July 12 - Saint John Gualbert

St. John Gualbert, son of the noble Florentine Gualbert Visdomini, was born in 985 (or 995), and died at Passignano, 12 July, 1073, on which day his feast is kept; he was canonized in 1193. One of his relatives having been murdered, it became his duty to avenge the deceased. He met the murderer in a narrow lane and was about to slay him, but when the man threw himself upon the ground with arms outstretched in the form of a cross, he pardoned him for the love of Christ. On his way home, he entered the Benedictine Church at San Miniato to pray, and the figure on the crucifix bowed its head to him in recognition of his generosity. This story forms the subject of Burne-Jones's picture "The Merciful Knight", and has been adapted by Shorthouse in "John Inglesant". John Gualbert became aBenedictine at San Miniato, but left that monastery to lead a more perfect life. His attraction was for the cenobitic not eremitic life, so after staying for some time with the monks at Camaldoli, he settled at Vallombrosa, where he founded his monastery. Mabillon places the foundation a little before 1038. Here it is said he and his first companions lived for some years as hermits, but this is rejected byMartène as inconsistent with his reason for leaving Camaldoli. The chronology of the early days ofVallombrosa has been much disputed. The dates given for the founder's conversion vary between 1004 and 1039, and a recent Vallumbrosan writer places his arrival at Vallombrosa as early as 1008. We reach surer ground with the consecration of the church by Bl. Rotho, Bishop of Paderborn, in 1038, and the donation by Itta, Abbess of the neighbouring monastery of Sant' Ellero, of the site of the newfoundation in 1039. The abbess retained the privilege of nominating the superiors, but this right was granted to the monks by Victor II, who confirmed the order in 1056. Two centuries later, in the time ofAlexander IV, the nunnery was united to Vallombrosa in spite of the protests of the nuns.

The holy lives of the first monks at Vallombrosa attracted considerable attention and brought many requests for new foundations, but there were few postulants, since few could endure the extraordinary austerity of the life. Thus only one other monastery, that of San Salvi at Florence, was founded during this period. But when the founder had mitigated his rule somewhat, three moremonasteries were founded and three others reformed and united to the order during his lifetime. In the struggle of the popes against simony the early Vallumbrosans took a considerable part, of which the most famous incident is the ordeal by fire undertaken successfully by St. Peter Igneus in 1068 (seeDelarc, op. cit.). Shortly before this the monastery of S. Salvi had been burned and the monks ill-treated by the anti-reform party. These events still further increased the repute of Vallombrosa.

(Taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia)