Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict – Saint Paul, Bishop of Verdun

illustration of Saint Paul, Bishop of Verdun, from the book 'Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict', designed by Father Amandus LiebhaberIt is a well-known fact that there have been many for whom, in their aspiration after the better life, the desert and solitude have had an irresistible fascination. Saint Paul was one of these. He was the son of Eleutherius and Eusebia, and was born in the province of Gaul, known in ancient times as Belgica. As soon as Paul left the schools, being already skilled in Rhetoric and Dialectics, he, with a view to becoming a hermit, betook himself to the Vosges Mountains, which at that time gave shelter to a large number of Anchorites. These dwelt in separate cells scattered over the mountain, and never met except when Sundays and holy-days necessitated their attendance at Church. They kept aloof from all intercourse with the world and with one another. On the side of the mountain looking towards the city of Treves there was a monastery, which, formerly called Tabuleius, was afterwards named Theologiensis. This name was given to it from the custom which the Monks of that house had of never discoursing on any but religious subjects, whether they met in private or in public. After Paul had visited the various cells, and inquired into the life and habits of the hermits, he determined to see the Monastery also, and observe how the Monks lived in community. The Abbot, Wendelinus, received him kindly, and, in a conversation about religious life, by his arguments, and, especially, by citing the examples of Climacus, our holy Father Saint Benedict, Abbot Theodosius, and others, convinced Paul that the life of a Monk was preferable to, and safer than, that of a hermit. Paul begged to be admitted to Theologiensis or Tholay, and, once a Monk, no one excelled him in obedience, charity, and constant prayer.

According to the ancient rule of our Order, the various domestic duties were performed by the Monks in turn. It happened on one occasion that it was Paul’s turn to grind corn and bake bread. While actively busied in grinding the corn, our Saint’s thoughts flew to Heaven, and so engrossed was he that he completely forgot to bake the loaves. It was now almost supper-time, and the Monk who was Server hurried to Paul and asked where was the freshly-baked bread. Paul, bitterly reproaching himself for his forgetfulness, without a moment’s hesitation, jumped into the oven, still filled with live coals, and sweeping them away, put in loaves of the corn that had just been ground. To the amazement of the Server, in less than half-an-hour the fresh loaves were ready, in time for supper. A miracle showed that these loaves were baked by the Divine help. A paralysed beggar to whom a piece of this bread was given recovered the use of his limbs immediately he began to eat it.

On the death of Wendelinus, the voices of all his brethren named Paul Abbot, and, in spite of his reluctance, he was compelled to take office. The fame of his sanctity attracted to Theologiensis numbers of the devout, among whom was Grimo, the brother of Dagobert and Clothair, Kings of France. This young Monk won the praise and favour of the Abbot by his humility, his contempt for honours and royal birth, and his exact observance of the Rule of the Order.

When the See of Verdun was vacant, on the death of Hermenfridus, King Clothair wished to appoint Grimo its Bishop. Grimo refused, saying he was unworthy to be preferred to his master, Paul. The King was only too pleased at the prospect of securing Paul for the See. The great difficulty was to overcome the opposition of our Saint. His humility steadfastly declined the honour sought to be thrust upon him, and it was by force he was at last carried off and installed in his Cathedral. The new Bishop found the revenues of his See insufficient for the support of his clergy and the proper discharge of their sacred duties. However, he obtained a grant from Clothair’s treasury, and Grimo also made over to the See of Verdun a splendid patrimony which had lately come to him by inheritance. From these contributions the Bishop provided sacred vessels, vestments, and other Church furniture, so that the worship of God was conducted in a fitting manner. Any money that remained over what was needed for the support of the Church was distributed among the poor.

Saint Paul had been Bishop of Verdun for twenty-nine years, and his able rule had placed that See in a most flourishing condition, when it pleased Divine Providence to summon him, at the age of seventy-two, to partake of the joys of Heaven, for which he had always yearned. After his death, which took place A.D. 631, the citizens of Verdun honoured him among the foremost patrons of their city.

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