Thursday 30 May 2013

Saint Madelgisilus of Picardy, May 30

May 30 is the feastday of an Irish hermit who laboured in seventh-century France, having gone there as one of the companions of Saint Fursey. Known in the Latin sources as Saint Madelgisilus and Mauguille in French, this holy hermit worked many miraces both during and after his lifetime. Canon O'Hanlon has consulted the continental sources and brought a full and interesting account of this saint to Volume 5 of his Lives of the Irish Saints:



It was Father John Colgan's intention to treat about St. Madelgisilus, at the 30th of May. The life and actions of this saint were written after his death, by a monk of Centule, named Hariulfe, who flourished in the eleventh century. Mabillon and D'Achery have a Life of St. Madelgisilus, in thirteen chapters, with some previous observations. The Bollandists, at this date, furnish the Acts of St. Madelgisilus, as written by Hariulphus, and giving a previous commentary, as also a supplement, from another writer, together with illustrative notes. At the 30th of May, Baillet has a Life of St. Mauguille, a solitary, in Picardy. It is contained, in three sections. Among other writers, the Rev. Alban Butler, and the "Petits Bollandistes," have notices of St. Mauguille, the Hermit, at the 30th of May.

This saint is reputed to have been born in Ireland—as accounts regarding him seem to indicate—and apparently about the beginning of the seventh century. He is thought to have there received a religious education. He lived probably a monastic life, and exercised all the virtue of this state, before he embraced the design of devoting himself to the service of God, in a strange land. When the celebrated St. Fursey left Ireland, and went over to England, where he was graciously and in a friendly manner received by King Sigebert,-it would seem, that Madelgisilus accompanied him, in quality of a disciple. There, a missionary career was opened, so long as St. Fursey deemed it advisable to remain; however, finding it to be the will of Heaven, that he should further proceed to France, asking leave from King Sigebert, and leaving his religious establishment among the East Angles, in charge of his holy brother Ultan,' who became its Abbot; St. Fursey took with him a chosen band of disciples, and with them, he sailed over to western Gaul. Among these is stated to have been Madelgisius, by the author of his Acts, Hariulf; although, the Lives of St. Fursey have no special notice of him. Notwithstanding, Madelgisilus is said to have followed St. Fursey to France. The tender friendship, that existed between both these holy persons, made them almost inseparable companions. They travelled together, engaged on missionary works; they bore the heat and labours of the day, often suffering from hunger, thirst and cold; they watched and prayed; while the disciple desired, -in all things, to imitate his master. When St. Fursey was about to proceed to England to visit his brothers, St. Mauguil accompanied him to Masieres; and, he was the careful attendant on his master's last sickness, being also present at his death. With pious solicitude, he performed the last rites, and offered up his most earnest prayers for the deceased saint.

Mauguil was overwhelmed with grief, on the dissolution of those ties of friendship, that held both of them together in this life; but, he felt not disconsolate, on account of a hope he had of their reunion in Heaven, when his own course of mortality should be closed. However, he long and anxiously deliberated, as to whether he should continue his progress towards England, to visit the brothers of his deceased friend, and then associate himself with them, or to return once more towards the Abbey of Lagny. But, again, on a more matured consideration of the matter, he embraced a different resolution Some time before the arrival of Madelgisilus in France, two of his countrymen, St. Caidoc and St. Fricor, had influenced a nobleman, Richarius of Picardy, to found a religious establishment at Centule, and over this the holy founder began to preside, about A.D. 638. He was the son of Alquier—said to have been a Duke or Count—and to have been born in a town of the Ponthieu district, under the reign of Clotaire II. Little is known of his early years; but, his kind and hospitable reception of the two holy Irishmen, St. Caidoc and St. Fricor, led to his own great sanctification. Like them, he resolved, on devoting his life to preaching the Gospel of Christ. He was accordingly advanced to the priestly dignity, and soon he began to give missions in all the surrounding country, while with the good tidings of salvation, widows, orphans, pilgrims, strangers and the poor, were the objects of his tender solicitude and charity. After such excursions, he was accustomed to return home, and there devoting himself to prayer and other exercises of piety, he fasted on barley bread and water. Fully partaking the spirit of the Lord, which gives true liberty, the holy man freed from bondage those serfs, who were on his paternal estates in Ponthieu. Not satisfied with his labours in that part of France, Richarius went over to England, where he gained over a great number of idolaters and sinners to Christ. He also purchased the freedom of many slaves, both Christians and pagans. Returning to France, St. Richarius preached in several of its provinces. However, while thus engaged, several pious souls, regarding themselves as his converts and disciples, desired to live under his direction. Accordingly, not far from the place of his birth, he founded a church and monastery, at Centule, for that community; and, there he desired to rest, when the labours of his mission were over, while he also received visits from kings and influential personages. When age and fatigue began to grow upon him, Richarius desired to seek a solitude, where he could better prepare himself for death. This situation he found, in the forest of Crecy, and confiding the care of Centule monastery to a religious of approved piety and discretion, named Olciade, he retired with his disciple Sigobard, to meditate wholly on heavenly things. Still he was followed thither, by numbers of infirm persons, who were miraculously healed through him, while others approached to receive his wise counsels. Communicating a presentiment of his approaching death to Sigobard, and ordering his coffin to be prepared, St. Richarius took ill, and the weakness of old age soon hastened his eternal repose. He departed this life, about the year 645. Immediately after death, the remains of St. Richier were buried ia the grave prepared near his oratory, at Forest-moutier, But, they were not allowed to rest there for any considerable time; for, on the vii. of the ensuing October Ides, the Abbot Ocioald and his monks exhumed his remains, which were brought to the church of Centule.

About that time, when Madelgisilus laboured on his missionary career, France was under the rule of King Clovis II.,son of Dagobert I., and his religious Queen Bathilde, who was English by birth, and who, from being a slave of Erchinoald, became through her admirable qualities and virtues the choice of Clovis to share his high dignity. She gave birth to three sons, Clotaire III.,Childeric II., and Thierry III., all of whom became kings in France. Clovis II. died at an early age, in 655; and, soon after the death of her husband, the pious Bathilde founded many monastic institutes in the country. Among the religious houses which owe their origin or patronage to this holy Queen may be enumerated Corbie, Jumieges, Luxeuil, Jouarre, Sainte Fare and Fontenelle; while there are few of the ancient monasteries around Paris, which have not claimed her, either as their foundress or as their benefactress. The relics of St. Riquier having been deposited in the first house of his foundation, it pleased the Almighty, to show how great were the merits of that holy servant, during life as after his death. Among the religious monasteries of France for its antiquity and renown, Centule had pre-eminence over the rest; because of the many miracles which had been wrought at the tomb of St. Richarius, and besides, the memory of his virtues had been a precious inheritance, to cause the monks there to emulate his great example. A pilgrim and an exile in this part of France, Madelgisilus felt an earnest desire to lead a monastic life, and to become a subject of some holy superior. As the Abbey of St. Riquier –now Centule —was near, Madelgisilus approached its gates, and made application for admission among the religious. The modest deportment of our saint, and his many shining virtues, at once procured on presentation that request he seemed to prefer, and with such just claims.

From the moment of his reception to that of his departure, the favourable impressions he excited at first, in the minds of the religious, grew to such a degree, that he was looked upon as the living impersonation of all monastic virtues. He spent much of his time in prayer, vigils, and tears. Such, however, was the deep humility of our saint, that he considered himself as the least deserving of respect among his brethren; and, he feared, from the marked expressions of their esteem and reverence for him, that either he was mistaken in the consciousness of his own actions, or that they were labouring under a most unaccountable delusion regarding him. These reflections gave him more inquietude each day, for he was unconscious of the performance of any monastic duty, in such a special manner, as to call forth unusual praise and attention. He always observed the rules of the house, with the most scrupulous exactness, and, in this lay the secret of his unostentatious sanctity.

To ascertain the will of Heaven in his regard, St. Madeigisilus redoubled his fasts, lengthened his prayers, engaged more fervently in singing the Divine praises, and he sought the prayers of his spiritual seniors. At last, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in sleep, and leading him forth said: "Follow me, and carefully note that place, which I shall point out, and in which afterwards you shall remain, to spend your days in the service of the Almighty." Then, the Angel seemed preceding him and leading him towards a spot, providentially designed for his habitation. There stopping, the Angel cried out: "Here is your place of rest, for the term prescribed; here shall you dwell, until removed from the prison of this body." Saying these words, the Angel disappeared, and afterwards returning, the servant of Christ understood all he had experienced. Prostrating himself with tears, Madeigisilus gave thanks to God, for the unspeakable favours he received. On the day following, having finished the recital of Psalms, Madeigisilus called the seniors together, and related the particulars of his vision. The brothers were greatly edified, and returning thanks to the Almighty, it was deemed expedient, that their beloved inmate should seek the home, thenceforth destined for him. Some requisites were furnished, accordingly, which were necessary for his support. Then, Madeigisilus sought and obtained the consent of his Abbot, to retire from the monastery, in order to bury himself in a solitude, where he might remain unknown. Some of the monks were selected to accompany him; and when these set out, the saint of God soon brought them to that spot, which the Angel had previously shown him. This place he recognised, at once, and falling on his knees, Madeigisilus betook himself to prayer, while tears of devotion flowed from his eyes. The monks who accompanied him began the erection of his cell and oratory. Here, the soldier of Christ resolved to abide in the desert. When their work had been completed, the brothers took their leave of him, and returned to their monastery.

The place selected for his hermitage, was at Monstrelet, on the River Authie, which was about two leagues distant from Centule. There, he inhabited an humble dwelling, and he practised the exercises of a more rigorous penance, than humility suffered him to exercise, in the society of the religious at St. Riquier. The situation was a pleasing one; but, his position rendered it difficult to draw water from the river. He prayed to Heaven, however, and then making a sign of the cross on the earth, soon a stream of limpid and sweet-tasted water burst forth, and its course was taken thence to the River Authie. Long after the time of St. Madelgisilus, this well was resorted to by the sick and infirm; who, according to their Faith, received from it many medicinal favours. He spent each day in prayer, meditation, and chaunting the Psalter. He bewailed with tears the imperfections of his past life, and his prayers were unceasingly offered to God, for the conversion of sinners. He separated as much as possible, from all intercourse with men, conversing only with God, and directing all his thoughts to Him, as the only object worthy the reflections of a true contemplative. Here, in great simplicity of heart and true holiness, the servant of God for some years spent his time; while his austerities were, if aught, redoubled. His infirmities, at last, began to grow upon him; but, instead of relaxing his manner of living, he began to grow more fervent, as his expected hour of triumph approached. During this period, an Angel from Heaven appeared to the Abbot at Centule, and admonished him to visit the holy hermit in his retreat, and to bring him some aid, lest he should die. The Abbot immediately arose, and selecting some of his monks, he brought them to where Madelgisilus dwelt, and they saw that Angels were on guard around him. He was found to be very ill in health; they pray over him and sing Psalms; and, with a blessing, they bestowed on him the kiss of peace. Then they produce before him, what had been so providentially ordered. So rejoiced was the holy man on seeing those brethren, that the grievousness of his malady was forgotten, and it seemed almost removed. One of the brothers was left there, to assist him in his forlorn condition, and to alleviate his solitude.
During his lonely sojourn in this place, and when he fell into a dangerous sickness, Madelgisilus remained for some time without aid or attention from men, as all were ignorant of his state, who might be disposed to administer relief. He was most providentially discovered in that forlorn condition, by a holy recluse of his own country, named Vulgan, who was eminent for his learning, and for the respectability of his family. It is stated, that through the suffrages of Christians belonging to the province of Dover, he had been elected to rule over the See of Canterbury; but, desiring to avoid such an honour, and guided by an Angel, he passed over the sea to Gaul. At last, he arrived near Monstrelet, and there the solitary Madelgisilus was found, by God's holy servant Vulgan. Their rejoicing was mutual, when a fraternal embrace was given and received. With great charity and care, the latter assisted the infirm saint, and as well by his prayers as by his kind offices, Vulgan was the instrument under God of restoring him to health.

On the recovery of St. Mauguil, a proposal was made and agreed to by both, that they should lead a eremitical life in conjunction. Thus, like the members of one family—and even in stricter bonds of union—they lived long together, in such a holy interchange of friendship and conversation, as comported with the characters of those perfect religious. But, each day of their lives, they made it a study to acquire some new virtue, or a greater degree of progress in a virtue already acquired. This happy state of life continued uninterrupted, until the malady, which confined St. Vulgan to his bed, manifested the extreme danger in which he lay to his companion. With the most earnest affection and grief, St. Maguil was now ready to return favours and attentions, such as he had formerly experienced. The Abbot and monks of St. Riquier, when apprized of St. Vulgan's situation, administered to him the last Sacraments. The dying saint, seeing the grief of his attendant, and in anticipation of his approaching death, endeavoured to afford the best consolation, in his power, by assuring him of his own hopes to obtain a happy immortality. He cautioned him to beware, lest the devil might take advantage of his murmurs against the Divine will, to present temptations, which might be dangerous. With such holy counsels on his lips, Vulgan resigned himself to death, which shortly afterwards took place. He was buried in the chapel of St. Mauguille's hermitage.

Our holy contemplative Mauguil had spent thirty-five years in the religious state, since the death of St. Fursey. Shortly after the departure of his companion, St. Vulgan, he also closed his eyes to the light of a world, from which he had long estranged his heart. He died, on the 30th of May, as is generally supposed, since his festival is kept on that day. This is the date given in the Berlin Martyrology, edited at Paris in 1521, with additions; and, its authority is followed by Molanus and Canisius, as also, by Wion, Dorgan, Bucelin, Menard, and Saussay. Such is the day, also, as furnished from an ancient tradition, by Hariluph, the monk of Centule. He died about the year 685.

So soon as the death of this saint was announced to the brothers in the monastery of St. Riquier, they proceeded towards his abode, to perform the last pious offices for his remains. The body was placed beside that of his friend St. Vulgan, in a little oratory used by them, during their lives. Here, at Monstrelet, all that was mortal of St. Madelgisilus reposed for along time; but, popular affection and reverence soon combined to increase his reputation, as also to excite interest and curiosity, regarding his efficacious intercession.

The great miracles, which it pleased God to work, through the intercession of St. Mauguille, caused the Abbot Ingelard to have his relics transferred to a church, at Centule. He flourished towards the close of the tenth century, and during the reign of Hugh Capet, King of the Franks. At first, Ingelard held a council with his monks, to learn their desire on the matter but, he found they were unwilling to accede to the wishes of their Abbot. They urged, that being ignorant about the acts, merits and life of Madelgisilus, it could not be right to have his relics exposed for public veneration. Finding he could not overcome their reluctance, to have the remains brought into the large monastic church, at Centule, Ingelard resolved on the selection of a chapel, without the boundary of the town, in which they might be placed, and which was easily accessible both for the monks and for the inhabitants.

Towards the end of the tenth century, this small church was built near the Abbey of St. Riquier. Afterwards, it bore the name of St. Mauguille, thus Gallicized from the Latin form of Madelgisilus. A shrine was here prepared for the deposition of our saint's relics, and this arrangement seemed to meet with general approval. Accordingly, on the Kalends of June—the year is not specified—Ingelard organized a grand procession from Monstrelet, whence he brought the sacred relics to the place already mentioned.

Thither the faithful resorted, and bearing with them various offerings to the saint's shrine, so that those favours they received through his merits might be publicly memorialed. The relics of Madelgisilus were resorted to by numbers of people; and, at his shrine, the blind were restored to sight, the deaf to the use of hearing, the lame were enabled to walk, while the mute received the gift of speech. In fine, so many cures among the infirm took place, that neither memory could bear in mind, nor tongue might relate, the number of favours it pleased God to bestow on our saint's pious clients. A perfect knowledge of these circumstances caused the Abbot Ingelard and his monks to regret, that any doubt had been cast on the superabundant merits of Madelgisilus, and that they had not earlier recognised him, as a pearl of great price, while veiled in former obscurity and in such an humble place, so loved by him while alive. Now, it pleased the Almighty, to withdraw this cloud from their vision. Wherefore, the monks and people assembled, when preparing crucifixes, lights and sweet-smelling plants, with great reverence to God and to his servant, in due ecclesiastical form, they proceed processionally to that little church already mentioned. Asking pardon for their former sins of omission, they raise the body of Madelgisilus, and bear it to the church of St. Richarius, chanting hymns. There, the shrine was deposited, and thenceforward it was preserved with due honour. In commemoration of the original transference from Monstrelet, it was a custom of the people at Centule and of Ponthieu, to bear in procession, each year, and on the day of his Natalis, the sacred body to that place, where it had been at first committed to the earth. This was done, with great ceremony and rejoicing, a vast multitude assembling to witness the procession, from all the adjoining towns and villages. In connexion with those processions, also, some remarkable miracles are recorded. We are told, that on a certain occasion, some proprietor, who had unjustly seized on land belonging to the church of St. Madelgisilus, while endeavouring to assist at the annual procession, found his sedan-chair immovable, nor could all the efforts of the bearers raise it from the earth. Recollecting his avaricious detention of the land, the circumstance was objected to him by his neighbours, who urged him to restore it to the rightful owner. The man was terrified at the portent, nor could he rest, until due satisfaction was made; and accordingly, the land was restored, for the use of St. Madelgisilus' church. Then, his litter was easily removable, nor was it found to be weighted as before, when the man had thus humbly repented of his crime.

In the eleventh century, St. Gervin, who had been a Canon in the church of Notre Dame, in Rheims, afterwards became Abbot over St. Riquier's monastery, at Centule. During his term of rule, he is said to have caused a chapel to be dedicated, in honour of Saints Madelgisilus, Caidoc, and Adrian, confessors. While the Abbot Anscher presided over the Monastery, at Centule, it was found, that the old shrine showed signs of decay, and that a new one should be required, for the custody of St. Madelgisilus' relics. Accordingly, it was resolved, to prepare another and a more suitable receptacle, while the Abbot and his monks proceeded to inspect their actual state, and to have ready what should be required for their reposition. Then, indeed, the deer-skin covering was found to be rather short for the size of the bones and skeleton; and, therefore, a portion of these remained under their previous covering, until time should be given to have them better arranged. However, in their new case, the relics were placed, psalms being sung, and an honourable ceremony having been awarded, on the 13th day of July, A.D. 1113.

Only a few days had passed, after this temporary arrangement of our saint's relics, until the keeper of the church, who entertained a great devotion towards Magdelgisilus, happened to take ill. Not being able to sleep, he revolved in mind the whole night, as to when and how some better plan could be devised, for their more suitable preservation. Towards morning, however, some little repose he had, and while his thoughts were intent on his purpose, sleep began to seal his eyes. Suddenly the saint—handsome and tall—appeared to him, and covered with bright raiment. He then said: " This purpose you shall carefully provide for and proceed to carry out, so that all my bones be buried together." But, the keeper, who woke from his light slumber, and whose reverence for Madelgesilus was so great, clearly understood, that the saint himself had appeared, as he spoke about his own relics. The keeper, turning his eyes on the figure, desired to ask concerning his name and merits. Notwithstanding, the illustrious and glorious spirit vanished, before a word could be spoken; but, the tracks of his footsteps seemed to be of gold, while a most fragrant odour filled the whole apartment. The keeper's infirmity at once disappeared, owing to the sudden joy he experienced, on receiving this sort of revelation. Desiring to furnish proof of it to his friends, he said to himself, "Immediately, I shall seize on those golden traces of the saint's feet, and bear them as tokens to the brothers." Then, he arose, stretching out his arms, and making an effort to reach what he deemed a reality, but the traces soon vanished. This account is all we have remaining; and, the old chronicler has forgotten to tell us, whether the saint's mandate had been carried out, yet, it is probable, that such was the case. An inscription on the tomb of Madelgisilus records the event of the Abbot Anscher having prepared a new shrine, for the honourable deposition of the holy man's relics. It is supposed, that the 1st day of June was the date for some public translation of the remains of St. Madelgisilus. His deposition or departure from life, however, has been assigned to this day, by Hariulfe; and, his authority has been followed, by most of the Kalendarists. Thus, an old Martyrology belonging to Berlin, and printed at Paris with additions, Molanus, Canisius, Wion, Dorgan, Menard, Saussay, Bucelin, and nearly all the modern writers, place the feast of Madelgesilus. It is thought his Acts—now probably lost—had been written at much greater length than we have them at present. This saint is held in great veneration, especially throughout Picardy. His chief festival has always been observed on the 30th of May, and with marked religious ceremonial.

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