Saint of the Day – 22 July – St Wandrille of Fontenelle (c 605–668) Priest, Monk, Abbot – born c 605 near Verdun, Austrasia (in modern France) and died on 22 July 668 of natural causes.
Born in the Verdun region at the beginning of the 7th century, into a family related to the Mayor of the Palace, Pépin d’Héristal, father of Charles Martel, Saint Wandrille entered the Court of King Dagobert I at a young age, who granted him the title of Count and entrusted him with the administration of the Royal domains.
He carried out his office with loyalty but his preference led him to lead a life consecrated to God. He had also made a spiritual friendship with other dignitaries, such as Didier the Treasurer and Dadon the Chancellor, who led a life of mortification at Court. Married out of obedience to his parents, Wandrille agreed with his wife to keep their virginity and both retired to a Monastery.
He, therefore, retired to one of his properties in Lorraine, called Montfaucon, near the Holy Hermit Baldric. Informed of his defection, King Dagobert summoned Wandrille, who appeared at the Palace in his ascetic garment but beaming with celestial brilliance and obtained from the King his authorisation to leave the world. He then went to the Jura, to restore the Hermitage founded by Saint Ursanne.
Following the tradition of the Irish Monks and of Saint Columban, he led an extremely mortified life, spent almost all his sleepless nights, barefoot, reciting Psalms and when temptations oppressed him, he would throw himself into a frozen pond. Desirous of assimilating more fully the heritage of Saint Columban, he went to the Monastery of Bobbio, founded by the latter in Italy and there he learnt perfection in the experience of community life.
Back in Gaul, he stopped at the Monastery of Romainmoutier which had been restored by disciples of Saint Columban and lived there for ten years.
Warned by an Angel of the mission he had to undertake for the salvation of many souls, he left Jura for Neustria. In Rouen, he found his friend Dadon, who had become a Bishop under the name of St Ouen and was Ordained by him as a Deacon.
After having received the Priesthood from the hands of Saint Omer, Bishop of Thérouanne, he assisted Saint Ouen in the evangelisation of his Diocese. After a few years (649), the heart still altered from the conversation with God in solitude, he obtained the authorisation of his Bishop to settle in the marshy valley of Fontenelle, in the forest of Jumièges, acquired by his nephew, Gond who had decided to give up the world.
Striving with tireless zeal to clear the land, Wandrille and the growing number of disciples who had gathered around him, built four churches and cells there. Showing the example in manual work, the Saint was the first for Prayer and he taught his Monks to strive always forward towards perfection, saying: “We must not count the years that we have spent in the Monastery but rather, those which we have spent in the irreproachable practice of the divine commandments. May fraternal charity be your link and put yourselves at the service of one another. Your adversary, the devil, seeing you united in this way, will flee very far, for he cannot approach the one whom he sees united in mind and heart with those around him.”
Wandrille only left the Monastery to preach to the pagans of the region, or to go and found other Monasteries, five in number, organised like Fontenelle by harmonising the Irish tradition of Saint Colomban and the rule of Saint Benedict which was beginning to take hold and spreading in France. Below is the New Benedictine Fontanelle Monastery on the same site as the original.
Having ruled his Monastery for nineteen years, Saint Wandrille, who lamented to remain in exile on earth, fell ill and went into a three-day ecstasy, during which he saw the door of heaven open and the throne of glory which was prepared for him.
Returning from this vision, he exhorted his disciples to mutual charity, appointed his successor and smiling at the Angels and the Saints who had come to welcome him, he fell asleep in peace, on 22 July 668, in the presence of Saint Ouen and of his three hundred disciples.
He was buried at Fontanelle but during the Viking invasions, Wandrille’s relics were dispersed to various locations and shared between various churches, including the abbey of Saint-Pierre-au-Mont-Blandin in Ghent (now in Belgium). Wandrille’s cult was celebrated in England prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066.
In the 19th century one of his relics remained – his skull was found in Liège. It was brought back to the Abbey, when the new church was dedicated in 1967. It can be seen today in a modern reliquary.
Wandrille is apparently a common name in France and in the new Monastery of Fontanelle, the Monks have established a “Wandrille Day” on the Memorial of St Wandrille. The day is devoted to Holy Mass, prayer and recreation too, celebrating all the many ‘Wandrilles’ of all ages, who attend. Such a lovely way of honouring St Wandrille’s feast!