Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict – Saint Adelard, Abbot

illustration of Saint Adelard, from the book 'Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict', designed by Father Amandus LiebhaberFatal, indeed, are the evils attending life at Court, and truly has it been said that “He must forsake the Court who is piously inclined.” For with sorrow we must admit that hatred and jealousy, ambition and false adulation are too apt to prevail there. Saint Adelard was the nephew of King Pepin, and the cousin of Charlemagne, and, as he had been brought up in a palace, he knew by experience how injurious to piety are the ways of kings’ courts, and how those who move in them are, unconsciously, defiled by their associations with evil-doers, as a vessel is blackened by contact with its fellow. Therefore, as soon as he felt himself called to be a fisher of souls, Saint Adelard fled from Court, and took refuge in the Benedictine Monastery at Corby1, where the work in which he was first employed was that of a gardener, his lowly duties consisting in pulling up weeds, digging the ground, and cutting the vegetables for the frugal meals of the community. But while engaged in these humble occupations, Saint Adelard did not neglect his soul, and whatever stains it might have contracted during his residence at Court he earnestly endeavoured to efface. He was submissive and obedient to all, and unceasingly bewailed the sins of his own past life, and of his former companions at Court. Soon the virtues of the new soldier of Christ began to be applauded on all sides, but the praises which he received seemed to the Saint to be like a mill-stone round his neck, and accordingly he fled from Saxony, and took refuge in the Monastery of Monte Cassino. Here, as an unknown guest, he was secure from the adulation which he had learned to detest, and he remained there for some years.

Now, although it was known in his own country that Saint Adelard had fled from Corby, no one knew the place of his abode, until it was revealed to the King by some German Monks, who were in the habit of going backwards and forwards from one Monastery to the other, when, the Abbot of his old Monastery having died during his absence, Adelard was recalled and was appointed to govern the Monastery in his place. Here he practised the poverty of Christ, and sometimes, in his generosity to the poor, he and his brethren were left without food. But the Lord supplied all their needs, and once, when they seemed to be most destitute, He sent two wagons to their door, containing an abundant supply of all that they could want.

But the King Charlemagne, who fully appreciated the calmness and clearness of the mind of Adelard, was not content to leave him in the seclusion of his Monastery, but insisted on his taking a part in the government of the kingdom, and Adelard at last gave a reluctant consent to the proposal of the King. But no sooner had he crossed the threshold of his quiet retreat, than he had cause to repent – for surely a Monk is out of place among the strifes and contentions of kings. He found himself among howling wolves, and involved in all the turbulent anxieties of the life at Court which he had formerly so much detested, and from which he had fled. The Saint loved silence rather than the turbulence of men, and he besought the Emperor to allow him to retire; but Charles, who valued his society, appointed him to govern first in Gaul, and afterwards in Italy, where he conciliated all men by the modesty and tenderness of his sway. He scattered gold among the poor, but used no pomp himself. He was a father to orphans, a patron to widows, the helper of the oppressed, and the consolation of the sick, and daily his tears flowed for them.

But it is written that the man whom God loves is to suffer adversity, and the watchword of the soldier of Christ is Suffering.

Such, too, was the fate of Adelard; in all things his good fortune seemed to desert him. False accusations were brought against him, and he was banished from the Court to Aquitaine. From his letters to the Monastery of Corby we learn that, during his exile, this holy man was reduced to the lowest state of poverty; but he rejoiced that he was able to share the poverty of Christ, with Whom he always desired to be united.

He was afterwards recalled to his Monastery, but the cares of its government and the weight of State affairs pressed heavily on the weakness of old age, and, being attacked by fever, the Saint felt that his end was near. He accordingly sent for a former disciple, to whom he was much attached, and who has testified to the happiness of the last hours of his Holy Master. Shortly before he died, Saint Adelard was favoured by a vision of Christ our Lord, surrounded by a multitude of the Heavenly host; and, rejoicing at the sight, he exclaimed, “O, Father! to Thee be all praise and worship! Receive me in Thy Arms! Oh! that I, a sinner, should have been privileged with these eyes to behold Christ my Lord!” When he had thus spoken, he joined his hands in prayer, and, with his eyes fixed on Heaven, his spirit went to God on January 2, in the year 822.

– text and illustration taken from Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict by Father Aegedius Ranbeck, O.S.B.