus’, his depiction of St Radegund is one of subdued woman. His analysis of her sanctity is found in performing her duties in feminine manners. She is quiet about her sufferings and strives in all ways to honor the Lord.
The author of the second passage is a nun simply known as Baudonivia. There is little else that is known about her, though it is stated that she is writing in response to Fortunatus. She seems to disapprove of the way he recounts her life. In her version, St Radegund seems to take a more active role in her sainthood. She speaks more and sends delegates to kings with no gifts other than simple prayers and garments.
The two writings do have middle ground. If both portrayals are to be believed, then the rules of sanctity are somewhat simple: putting others needs first in your life. In Fortunatus’ account, he mentions St Radegund kissing and washing a leper’s face with little concern of catching the disease. In Baudonivia’s, she regales how St Radegund saved a priest and his travel companions from a gruesome death on the sea through a miracle. Sanctity is seemingly connected with the constant concern for other human beings.
I believe the motives for the two writings are quite unalike. According to the introduction, Fortunatus was a close advisor to St Radegund when she was a barbarian queen. He followed her transition from religious wife of the king to a saint in her own right. Fortunatus would therefore be writing his account from the viewpoint of a more knowledgeable person than Baudonivia, since he has seen her before she ascended into the sanctity of sainthood. On the other side, however, writes to shine more light on the miracles that Fortunatus doesn’t acknowledge.
In my opinion, Fortunatus’ piece is less so focused on the sainthood of St Radegund, and more on the angle of her being a ‘most pious woman’. He addresses incidents of her performing prostrations like wearing hair shirts8 and going without food for long periods of time. It is even evident in how he portrays her: she doesn’t speak all that often in the passage, and she only becomes a deaconess after her brother’s death. The main concern of the monk, in Fortunatus’ opinion, is that her husband the king is going to come looking for her with violence, and St Radegund dispels this fear in one sentence. He doesn’t have her assert her own wishes, or anything that would imply she was even an assertive person to begin with. His response on her behalf is passive and reflective only of her God’s will that she does this.
Baudonivia’s piece is different, but still reflective of the same themes. She asserts more independence into the actions of St. Radegund. She has her taking charge of other people multiple times. I believe that when Baudonivia agreed to write the account of St Radegund, she was secretly pleased to be able to correct the image that Fortunatus paints of her. Whereas his was of a passive pious woman who simply followed in the path of God as best as possible, Baudonivia illustrates the saint as a more active participant in her world. She has her sending convoys to the Blessed Mamma’s for a token. Another difference between the two hagiographers would be their thoughts on St Radegund’s attachment to materialistic goods. Fortunatus’ Radegund had no need for them even when she was young, saying she used to clean the floors with her nice dresses. Baudonivia’s Radegund, on the other hand, was an avid collector of relics.
The differences between the male and female hagiographers are simple I believe: the core belief of how to be a good woman in God’s eyes. For the male one, Fortunatus, that is by being a woman who takes care of others whenever she can, all while not doing too much to call attention on herself. The miracles he mentions are much more reserved compared to the ones we see in Baudonivia’s. This is because, in his eyes, her best miracles are most likely the quiet ones. The female hagiographer, who is a nun, meaning she most likely has a different kind of respect for another female religious leader, is more interested in painting St Radegund as almost male-like in her assertions. She even mentions a miracle that involved sending a dove over the sea, which is reminiscent of Noah’s ark. In this way, Baudonivia is almost equating the two stories in value and in relation to working with and through God.
However, I do think we can believe both accounts equally. While Fortunatus’ St Radegund might be hard to imagine doing the things that Baudonivia claims, I cannot think of any reason why she couldn’t. Maybe Fortunatus’ tale only follows St Radegund through the beginning of her journey into sanctity, whereas Baudonivia’s follows her in the latter part of her life. The saint could have transformed and blossomed from the subdued wife of a king into the dynamic leader we see Baudonivia describe.
In conclusion, I agree that there are many differences in the tales from the two authors. I think those differences are reflective of the time they were written in, and I fully believe that it is possible for a woman like St Radegund to have existed and maybe even performed miracles similar to the ones we hear about. At the very least, I believe there was a woman named Radegund who strived to honor her God through caring for others and being a good disciple. Isn’t that saint-like enough? I think it is.