Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Placidus, Abbot, and Companions, Martyrs

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A.D. 546. The reputation of the great sanctity of Saint Benedict, whilst he lived at Sublaco, being spread abroad, the noblest families in Rome brought their children to him to be educated by him in his monastery. Equitius committed to his care, in 522, his son Maurus, then twelve years of age, and the patrician Tertullus his son Placidus, who was no more than seven. Philip of Macedon, recommending his son Alexander the Great to Aristotle, whom he had chosen for his preceptor, in his letter upon that subject, gave thanks to his gods not so much for having given him a son as for providing him with such a master for his education. With far more reason Tertullus rejoiced that he had found such a sanctuary, where his son, whilst his heart was yet untainted by the world, might happily escape its contagion. Saint Gregory relates, that Placidus being fallen into the lake of Sublaco, as he was fetching some water in a pitcher, Saint Benedict, who was in the monastery, immediately knew this accident, and, calling Maurus said to him: “Brother, run, make haste; the child is fallen into the water.” Maurus, having begged his blessing, ran to the lake, and walked upon the water above a bow-shot from the land to the place where Placidus was floating, and, taking hold of him by the hair, returned with the same speed. Being got to the land, and looking behind him, he saw he had walked upon the water, which he had not perceived till then. Saint Benedict ascribes this miracle to the disciple’s obedience; but Saint Maurus attributed it to the command and blessing of the abbot, maintaining that he could not work a miracle without knowing it. Placidus decided the dispute by saying: “When I was taken out of the water I saw the abbot’s melotes upon my head, and himself helping me out.” The melotes was a sheep’s skin worn by monks upon their shoulders. We must observe that Saint Placidus, being very young had not yet received the monastic tonsure and habit. This miraculous corporal preservation of Placidus may be regarded as an emblem of the wonderful invisible preservation of his soul by divine grace from the spiritual shipwreck of sin. He advanced daily in holy wisdom, and in the perfect exercise of all virtues, so that his life seemed a true copy of that of his master and guide, the glorious Saint Benedict; who, seeing the great progress which divine grace made in his tender heart, always loved him as one of the dearest among his spiritual children, and took him with him to Mount Cassino in 528. The senator Tertullus, principal founder of this monastery, made them a visit soon after their arrival there, saw with pleasure the rising virtues of his son Placidus, and bestowed on Saint Benedict part of the estates which he possessed in that country, and others in Sicily. The holy patriarch founded another monastery upon these latter near Messina, a great city with a fine harbour, upon the straits which part Italy from Sicily. Of this new colony Saint Placidus was made abbot. Dom Rabache de Freville, the present sub-prior of Saint Germain-des-Prez, in his manuscript life of Saint Maurus, places the arrival of that saint at Angers in France, and the foundation of the abbey of Glenfeuil, in 543, the very year in which Saint Benedict died. Saint Placidus is supposed to have gone to Sicily in 541, a little before the holy patriarch’s death, being about twenty-six years of age. He there founded a monastery at Messina. The spirit of the monastic state being that of penance and holy retirement, the primitive founders of this holy institute were particularly watchful entirely to shut the world out of their monasteries, and to guard all the avenues through which it could break in upon their solitude. Its breath is always poisonous to those who are called to a life of retirement. Charity may call a monk abroad to serve his neighbour in spiritual functions; but that person only can safely venture upon this external employment who is dead to the world, and who studies to preserve in it interior solitude and recollection, having his invisible food and sacred manna, and making it his delight to converse secretly in his heart with God, and to dwell in heaven. This spirit Saint Placidus had learned from his great instructor, and the same he instilled into his religious brethren. He had not lived many years in Sicily before a Pagan barbarian, with a fleet of pirates from Africa rather than from Spain, then occupied by Arian Goths, not by Pagans, landed in Sicily, and out of hatred of the Christian name, and the religious profession of these servants of God, put Saint Placidus and his fellow-monks to the sword, and burnt their monastery, about the year 546.

All true monks devote themselves to God; they separate themselves from the world, and do not entangle themselves in secular business, that they may more easily seek perfectly and with their whole hearts, not those things which are upon earth, but those which are in heaven. This is the duty of every Christian, as Origen elegantly observes, and as Saint Paul himself teaches, according to the divine lessons of our blessed Redeemer. For to be dead to the world, and to live to Christ, is the part of all who are truly his disciples. Those who live in the world must so behave as not to be of the world. They must be assiduously conversant in prayer and other exercises of religion. Their work itself must be sanctified and dedicated to God by the like motives with which the ancient monks applied themselves to penitential manual labour, or to external spiritual functions.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Placidus, Abbot, and Companions, Martyrs”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 27 August 2014. Web. 21 September 2018. <>