Image of Engraving of St Radegund

St Radegund

Saint Radegund was a 6th century queen who fled her husband to found a monastery for women and men at Poitiers, France.

The convent just outside Cambridge whose site, ruined buildings, and endowments were used to found Jesus College was the first of two religious houses in England to be dedicated to St Radegund, as were several parish churches and cathedral chapels. Its formal title was The Priory of St Mary and St Radegund.

In 1496 when the College was founded St Radegund was accordingly named one of the new College’s three patron saints, with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist. 

In the centuries since, her name has been given to a pub, a terrace of houses, a street, a student dining club, and even Master Henry Arthur Morgan's daughter. More recently, the College has established the Society of St Radegund to recognise its most generous living benefactors.

Early life

Radegund was born a princess in Thuringia, south eastern Germany circa 520 AD. When she was aged 11 or 12 she was seized by the invading Frankish King Chlothar I. She and her brother were educated at his court and when she was about 18 Radegund was compelled to marry Chlothar and become his queen.

Chlothar was rough, brutal, unfaithful, and often drunk. To his irritation, Radegund's suffering and meek behaviour led people to say that he had "yoked himself to a nun rather than a queen". In around 550 AD Chlothar had her brother murdered, the last surviving male member of the Thuringian royal family.

Radegund fled the court and sought the protection of the church, persuading the bishop of Noyon to consecrate her a deaconess and the bishop of Paris to mediate with the King on her behalf. She gained Chlothar’s consent and support for her new religious role before his death the following year.

As a nun and a saint

In the early 550s Radegund founded a monastery on her own royal estate at Poitiers. She gathered many converts, men as well as women, and within 40 years the community had grown to 200 members.

Radegund assembled a large collection of relics, including a fragment of the True Cross, which led to the monastery being known as the Abbey of the Holy Cross. Around 570 she also introduced the monastic rule of Caesarius of Arles, which required nuns as well as monks to be able to read and write, and to spend several hours each day reading the scriptures and copying manuscripts.

After installing her childhood friend Agnes as abbess, Radegund strove to live as a simple nun. She maintained good relationships with her stepsons and befriended the poet and hymn writer Venantius Fortunatus who was to become her biographer. Popular canonisation followed soon after her death in 587, and pilgrims still travel to her tomb in Poitiers today.

Further reading

  • Bradshaw, Henry (c1525) Here begynneth the lyfe of saynt Radegunde, London: "Imprinted by Rycharde Pynson printer to the kynges noble grace".
  • Brittain, Frederick (1926) ed, The lyfe of Saynt Radegunde, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Brittain, Frederick (1928) Saint Radegund: Patroness of Jesus College, Cambridge, Cambridge: Heffer.
  • Fortunatus, Venantius, The Life of the Holy Radegund, translted by J. McNamara and J. Halborg.
  • Favreau, Robert (c1995) ed, La vie de Sainte Radegonde par Fortunat: Poitiers, Bibliothèque municipale: manuscrit 250 (136), preface by Jean Favier, Paris: Seuil.
  • Gray, Arthur (1898) The priory of Saint Radegund, Cambridge, Cambridge: Cambridge Antiquarian Society, Octavo Series vol 31.