Saint of the Day – 16 January – Blessed Gonzalo de Amarante OP (1187-1259), Dominican Priest, Hermit, Marian Devotee – born as Gonçalo de Amarante in 1187 at Vizella, diocese of Braga, Portugal and died on 10 January 1259 of natural causes. His memorial is celebrated on 10 January by the Dominicans. Patronages – Amarante, Itapissuma, Cajari, Matinha, Viana. He became a Dominican friar and hermit after his return from a long pilgrimage that took him to both Rome and to Jerusalem. He was noted as a wonderworker through whom miracles occurred and he was known for his solitude and silence in reflection, in order to better achieve communication with God.
Gonzalo de Amarante was a true son of the Middle Ages, a man right out of the pages of the ‘Golden Legend.’ His whole life reads like a mural from the wall of a church–full of marvellous things and done up in brilliant colours.
In his boyhood Gonzalo gave wonderful indications of his holiness. As he was being carried to the baptismal font as an infant, he fixed his eyes on the church’s crucifix with a look of extraordinary love. While still young, he was consecrated to study for the Church and received his training in the household of the Archbishop of Braga. After his Ordination he was given charge of a wealthy parish, an assignment that should have made him very happy. Gonzalo was not as interested in choice parishes as some of his companion – he went to his favourite Madonna shrine and begged Our Lady to help him administer this office fairly.
There was no complaint with Gonzalo’s governance of the parish of Saint Pelagius. He was penitential himself but indulgent with everyone else. Revenues that he might have used for himself were used for the poor and the sick. The parish, in fact, was doing very well when he turned it over to his nephew, whom he had carefully tutored, before making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Gonzalo would have remained his entire life in the Holy Land but after 14 years his Archbishop commanded him to return to Portugal. Upon his arrival, he was horrified to see that his nephew had not been the good shepherd that he had promised to be, the money left for the poor had gone to purchase a fine stable of thoroughbred horses and a pack of fine hounds. The nephew had told everyone that his old uncle was dead and he had been appointed pastor in his place by an unsuspecting Archbishop. When the uncle appeared on the scene, a bit ragged and, of course, older but very much alive, the nephew was not happy to see him. Gonzalo seems to have been surprised as well as pained.
The ungrateful nephew settled the matter by turning the dogs on his inconvenient uncle. They would have torn him to pieces but the servants called them off and allowed the ragged pilgrim to escape. Gonzalo decided then, that he had withstood enough parish life and went out into the hills to a place called Amarante. Here he found a cave and other necessities for an eremitical life and lived in peace for several years, spending his time building a little chapel to the Blessed Virgin. He preached to those who came to him and soon there was a steady stream of pilgrims seeking out his retreat.
Happy as he was, Gonzalo felt that this was not his sole mission in life and he prayed to Our Lady to help him to discern his real vocation. She appeared to him one night as he prayed and told him to enter the order that had the custom of beginning the office with “Ave Maria gratia plena.” She told him that this order was very dear to her and under her special protection. Gonzalo set out to learn what order she meant and eventually came to the convent of the Dominicans. Here was the end of the quest and he asked for the habit.
Blessed Peter Gonzales was the Prior and he gave the habit to the new aspirant. After Gonsalvo had gone through his novitiate, he was sent back to Amarante, with a companion, to begin a regular house of the order. The people of the neighbourhood quickly spread the news that the hermit was back. They flocked to hear him preach and begged him to heal their sick.
One of the miracles of Blessed Gonzalo concerns the building of a bridge across a swift river that barred many people from reaching the hermitage in wintertime. It was not a good place to build a bridge but Gonsalvo set about it and followed the heavenly directions he had received. Once, during the building of the bridge, he went out collecting and a man, who wanted to brush him off painlessly, sent him away with a note for his wife.
Gonzalo took the note to the man’s wife and she laughed when she read it . “Give him as much gold as will balance with the note I send you,” said the message. Gonzalo told her he thought she ought to obey her husband, so she got out the scales and put the paper in one balance. Then she put a tiny coin in the other balance and another and another–the paper still outweighed her gold–and she kept adding. There was a sizeable pile of coins before the balance with the paper in it swung upwards.
When workers who helped briefly with his bridge building ran out of wine, Gonzalo prayed, smacked a rock with a stick, it split open and wine poured out. When the workers ran out of food, Gonzalo went to the water, called out and fish jumped onto the river bank to feed them.
Gonzalo died on 10 January 1259, after prophesying the day of his death and promising his friends that he would still be able to help them after death. Pilgrimages began soon and a series of miracles indicated that this holy man was indeed the saint he was believed to be. Forty years after his death he appeared to several people who were apprehensively watching a flood on the river. The water had arisen to a dangerous level, just below the bridge, when they saw a tree floating towards the bridge and Gonzalo was balancing capably on its rolling balk. The friar carefully guided the tree under the bridge, preserving the bridge from damage and then disappeared (Benedictines, Dorcy).
Dominicans are noted for their ability to preach. Sermons are their speciality. Yet even among them, Gonzalo must have stood out. During a homily, in which he wanted to show the horror of exclusion from the Church, he ‘excommunicated’ a basket of bread, the loaves immediately became black, rotted and inedible. When he removed the ‘excommunication’ a few minutes later, the bread became fresh and wholesome again.
He was Beatified on 16 September 1561, Saint Peter’s Basilica, Papal States by Pope Pius IV. But Pope Julius III had on 24 April 1551 allowed for public worship in his honour in Portugal though did not allow his Beatification at that time. Pope Clement X – after the Beatification – extended his public worship with a Mass and Divine Office to Portugal and the entire Dominican order.