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AVITUS OF AUVERGNE:

Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, France, in the sixth century. While the Roman bishops at that time generally treated the Jews with great liberality, while Pope Gregory I. exhorted the clergy and the princes against the use of force in converting the Jews to Christianity, and while his predecessor Cautinus of Clermont was so favorably disposed toward the Jews that he paid them high prices for rare goods and jewelry, Avitus was one of those insolent bishops who, with the increasing power of the clergy under the feudal system, were overzealous in making proselytes among the Jews by force or by any other means. He repeatedly exhorted the Jews of Clermont to embrace Christianity, but met with no response. The people of Frankish Gaul at that time were entirely free from intolerance, and associated with the Jews without prejudice, intermarriages being frequent among them. Jews were among the shipowners on the rivers of Gaul and at sea, and distinguished themselves as physicians, judges, and warriors. This did not please the bigoted bishop, who at last had succeeded in converting one Jew, who was baptized on Easter Day, April 5, 576. When the new convert went in a procession through the streets in his white baptismal robe, he was sprinkled with rancid oil by a Jew. This act so aroused the mob that they attempted to stone the Jew, but were prevented from doing so by the bishop. On Ascension Day, May 14, however, the mob demolished the synagogue. On the following day the bishop gave the Jews a choice between baptism and banishment. After hesitating and delaying for three days, during which time many were attacked in their houses and some killed, over five hundred asked to be baptized (May 18, 576). Those who remained true to their religion emigrated to Marseilles.

Venantius Fortunatus, who at the request of the historian Gregory of Auvergne, bishop of Tours (544-595), wrote a poem on this occasion, hints atthe fact that the Jews only concluded to be baptized when they found out that resistance by arms was impossible ("Carm." v. 5). From Gregory's letters to Virgilius of Arles and to Theodore of Marseilles, it appears that the Jews who escaped to Marseilles were later also forced to adopt Christianity.

Bibliography:
  • Gregory of Tours, Histoire Ecclésiastique de France, v. 11 (Tarannes edition, ii. 199, Paris, 1837);
  • Dahn, Urgeschichte, iii. 177-179;
  • Aronius, Regesten, p. 14;
  • Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, 3d ed. v. 46.
T. H. R.
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