Saint of the Day – 19 March – Blessed Isnard de Chiampo OP (Died 1244) Priest of the Order of Preachers, known as the “Apostle of Pavia,” Confessor, miracle-worker, Founder of Convents. Isnard had a profound devotion to the Mother of God. He perpetually preached her protection over the faithful. In every way he propagated love and veneration for her.Born at Chiampo, Diocese of Vicenza, Italy and died on 19 March 1244 of natural causes. Patronage – Chiampo, City and Diocese. Additional Memorial – 22 March in Chiampo. He is also known as Isnardo, Isnard of Vicenza, the “Apostle of Pavia.”
Blessed Isnard is another very distinguished and saintly first disciple of Saint Dominic. Of Isnard’s life up to the time he entered the Order, practically nothing is known with certainty. Chiampo, a small town not far from Vicenza, Italy, was most likely the place of his birth; yet there are those who give the latter city this honor. Some think he was born of poor parents and spent his youth in poverty. Others suggest that he belonged to a wealthy family by the name of Isnardi, which has been long extinct.
It is beyond doubt that the future wonder-worker received the habit in Bologna, from Saint Dominic himself, in 1219; for this is a point on which nearly all the early authors are in accord. This truth seems certainly to prove that he was a student at the university there and far advanced in his studies, At that time only such applicants were accepted; and this fact is a strong proof that his parents were well-to-do, for only the sons of this kind were given a higher education. Without exception, the writers tell us of his singular purity of heart and religious disposition. His mind had been carefully guarded against the evils of the day and in Bologna, he proved faithful to the lessons of his earlier youth. Association with the holy man from Caleruega, St Domiic, quickened his efforts for holiness of life and the salvation of souls.
For ten years after he entered the Order of Saint Dominic, we have no positive knowledge of where Isnard made his home. Yet the indications are that he spent this time between Bologna and Milan. In which case, of course, he labored energetically in those parts of Italy. Although a quite corpulent man, we are told, he was endowed with extraordinary energy and was very gracious in action, as well as, in word. St Eustorgio, Milan, was most likely his Convent for the greater part of this decade.
In more than one of our sketches but especially in that of Saint Peter of Verona, we have seen how the Albigenses and kindred sects overran northern Italy at that date. Milan was one of the centres of Dominican activity against them and it was from Milan that the Convent of the Order in Pavia was founded. The City was also a stronghold of Frederic II, whose Ghibellines, always opposed to the Holy See, constantly persecuted those who favoured the authority of the Church. When, in 1230, zealous Rodobald Cipolla became Bishop of Pavia, he found religion in a sad plight in his Diocese and began at once to seek means for a reformation.
Blessed Isnard’s reputation for holiness of life, zeal, eloquence, power over the souls of others and fearlessness, was broadcast. Most likely he had already preached in the Diocese of Pavia — perhaps many times; for the Friars Preacher of Milan, carried their work in every direction. Possibly, too, he and Bishop Cipolla, himself an energetic character, had become friends at a prior date. Anyway, one of the new Prelate’s first steps for the spiritual betterment of his flock was to invite Isnard from Milan, that he might establish a house of the Order at Pavia. This was in 1231 and before the close of the year, we find the Fathers actively engaged in their apostolate under the leadership of the man of God, Isnard.
The Convent, which the Bishop generously helped to erect, stood in the little village of Ticino, a short distance outside the walls of Pavia and was given the name of Saint Mary of Nazareth. Throughout Italy the Friars Preacher were known as an effective aid to the hierarchy against the evils of the day. Thus Bishop Cipolla felt that, at least under Isnard, they would be an immense help to him in putting an end to the inroads of the enemy and ,in freeing his Diocese from the many ills in which it was enmeshed. He had not long to wait before he saw that his choice of assistants, was no mistake.
However, the task proved difficult, trying and full of danger. On the one hand, the faithful, through long bad associations, had become so cold, careless and wayward in the practice of their religious duties, that it was difficult to arouse them to a sense of their obligations.
Isnard’ssuccess began with the poor and the labouring classes. For these, he had a special love. He gathered them around him at the conventual Church, instructed them in their religion and inspired them with a love of its practice. Although he met with much opposition at first, it was not long before he had completely changed their lives. Reports of the good thus effected, soon spread near and far. Meanwhile, he and his confrères preached throughout the City of Pavia and its environments — in Churches, public squares, market places, or wherever they could find a space large enough for an audience. Gradually the wealthier Guelfs and even not a few of the Ghibellines, began to harken to the call of grace and to receive the Sacraments.
Among the little band of missioners, Isnard shone with special brilliance for his saintliness, zeal and eloquence. The influence which he soon began to wield over the people, caused the leaders of the heretics to single him out for their hatred. They mocked and ridiculed him, publicly spurned him, laughed at his corpulent figure, defamed him, threatened him, did everything in their power either to bring him into disrepute or to make him desist from his tireless apostolate. All was in vain. His sermons were incessant. He challenged his enemies wherever he met them. If they undertook to answer him, his inexorable logic put them to shame, or reduced them to silence. Never was he known to be ill natured, or to lose his patience, yet he showed the fire of divine love that glowed within his breast.
No doubt as much to demonstrate the holiness of His faithful servant as for the benefit of those to whom he preached, God blessed Isnard with the gift of miracles. The early writers mention many wrought by him both before and after his death. These, quite naturally, quickened and strengthened the faith of the Catholics. They also gradually undermined the influence and broke the spirit of the heretics, many of whom were brought into the Church. By the time of the holy man’s death, the Diocese of Pavia was free from attacks by Albigenses, Catharists, and similar sects. They bad gone to other parts, been converted, or held their peace. No-one could be found who would profess their principles. It was a glorious apostolate brought to a successful termination.
Despite the turbulence and the anti-ecclesiastical spirit of the day, the holy Friar Preacher from Chiampo, effected untold good even among this class of citizens. Documents which have escaped the ravages of time show that some, who deferred conversion until on their deathbeds, made him the instrument of their restitution. Others entrusted him with their charity and benefactions. Historians call him an “Apostle of Pavia,” and largely attribute the preservation of the faith in the City, to his zeal.
Another proof of the respect and confidence which Isnard enjoyed among all classes, as well as of his reputation abroad, is found in the incident which we have now to tell. From early times the Diocese of Tours, France, possessed landed estates in and around Pavia. Because of the political disturbances and the Ghibelline spirit, the Canons of the Tours Cathedral, found it impossible to collect their rents. In this dilemma, they appointed our saint their agent; for they felt that he was the only man in northern Italy, who either could obtain their dues for them, or would dare undertake the task. This was in 1240, the year after the historic excommunication of Frederic 11 by Gregory IX. The affair shows bow wisely Isnard steered his course, how all venerated him at home and how well his courage and prudence, were known even in France.
Like a number of the early disciples of Saint Dominic whose lives we have outlined, the apostle and reformer of Pavia did not feel that he had done his all for the benefit of religion until he established a community of Dominican Sisters. These he placed in the immediate vicinity of his own Convent, that he might the better look after their spiritual welfare. Their house bore the same name as that of the fathers — Saint Mary of Nazareth.The dowries of many of these sisters indicate that he founded them, in part, so that wealthy worldly dames, whom he had converted, might have a place in which they could more completely give themselves to the service of God.When, some years after our blessed’s death, the fathers moved into the city proper, the original Saint Mary of Nazareth was turned over to the sisters.
Isnard laboured zealously on, almost to the very last breathe. At least the Lives of the Brethren (Vitae Fratrum) say his final sickness was a matter of only a few days. The manuscript annals, or chronicles, of the old Friar-Preacher convent at Pavia, tell us that he surrendered his pure soul to God on 19 March 1244. He knew that the end was near, prepared for it and died as holily as he had lived.
We have no account of the funeral of the man of God. Yet the great love and admiration in which he was held justify one, in the belief, that the Pavians attended it in immense numbers. Perhaps the sad event plunged the City in no less grief, than his own community. He was buried in the Church of Saint Mary of Nazareth, where his tomb became, at once, a place of pilgrimage for the City and Province of Pavia. Not a few miracles were wrought in answer to prayers to him. The name, Isnard, was often given to children at their Baptism.
In 1850 portions of his relies were given to Chiampo and Vicenza. Old paintings of him here and there, which represented him as a saint, also helped the cause. In 1907 the Diocesan authorities of Pavia, approved of his cult and requested the Holy See to accept their decision. Pope Benedict XV, after a thorough investigation, Beatufied Isnard on 12 March 1919 and granted his Office and Mass to the Friars Preacher and the Diocese of Pavia with 22 March appointed as his feast day in Pavia.
Isnard, is the last of the original disciples of Dominic to be accorded the honours of the altar.