Today is the feast day of Saint Robert of Newminster. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Robert was born in the district of Craven, Yorkshire, probably at the village of Gargrave. He studied at the University of Paris, where he is said to have composed a commentary on the Psalms; became parish priest at Gargrave, and later a Benedictine at Whitby, from where, with the abbot’s permission, he joined the founders of the Cistercian monastery of Fountains.
Given the success of Fountains Abbey, a local lord built another abbey on his land, the Abbey of Newminster. To Newminster, he brought Robert and a dozen companions. Robert was appointed Abbot, and under his leadership, the community prospered, establishing two additional abbeys in later years.
While Robert grew the religious communities at Newminster, his life was not without trials. At one point, while serving as Abbot, members of the community accused him of impropriety. Saint Robert traveled to France, visiting Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the head of the Order. Saint Bernard determined the accusations to be false. As a symbol of his belief in Robert’s innocence, Saint Bernard presented him with a golden girdle to be used to affect miraculous cures of the sick at Newminster.
Robert ruled and directed the monks at Newminster for 21 years. He was a man of prayer, favored with gifts of prophecy and miracles. He is described as a devout and gentle man. While he is known for being merciful in his judgment of others, and a warm and considerate companion. Saint Robert is recorded as having had supernatural gifts, including visions and encounters with demons, and the gift of exorcism. In one such encounter, the Devil himself entered the church while Robert and his brothers were praying. The Devil, seeking a weak soul to tempt, was thwarted by Robert’s prayers for strength and encouragement for the monks in his charge.
Saint Robert was close friends with the hermit Saint Godric. On the night Robert died, Godric is said to have seen a vision of Robert’s soul, like a ball of fire, being lifted by angels on a pathway of light toward the gates of Heaven. As they approached, Godric heard a voice saying, “Enter now my friends.” His relics were translated to the church at Newminster. Numerous miracles have been reported at his tomb, including one in which a brother monk is said to have fallen unhurt from a ladder while whitewashing the dormitory. His tomb remains a center of pilgrimage. (3)
Image: Relief at the pulpit in the former Cistercian Abbey at Baumgartenberg, Austria (4)