Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict – Saint Tillo, Abbot and Hermit

illustration of Saint Tillo, Abbot and Hermit, from the book 'Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict', designed by Father Amandus LiebhaberIn one of the many wars between the Franks and the Germans, Clothair, King of France, invaded Saxony. The battle that followed was long and bloody, but at last victory declared itself on the side of the invaders. As was usual in those days, the prisoners were sold as slaves. One of these, conspicuous for his youth, grace, and splendid physique, attracted the notice of, and was purchased by, Saint Eligius, O.S.B., who chanced to come into the market-place. He took his captive to the Monastery of Solignac, then recently founded by himself, and handed him over to the Abbot to be instructed in the Christian religion. This captive was Saint Tillo. He soon saw the error of his heathen ways – all the Saxons at this time were Pagans – and eagerly imbibed the truths of the Gospel. Eligius was so satisfied with his progress, that he took him away from the monastery to be one of his own household; in this lowly station he remained till Saint Eligius, on his consecration as Bishop of Noviomagus, gave freedom to all his slaves.

When he obtained his liberty, Tillo returned to Solignac, and was admitted as a monk. His brethren were amazed at the earnestness and enthusiasm of one who was so lately a Pagan and a slave. None surpassed him in obedience, fasting, and prayer. He also devoted himself with the greatest assiduity to the study of the Sacred Scriptures. Such piety and learning recommended him to Saint Eligius for the priesthood; and further promotion was forced on him, much as his modesty long strove against it. On the death of the Abbot, Bishop Eligius appointed his former slave to rule the Abbey of Solignac. The new Superior’s mean origin might, at first, have naturally excited discontent among the more nobly born of his brethren, were it not restrained by obedience and monastic discipline ; but the kind and prudent rule of Tillo soon won all hearts. Yet this was not the field he had marked out for his labours in the service of Christ. He longed to come to close quarters with the Evil One. Through respect for Eligius, he was unwilling to lay down the charge that was laid on him. On the death of the Bishop, however, he gladly surrendered the keys of office and retired to the Auvergne mountains. In the midst of the precipitous and rugged cliffs he found a spot in which grew wild berries sufficient to give him food; close by there rose a clear spring, at which he could slake his thirst. There, having made himself a rude hut, our Hermit fought the good fight, and, safe under the protection of the Cross, he vanquished all the assaults of Satan.

As time went on, report spread abroad the fame of the Anchorite of Auvergne – Paul he was called – and numbers joined him, till three hundred hermits, under his rule, prayed and mortified themselves in little cells scattered over the wild mountain-side. Yet nobody dreamt that the lowly hut of Paul sheltered the mitred Abbot of Solignac. Meanwhile his old subjects had not forgotten him. Night and day they besought God to give them back their Abbot. The Almighty pitied them; so one night an angel appeared to Tillo while engaged at his devotions, and told him to choose another to take charge of the hermits in Auvergne, and to return himself to Solignac. Such, said the Angel, was the will of Heaven. Accordingly, having summoned his followers, Tillo disclosed to them his name and previous rank, and repeated the message he had received. Then having, in obedience to the Divine command, chosen a new Superior for them, he left them, stricken with grief at his departure, and returned to Solignac. His arrival caused unbounded joy in his old home. The monks grasped his hands, kissed his hermits cloak, and inquired the reason of his long absence. When he had related how he had spent the time during which he had been away, he insisted on being placed among the lowliest in the Community.

As, in the course of nature, his death could not now be far off, he asked of Gondobert, who was then Abbot, to allow him to withdraw to a more retired cell, where he could prepare himself for the last struggle. His request was granted, and a small cell was built for him about five miles from the Monastery. In his ninetieth year he received a warning that the end was at hand; so he sent word to his brethren, and summoned Ermenus, the Bishop of Limoges, to give him the Last Sacraments. The Bishop at this time was sick in bed, and could not move unless when lifted by his attendants. By the kindness of the Almighty, however, strength returned to his limbs, and he was enabled to proceed with the community of Solignac to the cell of Tillo, there to perform the last offices for his old friend. After receiving the Viaticum and being anointed with the Holy Oil, Saint Tillo gave back his soul to his Maker while his brethren were reciting the prayers for the dying. It is conjectured that his death took place towards the close of the seventh century after Christ, for he survived for many years Saint Eligius, who died A.D. 659, or 665.

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