Saint of the Day – 1 January – Saint Odilo of Cluny OSB (962-1049) Priest, Monk, 5th Abbot of Cluny, Reformer, known as the “Archangel of the Monks,” Apostle of the poor and needy, Marian devotee and promoter of prayer for the Souls in Purgatory. St Odilo was the fifth Benedictine Abbot of Cluny, holding the post for around 54 years. During his tenure Cluny became the most important Monastery in western Europe. Odilo actively worked to reform the monastic practices not only at Cluny but at other Benedictine houses. He also promoted the Truce of God whereby military hostilities were temporarily suspended at certain times for ostensibly religious reasons. Odilo encouraged the formal practice of personal Consecration to Mary. He established All Souls’ Day (on 2 November) in Cluny and its Monasteries as the annual commemoration to pray for all the faithful departed. The practice was soon adopted throughout the whole Western Church. He was born in 962 at Auvergne, France and died on 1 January 1049 at Souvigny, France of natural causes. Additional memorials – 29 April as one of the Seven Abbots of Cluny, 19 January in Cluny (formerly 2 January), 6 February in Switzerland. Patronages – against jaundice, the souls in Purgatory.
Odilo was descended from the nobility of Auvergne. He early became a cleric in the seminary of St Julien in Brioude. In 991 he entered Cluny and before the end of his year of probation was made coadjutor to Abbot Mayeul and shortly before the latter’s death (994) was made Abbot and received Holy orders.
The rapid development of the Monastery under him was due chiefly to his gentleness and charity, his activity and talent for organising. He was a man of prayer and penance, zealous for the observance of the Divine Office and the monastic spirit. He encouraged learning in his monasteries and had the monk, Radolphus Glaber, write a history of the time. He erected a magnificent Monastery building and furthered the reform of the Benedictine Monasteries. Under Alphonse VI it spread into Spain. The rule of St Benedict was substituted in Cluny for the domestic rule of Isidore. By bringing the reformed or newly founded Monasteries of Spain into permanent dependence on the mother-house, Odilo prepared the way for the union of Monasteries, which Hugo established for maintaining order and discipline. The number of Monasteries increased from thirty-seven to sixty-five, of which five were newly established and twenty-three had followed the reform movement.
On account of his services in the reform, Odilo was called by the Blessed Bishop Fulbert of Chartres, the “Archangel of the Monks” and through his relations with the Popes, rulers, and prominent Bishops of the time, Cluny monasticism was promoted. He journeyed nine times to Italy and took part in several synods there. Popes John XIX and Benedict IX both offered him the Archbishopric of Lyons but he declined.
From 998 he gained influence with the Emperor Otto III. He was on terms of intimacy with Henry II when the latter, on political grounds, sought to impair the spiritual independence of the German Monasteries. For Germany the Cluny policy had no permanent success, as the Monks there were more inclined to individualism. Between 1027 and 1046 the relations between the Cluniac Monks and the Rmperor remained unchanged. In 1046 Odilo was present at the coronation of Henry III in Rome. Robert II of France allied himself with the Reform party.
The conclusion of the Peace of God (Treuga Dei), for which Odilo had worked from 1041, was of great economic importance. During the great famines of that time (particularly 1028-33), he also exercised his active charity and saved thousands from death.
He established All Souls Day (2 November) in Cluny and its Monasteries, probably not in 998 but after 1030 and it was soon adopted in the whole Church. Of his writings we have but a few short and unimportant ones – a life of the holy Empress St Adelaide, to whom he was closely related; a short biography of his predecessor Mayeul; sermons on feasts of the ecclesiastical year; some hymns and prayers and a few letters from his extensive correspondence.
Odilo and his confreres interested themselves in the Church reform which began about that time. They followed no definite ecclesiastico-political programm, but directed their attacks principally against individual offences such as simony, marriage of the clergy and the uncanonical marriage of the laity. The Holy See could depend, above all, on the religious of Cluny, when it sought to raise itself from its humiliating position and undertook the reform of the Church.
He died while on a visitation to the Monastery of Souvigny where he was buried and soon venerated as a saint.
In 1063 St Peter Damien undertook the process of his Canonisation, and wrote a short life, with the assistance of an abstract from the work of Jotsald, one of Odilo’s monks who accompanied him on his travels. In 1793 the relics were burned by the revolutionaries “on the altar of the fatherland.”