Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, Widow

August 21

Today is the feast day of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal.  Ora pro nobis.

from the Liturgical Year, 1909

Jane Frances Freiniot de Chantal was born at Dijon in Burgundy, of noble parents, and from her childhood gave clear signs of her future great sanctity. It was said that when only five years of age, she put to silence a Calvinist nobleman by substantial arguments, far beyond her age, and when he offered her a little present she immediately threw it into the fire, saying: “This is how heretics will burn in hell, because they do not believe Christ when He speaks.” When she lost her mother, she put herself under the care of the Virgin Mother of God, and dismissed a maid servant who was enticing her to love of the world. There was nothing childish in her manners; she shrank from worldly pleasures, and thirsting for martyrdom, she devoted herself entirely to religion and piety. She was given in marriage by her father to the Baron de Chantal, and in this new state of life she strove to cultivate every virtue, and busied herself in instructing in faith and morals her children, her servants and all under her authority. Her liberality in relieving the necessities of the poor was very great, and more than once God miraculously multiplied her stores of provisions; on this account she promised never to refuse any one who begged an alms in Christ’s name.

Her husband having been killed while hunting, she determined to embrace a more perfect life and bound herself by a vow of chastity. She not only bore her husband’s death resignedly, but overcame herself so far as to stand godmother to the child of the man who had killed him, in order to give a public proof that she pardoned him. She contented herself with a few servants and with plain food and dress, devoting her costly garments to pious usages. Whatever time remained from her domestic cares she employed in prayer, pious reading, and work. She could never be induced to accept offers of second marriage, even though honourable and advantageous. In order not to be shaken in her resolution of observing chastity, she renewed her vow, and imprinted the most holy name of Jesus Christ upon her breast with a red-hot iron. Her love grew more ardent day by day. She had the poor, the abandoned, the sick, and those who were afflicted with the most terrible diseases brought to her, and not only sheltered, and comforted, and nursed them, but washed and mended their filthy garments, and did not shrink from putting her lips to their running sores.

Having learnt the will of God from St. Francis de Sales her director, she founded the Institute of the Visitation of our Lady. For this purpose she quitted, with unfaltering courage, her father, her father-in-law, and even her son, over whose body she had to step in order to leave her home, so violently did he oppose her vocation. She observed her Rule with the utmost fidelity, and so great was her love of poverty, that she rejoiced to be in want of even the necessaries of life. She was a perfect model of Christian humility, obedience, and all other virtues. Wishing for still higher ascensions in her heart, she bound herself by a most difficult vow, always to do what she thought most perfect. At length when the Order of the visitation had spread far and wide, chiefly through her endeavours, after encouraging her sisters to piety and charity by words and example, and also by writings full of divine wisdom: laden with merits, she passed to the Lord at Moulins, having duly received the Sacraments of the Church. She died on the 13th December, in the year 1641. St. Vincent de Paul, who was at a great distance, saw her soul being carried to heaven, and St. Francis de Sales coming to meet her. Her body was afterwards translated to Annecy. Miracles having made her illustrious both before and after her death, Benedict XIV. placed her among the Blessed, and Pope Clement XIII. among the Saints. (2)

Her reputation for sanctity was widespread. Queens, princes, and princesses flocked to the reception-room of the Visitation. Wherever she went to establish foundations, the people gave her ovations. “These people”, she would say confused, “do not know me; they are mistaken”. Her body is venerated with that of St. Francis de Sales in the church of the Visitation at Annecy. She was beatified in 1751, canonized in 1767, and 21 August was appointed as her feast day.

The life of the saint was written in the seventeenth century, with inimitable charm, by her secretary, Mother de Chaugy. Monsignor Bougaud, who died Bishop of Laval, published in 1863 a “Histoire de Sainte Chantal” which had a great and well-deserved success.

The words of the saint comprise instructions on the religious life, various minor works, among which is the admirable “Deposition for the Process of Beatification of St. Francis de Sales”, and a great many letters. The Saint’s qualities are seen in her precise and vigorous style, void of imagery but betraying a repressed emotion, and bursting forth spontaneously from the heart, anticipating in its method the beautiful French of the seventeenth century. The book which may be called her masterpiece, “Réponses sur les Régles, Constitutions et Coutumes”, a truly practical and complete code of the religious life, is not in circulation. (1)

Image: Gemälde der heiligen de:Johanna Franziska von Chantal von Michael Fuchs aus dem Provinzialat der Oblaten des heiligen Franz von Sales in Wien, Kaasgraben (3)

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Our Lady of Knock

August 21

Today is the Anniversary of The Apparition of Our Lady of Knock.  Ora pro nobis.

The humble people of the Knock of 1879, hidden away in the West of Ireland, could not possibly have foreseen the climax of that day in August, when throughout the day the very elements seemed to be at war. Tradition has it that Knock had been blessed by St. Patrick, that he had prophesied that one day it would be a holy place, but the people were scarcely thinking of that as they looked out at the rains that beat furiously down upon their little village of a dozen houses.

On a rainy August night in 1879, a parish charwoman Mary McLoughlin in the humble farming village of Knock, Ireland finished her duties and locked the church door behind her. Then she had a chat with a family that lived in the thatched-roof house next door.

At about eight o’clock, accompanied by Bridget, the older teenaged daughter of the family, she left for home. As the two women walked past the Church of Saint John the Baptist’s gabled stone wall, something caught their attention. 

For there, on the back wall,  a window had opened to another world.

The cleaning lady gasped and dropped to her knees. Bridget ran to fetch her family and neighbors. Within minutes, fifteen villagers gathered to peer through this apparent window in time and space which had, inexplicably, opened before their eyes. Their ages ranged from five years to seventy-five and included men, women, teenagers and children.

For two hours the Knock people  were transfixed as an apparition of Our Lady, Saint Joseph, and Saint John the Evangelist  glowed from the south gable end of the small parish church. Behind the saints stood an unadorned altar. On the altar was a cross and a lamb standing, with a sword piercing it. The lamb was facing West, surrounded by adoring angels.

The entire tableau glowed with a white light, and none of the figures moved or spoke. The villagers prayed the Rosary together in the pouring rain. Bridget said she “went in immediately to kiss, as I thought, the feet of the Blessed Virgin; but I felt nothing in the embrace but the wall, and I wondered why I could not feel with my hands the figures which I had so plainly and so distinctly seen”.

Later, the witnesses reported that the ground under the apparition remained completely dry. Afterwards, however the area became wet and the gable darkened as the figures faded from sight.

Among the witnesses were Patrick Hill and John Curry. As Patrick later described the scene: ‘The figures were fully rounded, as if they had a body and life. They did not speak but, as we drew near, they retreated a little towards the wall.’ Patrick reported that he got close enough to make out the words in the book held by the figure of St. John.

The next day a group of villagers went to see the priest, who accepted their report as genuine; he wrote to the diocesan Bishop of Tuam; then the Church set up a commission to interview a number of the people claiming to witness the apparition. Within seven weeks a Commission composed of eminent ecclesiastics from the surrounding district was set up by the Archbishop of Tuam to investigate the event.   The diocesan hierarchy was not convinced, and some members of the commission ridiculed the visionaries, alleging they were victims of a hoax perpetrated by the local Protestant constable!

Eventually, the result of their deliberations, after taking the testimony of the witnesses, was that ” the testimony of all, taken as a whole, was trustworthy and satisfactory.” This declaration on the part of men to whom the witnesses were known, and who were qualified to pass judgment, is in itself an evidence by no means negligible. Not a single one of the original witnesses of the apparition ever doubted or recanted, not one of them ever denied the original testimony given, and the witness who first saw the apparition re-affirmed on her death-bed in 1936 her testimony of 1879. When her statement was read over to her, she made the following remarkable addition: ” I make this statement on my death-bed, knowing I am about to go before my God.” She was then an aged woman. But with her dying breath she affirmed the truth of what she had seen.

Two years later Archbishop John Joseph Lynch of Toronto made a visit to the parish and claimed he had been healed by the Virgin of Knock. 

In due course many of the witnesses died. But Mary Byrne married, raised six children, living her entire life in Knock. When interviewed again in 1936 at the age of eighty-six, her account did not vary from the first report she gave in 1879.

A second commission, after compiling reports of hundreds of cures and taking further testimony from two of the surviving witnesses, reaffirmed this conclusion in 1936, finding in it nothing contrary to our faith.

Since then four popes have honored the Knock Shrine which, thanks in large part to the efforts of Monsignor Horan, now includes the Church of our Lady Queen of Ireland on the site to accommodate all the visitors! Pope John Paul II designated this wonderful house of worship as a basilica during his visit to Knock in 1979.

As at the shrine devoted to another more famous apparition at Lourdes, miraculous cures continue to take place at Knock. Pilgrims have left Knock renewed spiritually as well as physically over the years. Their faith has been strengthened in prayer there.

The village of Knock was transformed by the thousands who came to commemorate the vision and to ask for healing for others and themselves. The local church was too small to accommodate the crowds. In 1976 a new church, Our Lady Queen of Ireland, was erected.

The Church approved the apparition in 1971 as being quite probable, although it has never been formally stated. The Shrine at Knock is opened year round. In 1994 three life-sized statues were erected of Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John.

Image: REGINA Staff


Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbott, Doctor of the Church

August 20

Today is the feast day of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.  Ora pro nobis.

Bernard was born at the castle of Fontaines, in Burgundy near Dijon, in 1090. His parents were Tescelin, lord of Fontaines, and Aleth of Montbard, both belonging to the highest nobility of Burgundy.  Bernard, the third of a family of seven children, six of whom were sons, was educated with particular care, because, while yet unborn, a devout man had foretold his great destiny. At the age of nine years, Bernard was sent to a much renowned school at Chatillon-sur-Seine, kept by the secular canons of Saint-Vorles. He had a great taste for literature and devoted himself for some time to poetry.

His success in his studies won the admiration of his masters, and his growth in virtue was no less marked. Bernard’s great desire was to excel in literature in order to take up the study of Sacred Scripture, which later on became, as it were, his own tongue. He had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and there is no one who speaks more sublimely of the Queen of Heaven. Bernard was scarcely nineteen years of age when his mother died. During his youth, he did not escape trying temptations, but his virtue triumphed over them, in many instances in a heroic manner.  From this time he thought of retiring from the world and living a life of solitude and prayer.

St. Robert, Abbot of Molesmes, had founded, in 1098, the monastery of Cîteaux, about four leagues from Dijon, with the purpose of restoring the Rule of St. Benedict in all its rigour. Returning to Molesmes, he left the government of the new abbey to St. Alberic, who died in the year 1109.

Bernard  joined the monks of Citeaux, a few miles distant. Four of his brothers and a group of friends, thirty young Christians in all, went with him to Citeaux, leaving the youngest brother, Nivard, to be the mainstay of his father in his old age.

You will now be heir to everything, they said to Nivard as they departed. Yes, said the boy; you leave me the earth, and keep heaven for yourselves; do you consider that fair? And he too left the world. At length their aged father came also, exchanging wealth and honor for the poverty of a monk in the monastery of Clairvaux (see below).

St. Stephen of Citeaux sent the young Bernard, at the head of a band of monks, the third to leave Cîteaux, to found a new house at Vallée d’Absinthe, or Valley of Bitterness, in the Diocese of Langres. Bernard named Claire Vallée, of Clairvaux, on the 25th of June, 1115, and the names of Bernard and Clairvaux thence became inseparable. During the absence of the Bishop of Langres, Bernard was blessed as abbot by William of Champeaux, Bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne, who saw in him the predestined man, servum Dei. From that moment a strong friendship sprang up between the abbot and the bishop, who was professor of theology at Notre Dame of Paris, and the founder of the cloister of St. Victor.

In the year 1119, Bernard was present at the first general chapter of the order convoked by Stephen of Cîteaux. It was this general chapter that approved the constitutions of the order (The Charter of Charity), which Pope Callixtus II then confirmed.

The first year at Clairvaux was one of great hardship. The monks, an austere order, had no stores and lived chiefly on roots and barley bread. Bernard imposed such severe discipline that many of his brothers became discouraged. Sensing their discouragement, after much prayer, he realized his error and became more lenient. The reputation of the monastery spread across Europe. Many new monks joined it, and over time many influential people would write letters or come in person to seek spiritual advice. Every morning Bernard would ask himself, “Why have I come here?”, and then remind himself of his main duty – to lead a holy life.

Made abbot at Clairvaux, Bernard began publishing theological and spiritual works—and earned a reputation as a gifted writer. His early sermons and writings focused on the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her role as mediator and co-redemptrix—topics which had not previously received much scholarly attention. Saint Bernard wrote, “God has wanted that we obtain nothing if not through the hands of Mary.”

In the year 1128, Bernard became involved in Church affairs at the Council of Troyes. It was at this council that Bernard outlined the Rule of the Knights Templar, a body of knights who devoted themselves to the care of the sick and pilgrims to the Holy Land and later went there themselves on the Crusades.

In 1130 Bernard mediated in a disputed papal election and supported Pope Innocent II against a rival antipope Anacletus. He accompanied Innocent to Italy and later mediated in other Church and State conflicts. It wasn’t long before a former pupil of Bernard’s, himself a Cistercian, was elected pope, Eugenius III, in 1145.

A spirit of rationalism was flourishing in the schools of philosophy and theology. To counteract this, Bernard was recruited to confront Peter Abelard, whose treatise on the Trinity had been condemned as heretical. Abelard continued to develop his controversial teachings. Bernard took a more traditional stance and after he spoke at a council at Sens (1141), Abelard submitted without resistance, and retired to Cluny to live under the protection of Peter the Venerable, where he died two years later.

The Cistercian order was expanding. Bernard was probably the most influential Church person in Europe. He sent monks from his overcrowded monastery into Germany, Sweden, England, Ireland, Portugal, Switzerland, and Italy. In all sixty-eight monasteries were established from Clairvaux.

In 1146 when news came that the Christians in the Holy Land were defeated by the Seljuk Turks, Pope Eugenius III commissioned Bernard to preach the Second Crusade. Although a great gathering of kings and princes went on the Crusade, it turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. Probably Bernard was not left without criticism.

From the beginning of the year 1153, Bernard felt a great loss at the passing of his friend Pope Eugenius. He grew gradually weaker and died at age sixty-three on August 20, 1153. He was forty years a monk.

Bernard was canonised by Pope Alexander III in 1174. Pope Pius VII declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1830.

The works of St. Bernard are as follows:

  • “De Gradibus Superbiae”, his first treatise;
  • “Homilies on the Gospel ‘Missus est'” (1120);
  • “Apology to William of St. Thierry” against the claims of the monks of Cluny;
  • “On the Conversion of Clerics“, a book addressed to the young ecclesiastics of Paris (1122);
  • “De Laudibus Novae Militiae“, addressed to Hughes de Payns, first Grand Master and Prior of Jerusalem (1129). This is a eulogy of the military order instituted in 1118, and an exhortation to the knights to conduct themselves with courage in their several stations.
  • “De amore Dei” wherein St. Bernard shows that the manner of loving God is to love Him without measure and gives the different degree of this love;
  • “Book of Precepts and Dispensations” (1131), which contains answers to questions upon certain points of the Rule of St. Benedict from which the abbot can, or cannot, dispense;
  • “De Gratiâ et Libero Arbitrio” in which the Catholic dogma of grace and free will is proved according to the principles of St. Augustine;
  • “Book of Considerations”, addressed to Pope Eugenius III;
  • “De Officiis Episcoporum”, addressed to Henry, Archbishop of Sens.

His sermons are also numerous:

  • “On Psalm 90, ‘Qui habitat'” (about 1125);
  • “On the Canticle of Canticles”. St. Bernard explained in eighty-six sermons only the first two chapters of the Canticle of Canticles and the first verse of the third chapter.
  • There are also eighty-six “Sermons for the Whole Year”; his “Letters” number 530.

Image: Crop of Christ Embracing St Bernard. Artist: Francesc Ribalta, circa 1625. (6)

Research by REGINA Staff




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Saint Louis of Toulouse, Bishop

August 19

Today is the feast day of Saint Louis, Bishop of Toulouse.  Ora pro nobis.

Louis was born at Brignoles in Provence, in 1274. Louis was the great-nephew of Saint Louis, King of France, and through his mother, of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary.

Saint Elizabeth observed in her son particularly blessed results. He loved prayer, was reserved and gentle.  On a certain occasion, after he had retired, his mother found him sleeping on a rug on the floor of his room instead of in his comfortable bed.

In 1284 the father of Saint Louis, Charles II, was taken prisoner in a sea battle by the King of Aragon. He was released on condition he send into Aragon as hostages, fifty gentlemen and three of his sons. One of these hostages was our Saint. Confined as a prisoner for seven years, he was subjected to ill treatment which never lessened his patience. Louis was finally set at liberty by a treaty concluded between the King of Naples, his father, and James II, King of Aragon. Both courts desired that Louis, then about 18 years old, marry the princess of Majorca, King James’ sister. The Saint’s resolution to dedicate himself to God was inflexible, however, and he resigned his right to the crown of Naples, begging his father to confer it on his younger brother, Robert.

He had made a vow during a grave illness to join the Friar Minors if cured; this vow was the cause of his recovery during his captivity. The opposition of his family obliged the superiors of the Friar Minors to refuse for some time to admit him into their body.  He therefore went to Naples to prepare for Holy Orders, with his father’s permission. Boniface VIII gave him a dispensation to receive priestly orders in the twenty-third year of his age.  Afterwards Boniface VIII sent him a dispensation for the episcopal character, together with his nomination to the archbishopric of Toulouse, and a severe injunction, in virtue of holy obedience, to accept the same.

After renouncing all the rights of succession in favour of his brother Robert, he was ordained subdeacon in Rome by Boniface VIII, and in 1296 deacon and priest at Naples. Boniface VIII appointed the saintly young priest Bishop of Toulouse.  Louis wished first to become a Friar Minor.   He received the Franciscan habit in Rome from the minister general, John Minio of Murro, on 24 Dec., 1296, and immediately made solemn profession. He was consecrated Bishop of Toulouse by Boniface VIII on 29 (30?) Dec., 1296.  After the Feast of St. Agatha (5 Feb.), 1297, on which day he appeared for the first time publicly in the Franciscan habit, he went to Toulouse.  But his episcopate was very brief, for on his return journey from a visit to his sister, the Queen of Aragon, he was seized by fever and died at Brignoles.


His canonization, promoted by Clement V in 1307, was solemnized by John XXII on 7 April, 1317. His relics reposed in the Franciscan church at Marseilles till 1423, when they were taken by Alfonso V of Aragon to the cathedral church of Valencia, of which town Louis became patron saint.

His feast, celebrated in the Franciscan Order on 19 Aug., was decreed by the general chapter held at Marseilles in 1319, and the rhythmical office, beginning Tecum, composed by the saint’s brother, King Robert of Naples, was inserted in the Franciscan Breviary by the General Chapter of Marseilles in 1343, but seems to have been abolished by the Tridentine reform of the Breviary under Pius IV [sic, i.e., St. Pius V], 1568 .

Image: Portrait of St. Louis of Toulouse, probably from a polyptych. Artist: Antonio Vivarini, circa 1450. (5)

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Saint John Eudes, Confessor

August 19

Today is the feast day of Saint John Eudes.  Ora pro nobis.

Saint John (Jean) Eudes was born of pious and respectable parents, at a village commonly known as Ri, in the diocese of Seez, in France in 1601.  He left home at age fourteen to attend the Jesuit college at Caen, and despite pressure from his parents to marry, pledged himself to the Lord. John joined the Congregation of the Oratory of France (founded by the famous Fr. Pierre de Berulle) at the age of 22 on 25 March, 1623.  He continued his studies in Paris. At age 24 on 20 Dec., 1625 he was ordained a priest, and worked during that time as a volunteer to treat the victims of the plague. For several years, he lived in a huge cask in the middle of a field during the plague as he did not want to infect his fellow religious.

Father John Eudes thought that the training of priests should also be a priority, so in 1643, he left the Oratory and founded the Society of Jesus and Mary (the Eudists Fathers) to specialize in seminary education. Its first seminary opened in Caen, shortly followed by many others.

In order to convert women of ill-fame and assist those who had converted from a wayward life, he founded another institution, the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity. The society was approved by Alexander VII, 2 Jan., 1666.

Father John Eudes instituted the parish mission to evangelize the neglected souls. For long years, he preached to large crowds in churches or the open fields. His sermons were known for his strong condemnation of the vices of his audience and their great eloquence supported by his eminent sanctity. 

Father Eudes, during his long life, preached not less than one hundred and ten missions, three at Paris, one at Versailles, one at St-Germaine-en-Laye, and the others in different parts of France. Normandy was the principal theatre of his apostolic labours. In 1674 he obtained from Clement X six Bulls of indulgences for the Confraternities of the Sacred Heart already erected or to be erected in the seminaries. He also established the Society of the Heart of the Mother Most Admirable — which resembles the Third Orders of St. Francis and St. Dominic. This society now numbers from 20,000 to 25,000 members.

Father Eudes dedicated the seminary chapels of Caen and Coutances to the Sacred Hearts. The feast of the Holy Heart of Mary was celebrated for the first time in 1648, and that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1672, each as a double of the first class with an octave. The Mass and Office proper to these were composed by Father Eudes, who thus had the honour of preceding the Blessed Margaret Mary in establishing the devotion to the Sacred Hearts. For this reason, Pope Leo XIII, in proclaiming his virtues heroic in 1903, gave him the title of “Author of the Liturgical Worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Holy Heart of Mary”.

Father Eudes wrote a number of books remarkable for elevation of doctrine and simplicity of style. His principal works are:–“Le Royaume de Jésus”; “Le contrat de l’homme avec Dieu par le Saint Baptême”; “Le Mémorial de la vie Ecclésiastique”; “Le Bon Confesseur”; “Le Prédicateur Apostolique”; “Le Cœ;ur Admirable de la Très Sainte Mère de Dieu”. This last is the first book ever written on the devotion to the Sacred Hearts.

He died August 19, 1680, pronouncing the names of Jesus and Mary. His virtues were declared heroic by Leo XIII, 6 Jan., 1903. The miracles proposed for his beatification were approved by Pius X, 3 May, 1908, and he was beatified 25 April, 1909.


Eudists, or Society of Jesus and Mary, an ecclesiastical society instituted at Caen, France, March 25, 1643, by the Venerable Jean Eudes. The principal works of the society are the education of priests in seminaries and the giving of missions.  The Society of Jesus and Mary is not a religious order, but an ecclesiastical body under the immediate jurisdiction of the bishops, to aid in the formation of the clergy. It is composed of priests, and of postulants who are admitted after a probation of three years and three months. There are also lay brothers employed in temporal affairs, but who do not wear the ecclesiastical habit. To develop the spirit of Jesus Christ in the members of the society, Father Eudes caused to be celebrated every year in his seminaries the feast of the Holy Priesthood of Jesus Christ and of all Holy Priests and Levites.

During the French Revolution, three Eudists, Fathers Hébert, Potier, and Lefranc, perished at Paris in the massacres of September, 1792. The cause of their beatification with that of some other victims of September has been introduced in Rome. Father Hebert was the confessor of King Louis XVI, and shortly before his death he made the king promise to consecrate his kingdom to the Sacred Heart if he escaped from his enemies.

After the Revolution the society had great difficulty in establishing itself again, and it was only in the second half of the nineteenth century that it began to prosper. Too late to take over again the direction of seminaries formerly theirs, the Eudists entered upon missionary work and secondary education in colleges. The “Law of Associations” (1906) brought about the ruin of the establishments which they had in France.

Besides the scholasticates which they have opened in Belgium and in Spain, they direct seminaries at Carthagena, at Antioquia, at Pamplona, at Panama (South America), and at San Domingo, West Indies. In Canada they have the Vicariate Apostolic of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a seminary at Halifax, N. S., a college at Church Point, N. S., and at Caraquet, N. B., and a number of other establishments less important. They number about fifteen establishments and about one hundred and twenty priests in Canada. In France, where the majority still remains, the Eudists continue to preach missions and to take part in various other works.

Image: Statues in Saint Peter’s Basilica. Saint John Eudes. Founder Statue by Silvio Silva, 1932. (10)

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Saint Helena, Empress

August 18

Today is the feast day of Saint Helena.  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Helena was born about the middle of the third century, possibly in Drepanum [later, known as Helenopolis], on the Nicomedian Gulf, and died about 330. She was the mother of Constantine the Great.  She was of humble parentage.   St. Ambrose, in his “Oratio de obitu Theodosii”, referred to her as a stabularia, or inn-keeper. Nevertheless, she became the lawful wife of Constantius Chlorus. Her first and only son, Constantine, was born in Naissus in Upper Moesia, in the year 274.

The statement made by English chroniclers of the Middle Ages, according to which Helena was supposed to have been the daughter of a British prince, is entirely without historical foundation. It may arise from the misinterpretation of a term used in the fourth chapter of the panegyric on Constantine’s marriage with Fausta, that Constantine, oriendo (i. e., “by his beginnings,” “from the outset”) had honoured Britain, which was taken as an allusion to his birth, whereas the reference was really to the beginning of his reign.

Following the birth of their son, Constantine, Helena’s husband (Constantius Chlorus) was elevated to junior emperor and proclaimed Caesar. He promptly divorced Helena and took a new wife. Years later, in 312, Constantine became emperor (renamed Caesar) following a decisive victory in battle during which his father was killed, and his mother, Helena, named empress (renamed Helena Augusta).

Helena converted to Christianity, and through her witness, the emperor made Faith in Christ the official religion of the Roman Empire. As Eusebius wrote, Helena was: “such a devout servant of God, that one might believe her to have been from her very childhood a disciple of the Redeemer of mankind.” Helena spent her days in acts of charity, and built many churches on the holy sites of the faith, oftentimes tearing down pagan temples that had been built on the sites.

Tradition links her name with the building of Christian churches in the cities of the West, where the imperial court resided, notably at Rome and Trier, and there is no reason for rejecting this tradition, for we know positively through Eusebius that Helena erected churches on the hallowed spots of Palestine. Despite her advanced age she undertook a journey to Palestine when Constantine, through his victory over Licinius, had become sole master of the Roman Empire, subsequently, therefore, to the year 324.

It was in Palestine, as we learn from Eusebius (loc. cit., xlii), that she had resolved to bring to God the homage and tribute of her devotion. She lavished on that land her bounties and good deeds.  Helena “explored it with remarkable discernment”, and “visited it with the care and solicitude of the emperor himself”. Then, when she “had shown due veneration to the footsteps of the Saviour”, she had two churches erected for the worship of God: one was raised in Bethlehem near the Grotto of the Nativity, the other on the Mount of the Ascension, near Jerusalem. She also embellished the sacred grotto with rich ornaments. This sojourn in Jerusalem proved the starting-point of the legend first recorded by Rufinus as to the discovery of the Cross of Christ.

Despite being elevated to empress of the Roman Empire during her life, she worked tirelessly for the poor, released prisoners, and humbly mingled with the ordinary worshipers in modest attire. Throughout her life, Helena built magnificent churches throughout the Holy Land, spreading the Gospel of Christ, and bringing many to the faith through her witness.

Helena was still living in the year 326, when Constantine ordered the execution of his son Crispus. When, according to Socrates account (Hist. eccl., I, xvii), the emperor in 327 improved Drepanum, his mother’s native town, and decreed that it should be called Helenopolis, it is probable that the latter returned from Palestine to her son who was then residing in the Orient. Constantine was with her when she died, at the advanced age of eighty years or thereabouts (Eusebius, “Vita Const.”, III, xlvi). This must have been about the year 330, for the last coins which are known to have been stamped with her name bore this date. Her body was brought to Constantinople and laid to rest in the imperial vault of the church of the Apostles. It is presumed that her remains were transferred in 849 to the Abbey of Hautvillers, in the French Archdiocese of Reims, as recorded by the monk Altmann in his “Translatio”. (8)

She was revered as a saint, and the veneration spread, early in the ninth century, even to Western countries. Her feast falls on 18 August.  Her sarcophagus is on display in the Pio-Clementine Vatican Museum.

The True Cross

In the year 326 the mother of Constantine, Helena, then about 80 years old, having journeyed to Jerusalem, undertook to rid the Holy Sepulchre of the mound of earth heaped upon and around it, and to destroy the pagan buildings that profaned its site, Some revelations which she had received gave her confidence that she would discover the Saviour’s Tomb and His Cross. The work was carried on diligently, with the co-operation of St. Macarius, bishop of the city. The Jews had hidden the Cross in a ditch or well, and covered it over with stones, so that the faithful might not come and venerate it. Only a chosen few among the Jews knew the exact spot where it had been hidden, and one of them, named Judas, touched by Divine inspiration, pointed it out to the excavators, for which act he was highly praised by St. Helena. Judas afterwards became a Christian saint, and is honoured under the name of Cyriacus.

During the excavation three crosses were found, but because the titulus was detached from the Cross of Christ, there was no means of identifying it. Following an inspiration from on high, Macarius caused the three crosses to be carried, one after the other, to the bedside of a worthy woman who was at the point of death. The touch of the other two was of no avail; but on touching that upon which Christ had died the woman got suddenly well again. From a letter of St. Paulinus to Severus inserted in the Breviary of Paris it would appear that St. Helena. herself had sought by means of a miracle to discover which was the True Cross and that she caused a man already dead and buried to be carried to the spot, whereupon, by contact with the third cross, he came to life. From yet another tradition, related by St. Ambrose, it would seem that the titulus, or inscription, had remained fastened to the Cross.

After the happy discovery, St. Helena and Constantine erected a magnificent basilica over the Holy Sepulchre, and that is the reason why the church bore the name of St. Constantinus. The precise spot of the finding was covered by the atrium of the basilica, and there the Cross was set up in an oratory, as appears in the restoration executed by de Vogüé. When this noble basilica had been destroyed by the infidels, Arculfus, in the seventh century, enumerated four buildings upon the Holy Places around Golgotha, and one of them was the “Church of the Invention” or “of the Finding”. This church was attributed by him and by topographers of later times to Constantine. The Frankish monks of Mount Olivet, writing to Leo III, style it St. Constantinus. Perhaps the oratory built by Constantine suffered less at the hands of the Persians than the other buildings, and so could still retain the name and style of Martyrium Constantinianum. (See De Rossi, Bull. d’ arch. crist., 1865, 88.)

A portion of the True Cross remained at Jerusalem enclosed in a silver reliquary; the remainder, with the nails, must have been sent to Constantine, and it must have been this second portion that he caused to be enclosed in the statue of himself which was set on a porphyry column in the Forum at Constantinople; Socrates, the historian, relates that this statue was to make the city impregnable. One of the nails was fastened to the emperor’s helmet, and one to his horse’s bridle, bringing to pass, according to many of the Fathers, what had been written by Zacharias the Prophet: “In that day that which is upon the bridle of the horse shall be holy to the Lord” (Zechariah 14:20). Another of the nails was used later in the Iron Crown of Lombardy preserved in the treasury of the cathedral of Monza. Eusebius in his Life of Constantine, describing the work of excavating and building on the site of the Holy Sepulchre, does not speak of the True Cross. In the story of a journey to Jerusalem made in 333 (Itinerarium Burdigalense) the various tombs and the basilica of Constantine are referred to, but no mention is made of the True Cross. The earliest reference to it is in the “Catecheses” of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (P.G., XXXIII, 468, 686, 776) written in the year 348, or at least twenty years after the supposed discovery. (4)

In this tradition of the “Invention”, or discovery of the True Cross, not a word is said as to the smaller portions of it scattered up and down the world. The story, as it has reached us, has been admitted, since the beginning of the fifth century, by all ecclesiastical writers, with, however, many more or less important variations. By many critics the tradition of the finding of the Cross through the work of St. Helena. in the vicinity of Calvary has been held to be mere legend without any historical reality these critics relying chiefly upon the silence of Eusebius, who tells of all else that St. Helena did in Jerusalem, but says nothing about her finding the Cross. Still, however difficult it may be to explain this silence, it would be unsound to annihilate with a negative argument a universal tradition dating from the fifth century. The wonders related in the Syriac book “Doctrina. Addai” (sixth century) and in the legend of the Jew Cyriacus, who is said to have been inspired to reveal to St. Helena, the place where the Cross was buried, are responsible at least in part for the common beliefs of the faithful on this matter. These beliefs are universally held to be apocryphal. (See Duchesne, Lib. Pont., I, p. cviii.)

However that may be, the testimony of Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem from 350 or 351, who was on the spot a very few years after the event took place, and was a contemporary of Eusebius of Cæsarea, is explicit and formal as to the finding of the Cross at Jerusalem during the reign of Constantine this testimony is contained in a letter to the Emperor Constantius (P.G. XXXIII, 52, 1167; and cf. 686, 687). It is true that the authenticity of this letter is questioned, but without solid grounds. St. Ambrose (De obit. Theod., 45-48 in P.L., XVI, 401) and Rufinus (Hist. eccl., I, viii in P.L., XXI, 476) bear witness to the fact of the finding. Silvia of Aquitaine (Peregrinatio ad loca sancta, ed. Gamurrini, Rome 1888. p. 76) assures us that in her time the feast of the Finding was commemorated on Calvary, that event having naturally become the occasion of a special feast under the name of “The Invention of the Holy Cross“. The feast dates from very early times at Jerusalem, and it was gradually introduced into other Churches. Papebroch (Acta SS., 3 May) tells us that it did not become general until about the year 720. In the Latin Church it is kept on the 3rd of May; the Greek Church keeps it on the 14th of September the same day as the Exaltation, another feast of very remote origin, supposed to have been instituted at Jerusalem to commemorate the dedication of the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre (335) and thence introduced at Rome. (4)


Image: Crop of Saint Helena of Constantinople: this image is of a panel now in the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC, United States). Artist: Cima da Conegliano, circa 1495. (5)

Research  REGINA Staff





Saint Clare of Montefalco, Virgin

August 17

Today is the feast day of Saint Clare of Montefalco (Santa Chiara da Montefalco, Saint Clare of the Cross).  Ora pro nobis.

Clare was born into a wealthy family, named Damiani in Montefalco, Italy.  From an early age, she devoted herself to Christ, pledging her virginity.  She used her natural gifts of sincerity and intelligence to witness to others. Along with her older sister, Joan, Clare engaged in demanding acts of mortification and self-denial.  Clare spend the majority of her day in prayer and contemplation of Our Lord.  As a little girl of six she was placed in the convent of Saint Illuminata, where her sister Jane was superior.

From the beginning little Clare observed the rule of the Third Order of St Francis and added severe penances, keeping strict silence, taking only bread and water, and sleeping on the ground. About eight years later, Clare and the other sisters moved to a new convent, that of Santa Croce, which had been built for them on a nearby hill. During these years all of them followed the rule of the Third Order; but in 1290 the bishop of Spoleto substituted the rule of St Augustine.

After the death of her sister in 1298, Clare, who distinguished herself by her spirit of prayer and penance and was then about thirty years old, was chosen superior. Not only did she carry out her duties as a religious and a superior in an exemplary manner, but she exerted an extraordinary influence also on the outside world. She confuted heretics, converted sinners, reconciled families which were at odds with one another, made peace between neighboring warring towns, drove out devils, foretold future events, healed the sick, and raised the dead.

Saint Clare was gifted with spiritual gifts, including ecstasies. In 1294 while celebrating the feast of the Epiphany, Clare made a general confession in front of her sisters. She immediately fell into ecstasy and remained in that state for several weeks. Unable to eat, the nuns maintained Clare’s life by giving her sugar water on the tongue. During this time, Clare reported having a vision in which she saw herself being judged in front of the Lord.

Saint Clare’s entire body was wracked with acute pain—a pain she endured patiently and joyfully until her death. She described the pain to her sisters, saying, “If you seek the Cross of Christ, take my heart; there you will find the suffering Lord.”

Saint Clare’s pain and illness eventually became so severe that she was confined to her bed. She said to her sisters, “There is little else for me to say: Today, you shall all be with me in Christ, because I go to him,” and after a short time, she died peacefully having made her last confession. Commending her sisters to her Franciscan brother, Father Francis Damiani, Saint Clare of Montefalco died at the age of forty on August 17, 1308, and was buried in the chapel of Santa Croce Convent. Later a church was built next to it and dedicated to her.

After her death, her heart was removed from her body; and the cross and the other instruments of Christ’s passion were found, clearly imprinted, on the cardiac tissue. Her body, miraculously incorrupt, is preserved together with her heart with the miraculous imprints at the Church of the Holy Cross in Montefalco, Italy.

The miracle of liquefaction and ebullition of her blood has also taken place. The cult which had been paid to her as Blessed from the time of her death was approved in 1624; and in 1881 Pope Leo XIII canonized her.

The Roman Martyrology reads: “At Montefalco in Umbria, Saint Clare, a nun of the Order of Hermits of Saint Augustine, virgin. In her flesh were renewed the mysteries of the Lord’s passion, which the faithful honor with great devotion. Pope Leo XIII solemnly inscribed her in the list of the holy virgins.”

Image: Crop of Saint Clare of Montefalco. Fresco on a pillar in the nave of Santa Maria Incoronata in Milan, Italy (4)

Research by REGINA Staff


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