Today is the feast day of Saint Benezet. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Benezet (Little Benedict) kept his mother’s sheep in the country, and while still a young child was devoted to practices of piety. (1)
He was deeply concerned about how dangerous it was for poor people to cross the unpredictable Rhône River. It is said that during an eclipse, in the year 1177, he heard a voice that said to him: “Bénézet, take your rod and go down to Avignon, the capital’s waterfront: talk to people and tell them that we must build a bridge.” (3)
He approached his bishop. (1)
At first the bishop of Avignon dismissed him as being daft, but after witnessing several miracles performed by the holy shepherd lad, he supported the enterprise, and the Brotherhood of Bridge Builders was formed with wealthy sponsors. For seven years Bénézet conducted the operations. (3)
The Provençal shepherd-turned-bridge-builder died in 1184 when most of the difficulties with the construction had been overcome. The mighty bridge, completed four years later, measured 900 meters long and spanned the river with 22 arches, connecting one of the main pilgrimage routes from Italy to Covadonga on the Atlantic coast of Spain.
Bénézet’s body was interred in a small chapel on the bridge itself. This chapel, standing on one of the bridge’s piers, was dedicated to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of the Rhône boatmen. (3)
Other miracles wrought afterwards at his tomb induced the city to build, on the bridge itself, a chapel, and there his body lay for nearly five hundred years. But in 1669, after the greater part of the bridge had fallen through the impetuosity of the waters, the coffin was taken up and opened in 1670, in the presence of the Church’s authorities. The body was found entire, without the least sign of corruption; all was perfectly sound, and the color of the eyes still bright, even though, through the dampness of the surroundings, the iron bars around the coffin were much damaged with rust. (1)
The fame of Bénézet’s bridge in Avignon was spread far beyond the borders of France by the children’s song, Sur le Pont d’Avignon, which is sung all over the world, even in China. (3)
Image: Saint Bénézet, Notre Dame des Doms, Avignon (5)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff