Today is the feast day of Saint Romuald. Ora pro nobis.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1875
Ravenna, a well-known town in Italy, received, in the beginning of the tenth century, from God, the grace to become the birthplace of St. Romuald. The first twenty years of his life he passed like a child of the world, who only seeks after pleasure. Dogs, horses, hunting, riding, play, and society, were the only things he enjoyed, and in which he occupied his time. Of praying, visiting the church, listening to the Word of God, reading holy books, or other Christian exercises, he cared to hear and know nothing, until God, by the following incident, opened his eyes and brought him to the knowledge of Himself, and to repentance. His father, Sergius, Duke of Ravenna, had slain, in a duel, one of his best friends. This Romuald had witnessed, and it affected him to such a degree, that he went to Classis into a Benedictine Monastery, where he remained forty days, praying, fasting, and watching. A pious Friar, who waited upon him, endeavored to disgust him with the world, by picturing to him the many and great dangers to which those living in it were exposed. Romuald could not at first reconcile himself to the idea of relinquishing the world, but, after many prayers and the appearance of St. Apollonarius, who was patron of the monastery, he resolved to dedicate his life to the service of God, and entered the monastery. The life he henceforth led was so austere, so penitential, and so strictly in conformity with all the rules of the Order, that others, who were sluggish in the fulfilment of their duties, reproached by his example, regarded him with hatred, and even conspired against his life. As soon as Romuald became aware of this, he left the monastery and retired, with the knowledge and consent of the Abbot, into the desert to Marinus, a hermit renowned for his sanctity, under whose guidance he attained great perfection. With this, his teacher, he went to Venice and induced the Duke, Peter Urseoli, who, besides having committed many crimes, had unjustly taken possession of the Government, to leave Venice, and, with many others, to enter upon a religious life. In this way Romuald caused many others, either by personal persuasion or by letters, to repent and reform. Among these was his own father, whom he had prevailed upon to enter a monastery, and when, some years later he heard of his intention to leave it again, he walked barefooted from France to Ravenna, where his father was. By his fervent exhortations and to his own great happiness, he succeeded in persuading his father to continue his penitential life, after which he returned home, humbly praising and thanking the Almighty.
Indescribable are the labors performed by Romuald for the salvation of his fellow-beings during the hundred years he lived after his conversion. One of his principal works was the reformation of the discipline in the monasteries, which he, in obedience to the word of God, undertook in Venice, Florence, and France. How much the holy man suffered on account of this, how much he was persecuted, no words can tell. But he had the great joy to see his labors bring forth abundant fruit, as he not only restored in many monasteries the former discipline, but also built a hundred new ones in different places and filled them with fervent servants of God. In several monasteries he performed the duties of Abbot, and taught those under him by word and deed how to lead a religious life, although his zeal on more than one occasion almost cost him his life. Not contented, however, with the work he had performed, he desired to preach the Gospel to the heathen and to give his life for the sake of Christ. Hence he concluded to go to Hungary. He had only started on his journey, however, when God, to manifest to him that he was not called to this, sent him a severe sickness, which increased as often as he attempted to proceed on his way and subsided when he retraced his steps. At length, seeing in this the will of the Almighty, he returned and continued to serve God most fervently either in the desert or the monasteries, and to labor for the salvation of others.
When he had reached his hundred and second year, he concluded to spend the remainder of his days in solitude, and thus to prepare himself for death. He ascended the Appennines, from whence he had a view over a beautiful valley, after the contemplation of which he was overtaken by sleep. A second Jacob, he saw in his dream a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, upon which Friars ascended and descended, though not in black, but in white habits. The interpretation of this dream God made clear to him. As soon as he awoke he went to the proprietor of the valley, who was named Maldulus, who just at that time had been admonished by God to give, not only the valley, but also the neighboring places, to St. Romuald, on which to build a monastery and a church. The pious owner obeyed the heavenly mandate. Romuald began without delay to build, and gathered around him some of his most fervent religious, who were willing to serve God in solitude and austerity. With these he inhabited the newly-built monastery; but they changed their habit from black to white, and thus commenced the celebrated Camaldolese Order, taking the name as well from the first owner of the valley as from the valley itself, which was called Camaldoli Desert. The religious of this Order devote their time to praising God, holy meditation, and all manner of penitence. St. Romuald remained in this solitude almost until his last hour; this had been revealed to him by God twenty years before, and also the monastery where he should die. Thither he wrent, and passed the days still remaining to him in preparing himself for death, as he had already done during more than twenty years. To a Friar, with whom he was very intimate, he said: “For twenty years I have been preparing myself for death, and the more I meditate upon it, the more I feel that I am not worthy to appear before the throne of God.”
On the last day of his life he dismissed two lay-brothers, who waited upon him, with orders to return the following day. Both, however, remained before the door of his cell, and heard him sigh and pray in raptures of devotion; but on a sudden all was silent. On opening the door, they went towards him and found that he was no more. This happened in the year of our Lord 1027. When, five years later, they opened his coffin, on account of the many miracles which had been wrought at his grave, his body was found, clad in his hair shirt, entirely incorrupt. Four hundred and forty years afterwards they found him in the same state. This great Saint lived to the age of one hundred and twenty years, of which he spent the first; twenty in all the frivolities of the world, and the remainder in unsurpassed austerity.
According to St. Peter Damian, his life was a continual fast and penance. But his fasting was quite different from the usual mode. A handful of peas, or some herbs boiled in water, constituted his dinner and supper, especially during the period of the forty days’ fast, which he observed twice a year. Not even at a time of sickness would he change his manner of living. Perceiving a special desire for some dish, he had it prepared in the most delicious way and placed upon his table. He would look long at it to increase his appetite, and then give it to the sick or poor. From the Lives of the Saints, which he diligently read, he, gathered all kinds of mortifications and penances, in which he tried to imitate them, not without feeling deeply ashamed for not having followed their examples better. “The Lives of the Saints,” observed he one day, “go to my very heart; and when I consider how little I do, I feel as if I ought to die for shame.” Three pointed iron girdles were worn by him continually, with his hair shirt, and he slept upon the ground or on straw. In supporting the rigor of the winter, he was much to be admired, but hardly to be imitated. In a word, he tortured his body so cruelly and in such different ways, that it seemed not to belong to him but to his most bitter enemy. He combined, however, with all this rigor to himself, great cheerfulness, and his countenance, always kind and pleasant, cheered every one upon whom his eye fell. He had much to suffer from evil spirits, and still more from the wickedness of man; and yet he never appeared disturbed or despondent. He was once accused of a heinous crime by a godless person, and as he manifested not the least indignation, although he was innocent, everybody was surprised and almost disposed to blame him on that account; but he said: “Is it not much better to suffer innocently than when guilty?” All his sufferings and penances he offered to God as an atonement for the frivolities of his youth, of which he daily repented. He often remarked that of the twenty years he had spent in worldly pleasures, nothing was left him except bitterness; but that the hundred years in which he had endeavored to serve God had filled his soul with consolation and peace. (2)
Many miracles were wrought at his tomb, over which an altar was allowed to be erected in 1032. In 1466 his body was found still incorrupt; it was translated to Fabriano in 1481. In 1595 Clement VIII fixed his feast on 7 Feb., the day of the translation of his relics, and extended its celebration to the whole Church. He is represented in art pointing to a ladder on which are monks ascending to Heaven. (4)
Image: Kopf des Hl. Romualdus, artist: Fra Angelico, circa 1437-1446. (6)