Saint of the Day – 23 March – Saint Walter of Pontoise OSB (c 1030-c 1099) A very reluctant Abbot, Reformer, would-be hermit. Born in c 1030 in Andainville, Picardy, France and died on Good Friday, 8 April 1099 of natural causes. Patronages – against job-related stress, prisoners, prisoners of war, vintners, Pontoise, France.
Walter had been a Professor of philosophy and rhetoric before deciding to join the Benedictine Abbey of Rebais-en-Brie to retreat from the world and the temptations success had brought him.
When the Cross Benedictine Abbey in Pontoise was founded, Walter was chosen as its first Abbot. By custom, the Abbot placed his hand under the king’s hand during the installation. Instead, Walter placed his hand over the hand of King Philip I and told him: “It is from God, not from your majesty, that I accept the charge of this church.”
Walter soon decided that embracing the Office of Abbot sid not leave him enough time for solitude and prayer, so he secretly left the Abbey and went to the Benedictine Abbey at Cluny, where St Hugh was the Abbot.
When the Monks at Pontoise learned where he was, they forced him to return, so he often moved into a cell for days at a time. Eventually, he fled again, this time to an island in the Loire River. The Monks brought him back again after a pilgrim told them where he was.
Walter hadn’t given up his dream to live as a simple Monk, so he went to Rome to appeal to Pope Gregory VII and resign his position as Abbot. However, Pope Gregory dashed Walter’s plans, telling him to go back to the Abbey and use his God-given talents for the best of his fellow Monks. This order seemed to change everything and Walter never again tried to escape.
Not that he led a quiet life. as the Abbot. For after his visit to Pope Gregory, he campaigned against the abuses and corruptions of his fellow Benedictines and denounced clerical abuses, especially among secular Priests, whom he criticised for lack of discipline and for simony. They responded by having him beaten and imprisoned. That didn’t stop Walter who, at a 1092 Church Council in Paris, defended a Vatican decree banning the faithful from going to Masses offered by Priests, living with a concubine.
Walter continued living as simple life as possible and being faithful to his administrative and pastoral functions as the Abbot. But, to find his own solace, he often spent the night in prayer before the Tabernacle in Church.
Shortly before his death on Good Friday, he built the Convent of Our Lady at Bertaucourt for Nuns.
Walter was buried in the Abbey at Pontoise. Numerous miracles were reported at his tomb. His remains were stolen during the French Revolution. Most were not recovered.
He was Canonised by Hugh de Boves, the Archbishop of Rouen in 1153 and was one of the last Saints in Western Europe, to have been Canonised by an authority, other than the Pope.
Walter is the Patron of prisoners because while he was a novice, he once took pity on an inmate at the Monastery prison and helped the prisoner to escape.