Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Godoliva


detail of a statue of Saint Godelieve, National Cultural Treasure, Binondo Church, Chinatown, Binondo, Manila; photographed on 24 January 2014 by Ramon FVelasquez; swiped off Wikimedia CommonsAn uncommon example of Christian patience is presented to us by the Church today in Saint Godoliva, whose life ought to be particularly considered by all women who fall to the lot of wicked men. She was a native of France, and the daughter of rich and noble parents who neglected nothing to give her an education in accordance with her station in life. She united with most exquisite beauty, great virtue and piety, and hence was early sought in marriage by many young men of the nobility. Among these, a certain Bertulph of the Netherlands, who seemed her equal in rank, gained her parent’s consent, and Godoliva submitted to their will. Having received a dower according to her station in life, she went, accompanied by some of her relatives, to the Netherlands, where her marriage was to take place. But how surprising an evidence of the inconstancy of human love! Scarcely had the noble bride arrived under the roof of her future husband, when she perceived that Bertulph’s love for her was changed into hatred and aversion, as he hardly deigned to look at her. His wicked mother, if not the first, was not the last cause of this unexpected change: as she reproached her son for having chosen a foreigner for his wife, as if, in his own country, her equal in beauty and virtue could not be found. She found fault with everything the innocent Godoliva said or did, and thus inflamed the fire of contention to such a degree that later only the blood of the pious Godoliva could quench it. The poor maiden’s sadness may easily be conceived; but she hoped that these dark clouds would pass away. Meanwhile the arrangements for the wedding were completed, and it accordingly took place. Bertulph, however, was present only during the ceremony, as he was unable to hide his aversion for his bride. He appointed a separate dwelling for her, and remained with his parents, declaring that he would not hear or see anything of her, so great was the hatred he bore her. The deeply grieved Godoliva, seeing herself thus forsaken by men, sought for refuge with God. Day and night, she w’as on her knees imploring the Almighty to change Bertulph’s heart, and fill it with Christian love. Although God did not answer her prayers in the manner she desired, He gave her grace to submit entirely to His divine will, and to carry her cross with heroic patience. Bertulph, in order to torment her still more, and slowly to kill her, gave her a servant whom he had commanded to furnish for her sustenance daily only a piece of bread and some water. The godless servant not only obeyed the cruel order, but treated Godoliva with as much rudeness as if she had been his slave instead of his mistress. Godoliva’s Christian virtue bore all this with indescribable patience. She never showed the least sign of indignation; and no complaint of Bertulph’s inhuman command, nor the harsh treatment she received from the servant, ever passed her lips. She only uttered the praises of God, and thanked Him for giving her the opportunity to suffer. When the profligate mother of Bertulph saw that neither hunger nor grief would, as she had hoped, end Godoliva’s life, she persuaded her son to get rid of her in some other way, as starvation was too slow. Bertulph would have been easily persuaded to follow this wicked advice had not fear of Godoliva’s noble parents and relatives deterred him at least for some time. The innocent handmaid of the Lord perceived meanwhile, by the daily increasing torments, that she had nothing to expect but a violent death, and therefore sought for an opportunity to escape. God gave her this opportunity, and she, embracing it, fled, and after many hardships returned to her parents. The latter were inexpressibly grieved when she told them her sufferings, and being greatly indignant at the tyranny she had endured, they requested Baldwin, Count of Flanders, and also the bishop of Nimwegen, as their friend, to reproach Bertulph, seriously, with his impious conduct and command him, at the same time, to receive his wife again and in future to treat her in a different manner. Both took a deep interest in the matter, and they supposed that their expostulation had impressed Bertulph, as he professed to them and to the parents of Godoliva, deep regret at his tyranny and promised on oath not only to cease from maltreating her, but to live with her in love and harmony. On this promise, she was commanded by her parents to return with him to his home, which she did. No sooner, however, had she arrived there than she was more ill-treated than before. All her former miseries were redoubled, and the hatred of Bertulph, now more deeply rooted, made itself more clearly manifest. Nothing was to be expected but the execution of the long nourished murderous design. The innocent Godoliva was ready for her last hour; for she was determined not to leave her husband again even if it should cost her life. Every day she prepared herself to die, commending her soul to the mercy of her Creator. To some women, who came to comfort her in her misery, she said, with great cheerfulness; “You believe that I am an object of pity; but I, although encompassed by sorrow, hope one day to be exalted and recompensed above all women in Flanders.” Thus she consoled herself with the contemplation of her reward in the other world.

Into this she was soon to enter: for Bertulph was determined to do the worst. He hired two assassins to murder Godoliva. Not to be suspected of the bloody deed, he undertook a journey to Brussels, went to Godoliva, and pretending to acknowledge and repent of his faults, he informed her that he was obliged to set out for Brussels, but that, on his return, he would show greater love for her than she had ever expected from him. Upon this the false spouse took leave, with the assurance that he would return in a few days. He really went away, believing that no one would suppose him to be the instigator of the murder which would take place during his absence. Godoliva had no faith in his promises; his many other false demonstrations had made her suspicious. She had no doubt that her end was near, and most earnestly prepared herself for death. She was not deceived in her expectation. Soon after Bertulph’s departure, the two assassins entered Godoliva’s chamber at night, dragged her out of bed, put a rope around her neck, and strangled her in a most barbarous manner. After this, they placed the dead body again in the bed and covered it, thinking that no one would discover how Godoliva had come by her death. When she was found on the following day, every one believed that grief had put an end to her life. God, however, so ordered, that Bertulph, in the course of time, confessed his crime, and, to do penance, retired into a cloister. How precious Godoliva’s death was in the sight of the Lord, was shown by the many miracles which were wrought at her tomb. History does not tell what became of the wicked mother of Bertulph, but she doubtless went to eternal destruction, if she repented not, since, by destroying the harmony between her son and his wife, she had been the cause of so much unhappiness. And the same lot will befall all those, who by slander, tale-bearing, or other wicked means, produce the same disunion.

Woe to such mischief-makers! How great will be their responsibility before the Judgment-seat of God! The Lord, according to Holy Writ, has the greatest detestation for those who stir up dissensions among brothers, and still more for those who disturb the peace of husband and wife; because the quarrels of the latter are generally of longer duration, and their consequences are more disastrous.

Practical Considerations

1. It is not seldom the case that married people live unhappily together, and one abuses and even curses the other. This is often a punishment for sin they committed before they were united in wedlock; for it is generally the case that the greater their sinful love before they were united, the greater is their hatred and aversion to each other afterwards. Saint Raphael said to young Tobias that the devil has power over those that enter the state of matrimony sinfully. (Tobit 6) If the devil has power over such people, it is surely not to be wondered at, that, as he tempted them to unchastity before, he should incite them to contention and hatred afterwards. If there are married couples whose conscience tells them that they have sinned before they were united, they ought to do penance and endeavor to live peaceably. Others who have not to reproach themselves with such sin, ought to be careful to find the cause of their contention and entirely uproot it. The Almighty has, according to the words of the Wise Man, great pleasure in those married people who agree well together. (Eccl. 25) This harmony is of greater benefit to their souls and bodies than they imagine: for it brings the blessing of heaven upon them, as Saint Chrysostom writes, and prevents many great sins which follow strife and contention. It is generally the case that, when love and harmony leave husband and wife, they torment each other in this world like evil spirits, and at last will enter where they are ceaselessly tormented by the devils. Hence Saint Paul commanded the men to love their wives: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church” (Ephesians 5). The same is said to the women. The love of Christ for his Church, is a true and constant love: the love of the Church for Christ is also constant. In like manner should be the love of husband and wife.

2. If one spouse has to suffer much from the other, let him, or her read how Saint Godoliva conducted herself, and learn from her how to bear trials and suffering. The same should be done by a servant who is under a wicked or hard-hearted master. All who have to bear the cross should learn from Saint Godoliva where to seek grace and strength, that their trials may profit them. What benefit would Saint Godoliva have drawn from her suffering, if she had murmured against God and her husband, if she had abused the wicked man, or called down upon him the vengeance of heaven? Would this have made her afflictions easier to bear? Most certainly not. On the contrary, it would have added to her burden. Not only would she have had to endure it without the hope of a future reward in heaven, but she would have had to expect deserved punishment. And what benefit does it bring you, if you carry your cross with murmuring and impatience? It must be carried nevertheless. Hence, carry it after the example of Godoliva, nay, of Christ Himself, with patience. Woe to them who bear not their cross as Christ bore His! They are doubly miserable; for, they torment themselves in this world, and then are dragged away into eternal torments. Thus writes Saint Bernard.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Godoliva”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 13 March 2018. Web. 18 March 2018. <>