Saint Odilo


(a.d. 1049.)

3 January
1 January on some calendars
2 January on some calendars
11 May on some calendars
29 April as one of the Seven Abbots of Cluny
19 January in Cluny (formerly 2 January)
6 February in Switzerland

[Roman and Benedictine Martyrologies. Two lives of S. Odilo are extant, one written by Jotsald, a monk, who had lived under his rule, and who erote it for Stephen, the nephew of the Saint. The other, a very inferior life, by S. Peter Damian. Both are printed in the Bollandists, but the first is from an imperfect MS. It was printed entire by Mabillon, Acta SS. O. S. B.]

Odilo belonged to the family of Mercoeur, one of the most illustrious of Auvergne. Jotsald says :—" In the beginning of the account of his virtues I must relate what happened to him as a boy. And lest it be thought incredible, I mention that I heard it from those to whom he was wont to narrate the circumstance. When he was quite a little boy in his father's house, before he was sent to school, he was destitute of almost all power in his limbs, so that he could not walk or move himself without help. It happened that one day his father's family were moving to another place, and a nurse was given charge of him to carry him. On her way, she put the little boy down with her bundles before the door of a church, dedicated to the Mother of God, as she and the rest were obliged to go into some adjacent houses to procine food. As they were some while absent, the boy finding himself left alone, impelled by divine inspirations, began to try to get to the door and enter the Church of the Mother of God. By some means, crawHng on hands and knees, he reached it, and entered the church, and went to the altar, and caught the altar vestment with his hands ; then, with all his power, stretching his hands on high, he tried to rise, but was unable to do so, his joints having been so long ill-united. Nevertheless, divine power conquered, strengthening and repairing the feeble limbs of the boy.

Thus, by the intervention of the Mother of God, he rose, and stood upon his feet whole, and ran here and there about the altar. The servants returning to fetch their bundles, and not finding the child, were much surprised, and looked in all directions, and not seeing him, became greatly alarmed. However, by chance, entering the church, they saw him rambling and running about it ; then they recognised the power of God, and joyously took the boy in their arms, and went to their destination, and gave him, completely whole, to his parents, with great gladness."

As a child, he showed singular simplicity, modesty, and piety. " Thus passed his childish years, and as the strength of youth began to succeed to boyhood, he silently meditated how to desert the flesh-pots of Egypt, and to strive to enter the Land of Promise, through the trials of the world.

O good Jesu ! how sweet is Thy call ! how sweet the inspiration of Thy Spirit, which as soon as Thou strikest on the heart, turns the fire of the Babylonish fiimace into love of the celestial country. So ! as soon as thou strikest the heart of the youth, thou changest it." WTiilst he was thus meditating, St. Majolus passed through Auvergne, and Odilo came to him ; then the old man, looking on the graceful form and comely face of the youth, and by the instinct of the Saints
seeing into his soul, he loved him greatly ; also the youthful Odilo felt a great affection for the aged monk. And when they spoke to one another, Odilo opened his heart to Majolus, and the venerable man encouraged the youth to persevere in his good intentions.

Shortly after, Odilo left his home, "as Abraham of old went forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and sought admittance into the abbey of Cluny, as into the Promised Land. O good Jesu ! how pleasant it was to see this sheep shorn of its worldly fleece, again ascend as from the baptismal font !

Then, wearing our habit, you might have seen our sheep amongst the others of His flock, first in work, last in place, seeking the pastures of eternal verdure ; attending to the lamps, sweeping the floors, and doing other common offices. But the pearl could not remain long concealed. After four years, S. Majolus, after many hard labours borne for Christ, went out of the darkness of Egypt, entered Jerusalem, and was placed in eternal peace by Christ. As death approached, he chose Odilo to be his successor, and to him and to the Lord, he committed his flock." But S. Odilo shrank from the position for which his youth, as he considered, disqualified him j however, he was elected by the whole community, and was therefore unable to refuse the office wherewith he was invested by the vote of the brethren, and the desire of the late abbot.

His disciple, Jotsald, gives a very beautiful picture of his master. He describes him as being of middle stature, with a face beaming with grace, and full of authority ; very emciated and pale ; his eyes bright and piercing, and often shedding tears of compunction. Every motion of his body was grave and dignified ; his voice was manly, and modulated to the greatest sweetness, his speech straightforward and without affectation or artificiality.

His disciple says that he would recite psalms as he lay on his bed, and falling asleep, his lips would still continue the familiar words, so that the brethren applied to him the words of the bride, " I sleep but my heart waketh," Ego dormio et cor meum vigilat. He read diligently, and nothing gave him greater delight than study. His consideration for others was very marked. " He was burdensome to none, to none importunate, desirous of no honour, he sought not to get what belonged to others, nor to keep what was his own."

His charity was most abundant ; often the brethren feared that it exceeded what was reasonable, but they found that though he gave largely, he did not waste the revenues of the monastery. Once, in time of famine, he was riding along a road, when he lit on the naked bodies of two poor boys who had died of hunger. Odilo burst into tears, and descending from his horse, drew off his woollen under garment and wrapping the bodies in it, carefully buried them. In this famine he sold the costly vessels of the Sanctuary, and despoiled the Church of its gold and silver ornaments, that he might feed the starving people. 

Amongst the objects thus parted with was the crown of gold presented to the abbey by Henry, King of the Romans. He accompanied this Prince in his journey to Rome, when he was crowned emperor, in 1014. This was his second journey thither; he made a third in 1017, and a fourth in 1022. Out of devotion to St. Benedict, he paid a visit to Monte Cassino, where he kissed the feet of all the monks, at his own request, which was granted him with great reluctance.

" The convocation of the brethren was regularly held by him till he was at the point of death. O how joyous he was in the midst of them, as standing in the midst of the choir, and looking to right and left he saw the ring of young plantings, and remembered the verse of David's song, ' Thy children shall be as the olive branches round about thy table.' Filii tui sicut novelloe olivarum, iti circuitu menscetuc. And the more the number of brothers increased, the more he exhibited his joy of heart by signs. And when some seemed distressed thereat, he was wont to say, ' Grieve not that the flock has become great, my brothers, He who has called us in, He governs, and will provide.'" Fulbert, Bishop of Chartres, called him the archangel of monks ; and the name, says his disciple, became him well. St. Odilo, out of his great compassion for the souls of the dead expiating the penalty of their sins in purgatory, instituted the commemoration of All Souls for the morrow of All Saints, in the Cluniac order, which was afterwards adopted by the whole Catholic Church in the West. Many incidents of his travels, and miracles that he -svrought, are related by his pupil. As he was riding over the Jura mountains, in snowy weather, the horse carrying his luggage fell, and was precipitated into the valley, and all the baggage was scattered in the snow-drifts. With much trouble, the horse and much of the baggage were recovered, but a valuable Sacramentary, inscribed with gilt letters, and some glass vessels, with embossed work, were lost. That evening, Odilo and his monks arrived at a cell, under the jurisdiction of S. Eugendus, and being much troubled at his loss, as much rain fell in the night, S. Odilo sent some of the brethren early next morning to search for the lost treasures. But the snow-drifts were so deep that they could not find them, and he was obliged to leave without them. However, as the spring came round, a certain priest, named Ermendran, was walking in the glen, and he found the book uninjured, and the glass goblets unbroken. He brought them to the cell, and on the return of Odilo to the Jura, he received his lost
treasures intact.

Another story of a glass vessel comes on good authority.

The circumstances were related by Albert, Bishop of Como, in these words, " Once our Abbot and Superior came to the court of the Emperor Henry, and whilst there, it happene one day that at table a goblet of glass, of Alexandrine workmanship, very precious, with coloured enamel on it, was placed before him. He called me and Landulf, afterwards Bishop of Turin, to him, and bade us take this glass to Odilo.

We accordingly, as the Emperor had bidden, took it, and going to the abbot, offered it to him, on the part of the Emperor, humbly bowing. He received it with great humihty, and told us to return after a while for the goblet again. Then, when we had gone away, the monks, filled with natural curiosity to see and handle a new sort of thing, passed the vessel from hand to hand, and as they were examining it, it slipped through their fingers to the ground, and was broken. When the gentle man of God was told this, he was not a little grieved, and said, ' My brothers, you have not done well, for by your negligence, the young clerks who have the custody of these things will, maybe, lose the favour of the Emperor, through your fault. Now, that those who are innocent may not suffer for your carelessness, let us all go to church and ask God's mercy about this matter.' Therefore, they all ran together into the church, and sang psalms and prayed, lest some harm should befall us—Albert and Landulf, each of them earnestly supplicating God for us. When the prayer was over, the holy man ordered the broken goblet to be brought to him. He looked at it, and felt it, and could find no crack or breakage in it. Wlierefore, he exclaimed indignantly, * What are you about, brothers ? You must be blind to say that the glass is broken, when there is not a sign of injury done to it' The brethren, considering it, were amazed at the miracle, and did not dare to speak.

Then, after a while, I and my companion came back for the vessel, and we asked it of him who was carrying it. He called me apart, and returned it to me, bidding me tell the Emperor to regard it as a great treasure. And when I asked his meaning, he told me all that had happened." St. Odilo seems to have been fond of art, for he rebuilt the monasteries of his order, and made them very beautiful, and the churches he adorned Avith all the costly things he could procure. The marble pillars for Cluny were brought, by his orders, in rafts down the Durance, into the Rhone, and he was wont to say of Cluny, that he found it of wood and left it of marble. He erected over the altar of S. Peter, in the church, a ciborium, whose columns were covered with silver, inlaid with nigello work.

When he felt that his death approached, he made a circuit of all the monasteries under his sway, that he might leave them in thorough discipline, and give them his last admonitions. On this journey he reached Souvigny, a priory in Bourbonnais, where he celebrated the Vigil of the Nativity, and preached to the people, although at the time suffering great pain. After that, he announced to the brethren in chapter, that he was drawing nigh to his end, and he besought their prayers. As he was too weak to go to the great Church of S. Peter, which was attended by the monks, he kept the festival of the Nativity with a few brethren, whom he detained, to be with him in the Chapel of S. Mary  joyously he praecented the psalms and antiphons, and gave the benedictions, and performed all the ceremonies of that glad festival, forgetful of his bodily infirmities, knowing that soon he was to see God face to face, in the land of the living, and no more in a glass darkly. Most earnest was he, lest death should come and find him unprepared. Through the Octave, he was carried in the arms of the monks to church, where he assisted at the choir offices, night and day, and at the celebration of the mass, refreshing himself at the sacred mysteries, and looking forward to the feast of the Circumcision, when his friend William, abbot of Dijon, had fallen asleep, on which day, he foretold, he also should enter into his rest.

On that day, carried by his brethren, he was laid before the altar of the Virgin Mother, and the monks sang vespers. Now and then their voices failed, through over much sorrow, and then he recited the words of the psalms they in their trouble had omitted. As night crept in at the windows, he grew weaker and fainter. Then the brothers laid sack-cloth and ashes under him, and as he was lifted in the arms of one, brother Bernard, he asked, reviving a little, where he was. The brother answered, " On sack-cloth and ashes." Then he sighed forth, " God be thanked !" and he asked that the little children, and the whole body of the brethren, might be assembled. And when all were gathered around him, he directed his eyes to the Cross, and his lips moved in prayer, a,nd he died thus in prayer, gazing on the sign of his salvation.

His body was laid in the nave of the Church of Souvigny, near that of S. Majolus.

He is often represented saying mass, with purgatory open beside the altar, and those suffering extending their hands to him, in allusion to his having instituted the commemoration of All Souls.


Related Post