Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Gerard, Bishop and Martyr

Saint Gerard SangredoArticle

The holy bishop, Gerard, who, according to the Roman, Martyrology, deserves to be called the Apostle of the Hungarians, was born at Venice, of very pious parents. He received in a Benedictine monastery his first lessons in the liberal arts, and at the same time a thorough instruction in virtue and holiness. It was there that he imbibed the Apostolic zeal, which, in after years, he so unceasingly practiced. As he became older, he felt an irrepressible desire to go to Jerusalem and visit the holy places. After this pious wish had been satisfied, he, by a dispensation of Providence, returned by way of Hungary, where the loly king Stephen received him most kindly. Perceiving in the holy pilgrim, besides great wisdom and talents, an ardent zeal for the salvation of souls, the king requested him most earnestly to make his residence in Hungary, and to assist him in the great work he had begun of converting the entire nation. Gerard consented, but to be better prepared, he went, with his companions, into a desert, and remained there a considerable time, praying, watching and fasting. After this, he commenced the work of conversion with zeal and success, and continued it with unwearied constancy, which caused the king great joy.

Meanwhile, the see of Chonad became vacant by the death of the bishop, and the king desired Gerard to fill it, as it would increase his authority with the people, and aid him in his apostolic labors. The holy man refused to accept the dignity, until commanded to do so by the Pope. Being installed in his office, he endeavored with still greater zeal than before to exterminate idolatry, and to disseminate everywhere the true faith. To progress still more effectually in his holy work, he endeavored to gain, by an especial devotion, the mighty protection of the Blessed Virgin. He tried also to inspire those in his charge with great veneration for the Divine Mother. He built, near the Church of Saint Gregory, a beautiful chapel in her honor; and erected in it a most magnificent altar, at which he passed almost all the time left him from his labors. Before this Altar stood a silver censer, which day and night was filled with the most precious incense, to which end he had made an endowment, according to which, two pious men alternately took care of it, supplying it with coal and incense. The custom among the Hungarians of not lightly pronouncing the name of Mary nor giving the same to their children in baptism originates from this bishop, who inspired them with so deep a veneration for the Divine Mother, that they call her only, “Our Lady.” They bow their heads or bend their knees when they hear her sacred name. Some ascribe this custom to the holy king, Saint Stephen; and we may suppose that both had part in it, as the devotion of both to the Divine Mother was very great. It is known that Saint Gerard never refused anything when it was asked of him in the name of the Blessed Virgin. He always manifested a fatherly love for the poor and infirm, and more than once gave his own bed to sick persons, even to lepers, while he passed the night in prayer, or slept on the bare floor. He mortified his body by fasting and by wearing a rough hair-shirt. The grace of God was visibly with him in the conversion of the infidels, of whom he brought great numbers into the pale of the Church by his sermons, as well as by his holy conduct. After the death of Saint Stephen, a certain Abbas usurped the throne, banished the grandson of king Stephen, who was the rightful heir to the throne, treated most cruelly the other relations of the late king, and forced the people to acknowledge him as their sovereign. This tyrant demanded to be crowned by Saint Gerard, which the Saint, however, fearlessly refused, prophesying that he would die most unhappily after three years, if he desisted not from his cruel injustice. The tyrant did not regard the prophecy, and died according to the Saint’s words. After him, Peter, a grandson of Saint Stephen, came to the throne, and treated his subjects so cruelly, that they conspired against him, tore out his eyes, and expelled him from the country. During the reign of the next king, Andrew, a persecution of the Christians took place. As the king was not earnest enough in opposing and punishing those of his idolatrous subjects who persecuted the faithful, Saint Gerard, accompanied by three other bishops, went to Buda, where the king resided, and representing to him the state of affairs, menaced him with divine vengeance in case he refused to aid the Christians, and prevent the heathens from further persecuting them. Before Saint Gerard left Buda, after offering to the Almighty the holy sacrifice of Mass, he said that he and his companions would suffer martyrdom for Christ’s sake, on the following day. His words proved only too true. Several infidels, who well knew that they had no one to fear more than Saint Gerard, and who had also been informed of his mission to the king, entered into a conspiracy, and the next day, led by an apostate Christian, went to meet him. As soon as they saw him from afar, they threw stones at him and his companions, and coming nearer, they overturned the wagon in which the holy bishop was travelling, and commenced to abuse him most barbarously both by words and deeds. The Saint, after having been cast down and trodden upon, made an effort to rise, but sank upon his knees and exclaimed with the proto-martyr, Saint Stephen: “Lord, do not call them to account for this!” He further prayed in the words of Christ: “Pardon them, O Lord, for they know not what they do.” The assassins became still more enraged by his resignation, and maltreated him until every sign of life was extinct. To be sure of his death, one of them pierced his heart with a lance. Thus did this great Apostle of the Hungarians end his holy life by a glorious death, in the year 1046.

Practical Considerations

• Saint Gerard manifested great zeal in honoring the Virgin Mother, and her holy name. To increase devotion to her, he exhorted the faithful to adopt the custom of bowing their heads when the name of Mary was pronounced. After the most holy name of Jesus, there is none which ought to be more respected than that of His Mother; hence those Catholics act rightly who outwardly give marks of their honor when they hear or pronounce it. Those do wrong who name the Queen of Heaven without any reverence. It is known of many Saints, that they called upon this holy name in the hour of suffering and temptation, and visibly received help. Follow them; for, Saint Bonaventure says, that after the invocation of the name of Jesus, that of the name of Mary is most wholesome and comforting. In our country and in many others, the custom is not observed which Saint Gerard instituted in Hungary, of not giving the holy name of Mary in baptism; but they who bear this name ought to know that they are especially obliged to imitate the virtues of her by whose name they are called. “For,” says Saint Chrysostom, “the name alone profits nothing;” on the contrary, it brings shame and disgrace to those who, while they bear it, live so different a life from that of the Blessed Virgin.

• Saint Gerard had great love for the poor and sick, and also for his enemies and persecutors. Following the example of Saint Stephen and of Christ, he prayed for the latter, while he assisted the former with all his power. Towards himself he did not use such tenderness. He mortified his body most austerely by fasting and wearing rough hair-shirts, and deprived himself not only of unlawful, but even of innocent comforts. The Saints deemed it necessary to act thus, in order to secure their salvation. Have you acted in a similar manner? Determine at least to do so from this day. Be compassionate to your neighbor and assist him by words and deeds whenever you have the opportunity. With yourself, you ought not to be so very tender, and not avoid so carefully everything that is wearisome to your body, and which the law of God, or of the Church requires of you; nor should you endeavor to procure for your body all it desires, though perhaps forbidden by the laws of God or the Church. By doing this you show that you love your body more than your soul, more than your God. Adam, indeed, loved Eve more than the Almighty; as he, when requested by her, did what God had forbidden him; and hence made himself and Eve unhappy. Y ou make your soul and your body unhappy, if you follow the desires of your flesh against the will of the Most High. Take care that you belong not to those of whom Saint Bernard writes: “Many are indignant that Adam rather obeyed the voice of his wife than the voice of the Almighty; and yet they daily obey Eve, their body, more than their Lord and God.” If you obey your flesh when it demands anything that God has forbidden, you injure it more than I can well explain to you. “The flesh can never be of more importance,” says Saint Bernard, “than the salvation of your soul.” This, however, you lose, if you obey the flesh against the Commandments of God, and choose to live in all things after its desires. But you labor for your salvation and further it, if you permit nothing to your body which you Cannot do without committing sin. Still more will you advance in the path to heaven, if you sometimes refuse to your body, from love to God, even that which you could permit it without doing wrong, and if you would sometimes chastise it with voluntary penances, as Saint Gerard and hundreds of other Saints have done. This would be of the greatest benefit to your body, as it has been to that of Saint Gerard and other Saints. Of such a body, Saint Paul writes: “It shall rise in glory and power.” (1st Corinthians 15)

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Gerard, Bishop and Martyr”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 6 May 2018. Web. 21 November 2018. <>