A Garner of Saints – Saint John Gualbert

detail from the painting 'San Giovanni Gualberto and Saints'; date unknown, artist unknown; Santa Trinita, Florence, Italy; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Born at Florence in the year 1040 of noble parentage. While still a youth and as he was going towards Florence one good Friday with an armed company, he fell in with a man with whom his family was at feud, because the man had unjustly assassinated his brother Ugo Gualbert. The passage was narrow and there was no way of escape, but as John prepared to run the man through the body with his sword, he threw himself at John’s feet, and stretching out his arms in the form of the cross, besought John, by the passion of Christ, to spare him. And John remembered the event celebrated that day, and the mercy of Christ to his executioners, so that he raised the man to his feet, embraced him and let him go. Proceeding on his way he came to a monastery and entering the church he knelt before the crucifix. And the head of the crucified one inclined towards him from the cross and appeared to bless him for having pardoned his deadly enemy. After this John determined to renounce the world and going to the abbey of San Miniato of the order of Saint Benedict he begged the fathers to grant him their habit. He showed wonderful devotion in his new character, and on the death of the abbot was elected to succeed him; but he refused this honour, preferring to obey rather than to command. While he was at Saint Miniato one of the monks went to the bishop of Florence and bribed him to give him the administration of the abbey. John at once knew of this, and accompanied by another monk he went to Florence and called on an old man named Teuzone who inhabited a cell near Saint Maria del Fiore to ask his advice. And he advised them to go to the piazza and proclaim that the bishop and abbot were simoniacs. And when they had done this there arose a great tumult, but they withdrew in safety.

Desiring a more complete solitude John went to the valley of Camaldoli and there established a new monastery at Vallombrosa, and a new order of Benedictine friars, which was confirmed in 1070.

After the establishment of the house at Vallombrosa many other monasteries of the order were founded by him; and one day he visited one of these, the monastery of Moscheta, and finding it very sumptuous he called the abbot and reproved him, saying that he had incurred great expense in building the monastery, which might have relieved many poor. Turning to a small stream behind he prayed to God that it might take vengeance on that house. No sooner was he gone than the stream became a torrent and washed away the monastery. One day on returning from his visitation of the monasteries he remembered how poor many of the people were, and calling his almoner and procurator he asked them how much grain there was. When he saw that the granary was full, he reproached them and afterwards ordered a large vessel to be brought. Filling this with wheat, he distributed corn to the poor from the third to the ninth hour, the vessel being as full at the end of that time as it was at the beginning. Once in the monastery the monks had no more than three loaves, for it was a time of famine. John commanded that the loaves should be divided and a portion given to each monk, saying to-day we suffer want, but to-morrow there will be abundance. When the hour of dinner came the monks ate the bread but would not touch the meat offered them, because of their reverence for the rule. The following day some monks of Saint Salvi came bringing an abundance of provisions, saying that they were sent by some noblemen, but who the nobles were was never discovered. As John and his monks maintained that Pietro de Pavia, Bishop of Florence, was guilty of simony and heresy, there arose a great contention among the clergy and people of Florence. And the bishop sent an armed force by night to attack the monastery of Saint Salvi where he supposed John to be, although the saint had actually left for Vallombrosa the preceding night. Entering the monastery the soldiers killed several of the monks, insulting the others, and plundered the building, setting fire to it. This act of violence alienated many of the bishop’s partisans. Afterwards the monks went to Florence and proclaimed that Pietro was a simoniac and a heretic, offering to prove this by the ordeal of fire. However, Pope Alexander would not permit the test, though Hildebrand defended the monks. At length the ordeal was agreed to, and a great assembly came together to witness it. After the monks had sung the litany, one of their number, abbot Peter, (known afterwards as Peter Igneus), took the cross in his hand and passed through the flames unhurt. After this convincing miracle the bishop was deposed and John was justified. John died of the fever in the year 1073, and was canonized in 1183. 12th July.

Attributes

  • He wears the light grey (colour of ashes) habit of the order, and carries a crucifix in his hand.

MLA Citation

  • Allen Banks Hinds, M.A. “Saint John Gualbert”. A Garner of Saints, 1900. CatholicSaints.Info. 20 April 2017. Web. 25 June 2017. <>