Saint of the Day – 5 January – Saint Gerlach (c 1100-c 1170) Hermit – born
c 1100 at Valkenburg, Netherlands and died in 1172 – 1177 at Houthem, in the Province of Limburg in the Kingdom of the Netherlands of natural causes. Also known as Gerlac von Houthem, Gerlac of Maastricht, Gerlac of Valkenberg, Gerlach, Gerlache, Gerlacus, Gerlachus, Gerlak. Patronages – against cattle disease, against plague, of domestic animals.
The Vita Beati Gerlaci Eremytae, written around 1227, describes his legend and life. Originally a licentious soldier and brigand, Gerlach became a pious Christian upon the death of his wife and went on pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem. At Rome, he performed rites of penance for the sins of his youth, made a general confession of his sins to Pope Eugene III and then proceeded to Jerusalem where the latter had sent him. There he tended the sick, which he did for seven years.
Upon returning to the Netherlands, he gave up all of his possessions to the poor and took up residence in a hollow oak on his former Estate near Houthem. He ate bread mixed with ash and travelled by foot, each day on pilgrimage to Maastricht, to the Basilica of Saint Servatius.
Neighbouring Monks wished to see him enter their Monastery, especially since they were convinced that Gerlach was very rich and hid his treasure in the hollow of the tree where he lived. The local Bishop, therefore, intervened and ordered that the oak be felled. When he saw that there was no hidden treasure, he ordered that the tree be made into boards and be used to build a new hermitage for Gerlach.
The people of the neighbourhood already considered him a saint and he also enjoyed the protection of great figures, such as Hildegard of Bingen .
Legend states that when Gerlach had done enough penance, water from the local well transformed itself into wine three times, as a sign that his sins had been forgiven. He died shortly after, barely fifty and legend has it that the last rites were administered to him by the Saint Servatius himself.
The Order of Premontre (Norbertines) claims his as one of theirs, due to his “rough white habit” and has him on its liturgical calendar as a “Blessed.” Below is the Church of St Gerlac in Houthem where his relics now rest. The Abbey of St Gerlac, which was named after him, is now a hotel.