Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Guntramnus, king of Burgundy
Guntramnus (2) (Guntchramnus, Gunthrannus, Gontran), St., king of Burgundy, son of Clotaire I. and Ingundis (Greg. Tur. Hist. Franc. iv. 3). Upon his father's death in 561, the kingdom was divided by lot between the three sons. Guntram had the kingdom of Burgundy, which then extended from the Vosges to the Durance, and from the Alps to the Loire. Orleans was his nominal capital, but his ordinary residence was at Châlon-sur-Saône (iv. 21, 22). His pacific and unenterprising disposition made his reign uneventful. He died in 593 in the 33rd year of his reign, on Mar. 28, on which day the martyrologies commemorate him as a saint, and was buried in the monastery church of St. Marcellus, his own foundation at Châlons.
Though the church has canonized Guntram, it is perhaps doubtful whether his virtues would stand out brightly on any other background than the utter darkness of Merovingian times. His chief merit seems to have been the avoidance of the terrible excesses which characterized some of his family, and this was perhaps as much due to the feebleness of his nature as to any positive inclination towards well-doing. Even his clerical eulogists admit that as regards women his morals were by no means scrupulous (Aimoin, iii. 3, Patr. Lat. cxxxix. 693). When provocation or panic was absent he was mild, and even merciful, but on occasion he readily committed the barbarities of his age. The merest suspicion or accusation connected with his personal safety sufficed to throw him into a panic, when torture was freely applied to obtain confessions. Assassination was the haunting fear of his life, and he always wore arms and continually strengthened the escort which attended him everywhere, except in church (vii. 8, 18, viii. 11, 44). His apprehension at times was almost comic. Gregory tells us that one Sunday at church in Paris, when the deacon had enjoined silence for the mass, Guntram turned to the people and said, "I beseech you, men and women who are present, do not break your
faith to me, but forbear to kill me as you killed my brothers. At least let me live three years, that I may rear up the nephews whom I have adopted, lest mayhap, which God forbid, you perish together with those little ones when I am dead, and there is no strong man of our race to defend you" (vii. 8, cf. Michelet, Hist. de France, i. 231, "Ce bon homme semble chargé de la partie comique dans le drame terrible de l᾿histoire mérovingienne").
On the other hand, mere abstinence from wanton wrong-doing and aggression must be counted for a virtue in his family and age. For the crowning evil of the time, the incessant civil wars which devastated France, he was in no way responsible. Though frequently in combat, it was always to repel the aggression of others, except in his Gothic wars, which he probably regarded as crusades against heretics. The profuse almsgiving which he practised (e.g. vii. 40) shewed a real, if mistaken, desire for the good of his subjects.
But it was his warm friendship to the church and clergy which procured him the rank of a saint. St. Benignus of Dijon, St. Symphorian of Autun, and St. Marcellus of Châlon-sur-Saône were founded or enriched by him, and in the last he established and provided for perpetual psalmody after the model of St. Sigismund's foundation at St. Maurice (Fredegar. Chron. xv.; Aimoin, Hist. Franc. iii. 81, Patr. Lat. cxxxix. 751). Bishops were his constant advisers, and his favourite solution of all complications was an episcopal council (Greg. Tur. v. 28; vii. 16; viii. 13, 20, 27). He commended himself to them also by his respect for church ceremonies and his frequent and regular attendance at religious services, and especially by his freedom and condescension in eating, drinking, and conversing with them (vii. 29; viii. 1–7, 9, 10; ix. 3, 20, 21; x. 28). Gregory says, "You would have thought him a priest as well as a king" (ix. 21). "With priests he was like a priest," says Fredegarius (Chron. i.), and "he shewed himself humble to the priests of Christ," says Aimoin (u.s.). Chilperic once intercepted the letter of a bishop, in which it was written that the transition from Guntram's sway to his was like passing from paradise to hell (Greg. Tur. vi. 22). In estimating Guntram's character, therefore, we must always remember that our information comes from this favoured class. Especially does this apply to Gregory of Tours, who was on very friendly terms with him (viii. 2–7, 13; ix. 20, 21), and who ascribes miracles to his sanctity during his lifetime (ix. 21; cf. too Paulus Diaconus, de Gest. Langob. iii. 33, Migne, Patr. Lat. xcv. 535, and Aimoin. iii. 3, Patr. Lat. cxxxix. 693). There is extant an edict of Guntram addressed to the bishops and judges commanding the observance of the Sabbath and holy days, in conformity with the canon of the 2nd council of Mâcon. It is dated Nov. 10, 585, and is in Mansi, ix. 962, and Boll. Acta SS. Mar. iii. 720; cf. Hist. lit. de la France, iii. 369 seq.).