Saint of the Day – 5 September – Saint Bertin the Great (c 615-c 709) Benedictine Monk and Abbot – born in the early 7th century at Constance (in modern Germany) – died in c709 of natural causes. Saint Bertin practiced great severities throughout his lifetime and was in continuous communion with God. He travelled far and wide to share God’s message and trained his disciples to carry on his ministry after he was gone.
Bertin was born near Constance, then in the Frankish Duchy of Alamannia. At an early age, he entered the Abbey of Luxeuil, where, under the austere rule of its abbot, St Columban (540-615), he prepared himself for a future missionary career. About the year 638 he set out, in company with two fellow Monks, Mummolin and Ebertram, for the extreme northern part of France in order to assist his friend and kinsman, Bishop (Saint) Audomar (died c 670), in the evangelisation of the Morini. This area was then one vast marsh, studded here and there with hillocks and overgrown with seaweed and bulrushes. On one of these hillocks, Bertin and his companions built a small house and they went out daily to preach the Christian faith to the natives, most of whom were still pagans.
Gradually some converted pagans joined the little band of missionaries and a larger monastery had to be built. A tract of land called Sithiu had been donated by a converted nobleman named Adrowald. St Audomar now turned this whole tract over to the missionaries, who selected a suitable place on it for their new Abbey of St Peter. Additional villages were granted by Count Waldebert, later a monk at Bertin’s monastery of Sythiu and eventually Abbot of Luxueil and Canonised, who gave his son at the baptismal font to Bertin, from whom the boy received his name and his education. The community grew so rapidly that in a short time this monastery also became too small and another was built where the city of St Audomar now stands.
The fame of Bertin’s learning and sanctity was so great that in a short time more than 150 monks lived under his rule, among them St Winnoc and his three companions who had come from Brittany to join Bertin’s community and assist in the conversion of the heathen. When nearly the whole region was Christianised and the marshy land transformed into a fertile plain, Bertin, knowing that his death was not far off, appointed St Rigobert as his successor, while he himself spent the remainder of his life preparing for a happy death. He had run the second monastery they founded for almost 60 years. Saint Bertin passed away at a very old age, some say older than 100, surrounded by his fellow monks.
St Bertin began to be venerated as a saint soon after his death.
Mummolin, perhaps because he was the oldest of the missionaries, was abbot of the two monasteries until he succeeded the deceased Eligius as Bishop of Noyon, about the year 659. Waldebert’s son Bertin, adopted by Bertin the founder, then became the third abbot.
In later times the abbey became famous as a centre of sanctity and learning. About the 11th century, the name of the abbey was changed to that of Saint-Bertin. The abbey church, now in ruins, was one of the finest 14th-century Gothic edifices. In later times, its library, archives and art-treasures were renowned both in and out of France.
The monks were expelled in 1791 by the invading forces of the French Revolutionary Army and in 1799 the abbey and its church were sold at auction.