Saint of the Day – Saint Maurilius of Angers (c 336-426) Bishop of Angers between 423 and 453. Patronages – Angers, fishermen and gardeners.
Saint Maurilius, closely associated with the early history of the church of France, was born near Milan, of an illustrious Christian family, around the year 336. He was later drawn to Tours by the virtues of Saint Martin (died 397), who had built a monastery in Milan, where he had undertaken to form young men to virtue and sacred studies. Maurilius was among them but when the Arians drove Saint Martin, a stranger in Italy, from the city, he lost his beloved master. He remained for a time as cantor for Saint Ambrose, bishop of Milan and Father and Doctor of the Church but after the death of his father renounced his patrimony and went to Tours to rejoin Saint Martin, there the Apostle of Gaul ordained him a priest.
He devoted himself to the salvation of souls, his zeal led him to a site near Angers where, by his prayers, he brought down fire from heaven on a pagan temple and afterwards built a church of at the same site. Alongside it, he had a monastery constructed and soon many souls came to dwell in the shadow of the cross, thus forming the city of Chalonne. When the Bishop of Angers died, Maurilius was chosen by Saint Martin to succeed him. On the day of his consecration, a dove entered the church and came to rest on his head.
A few years later, a strange episode occurred. During the consecration of a Mass celebrated by the Bishop, a dying child was brought in great haste to the church, to receive Confirmation. St Marilius, not thinking that the lad was in danger, continued Mass but during this time the child died. Maurilius was so grieved by this that he fled without advising anyone and embarked for England, where in great humility he took employment as the gardener of a nobleman.
His community and diocese at Angers were inconsolable and sought him out so diligently that they discovered his retreat. He refused, however, to return as Bishop, stating that he could not do so because during his voyage he had lost at sea the keys to the Cathedral and had vowed not to return until he found them. But see, said the messengers, what we have here, during our crossing a fish was cast up by a wave onto the deck of the ship and in its stomach we found these keys! Maurilius obeyed the Will of Heaven. When he returned, he asked to be taken to the tomb of the child and with tears streaming from his eyes asked God to restore him to life. The resurrected child was given the name of René for this reason, which in French means reborn and he eventually became the successor to Maurilius as Bishop of Angers.
The remainder of his life the Saint passed in his habitual austerity and in great zeal for the salvation of souls. When he had reached his ninetieth year, God revealed to him the hour of his departure. Preparing himself with the greatest solicitude, he ordered his grave to be dug and after a short illness, gave up his soul to his Creator. At his funeral, besides other miracles which took place, two persons who had been blind from birth received their sight and a man who had been paralysed thirty-one years, regained the use of his limbs, on kissing the coffin in which the relics of the Saint reposed. Well worth considering are the words which the holy man spoke shortly before his death to those around him: “Ponder well,” said he, “that your souls are bought at a great price: the precious blood of Jesus Christ.”
In the seventh century, devotion to St Maurilius grew. A biography of him was written by Magnobodus and, in 873, his body was transferred to the Cathedral of Angers, which had already been dedicated to St Maurice. Two hundred years later, St Maurilius was frequently mentioned together with St Maurice as the patron saints of the Cathedral. Nevertheless, on 16 August 1239, the remains of St Maurilius were placed in a new urn but they were scattered in 1791, when the Cathedral was vandalised during the French Revolution. Only a few small parts were recovered and they are now kept at the Cathedral.
In Vouziers, in the Ardennes region of France, the Église Saint-Maurille (Church of St. Maurilius). was dedicated to him in the twelfth century.
In art, he is represented as a bishop with a fish holding a key or a garden spade. He can be seen in one of the stained glass windows of the south side of the choir of the Cathedral of Angers and also, in the tapestries of Angers from the 15th and 16th Centuries, see below.