Saint of the Day – 19 May – Blessed Augustine Novello OSA (1240– 1309) Priest and Friar of the Order of St Augustine, miracle-worker, Prior General of the Order, Reformer of the Constitutions, Professor of Canon and Civil Law. Born in 1240 at Taormina, Sicily as Matteo da Termini and died on 19 May 1309 at San Leonardo, Italy of natural causes. Also known as – Augustine of Taormina, Agostino Novello, Augustine Novellus, Matthew of Taormina, Matteo de’ Termini.
Matteo’s parents, of a noble family originally from Catalonia in Spain, educated him most carefully and had him instructed in all the then known sciences. At the University of Bologna, he earned a Doctorate in Civil and Canon Law and became a Professor of law. He worked in the Chancery of the Kingdom of Sicily at the Court of King Manfred of Sicily.
In this capacity, Matteo accompanied the King in the war against Charles I of Anjou, who disputed Manfred’s right to the Crown of Sicily. In the battle at Benevento, in which Manfred was killed and his army routed, Matteo was wounded and thought to be dead and so, was left on the battlefield among the corpse. Regaining consciousness, Matteo was able to somehow reach his home, however, disillusioned with the world and with the evanescence of all earthly glory, he determined, thenceforth, to forsake all worldly honours and dignities.
Following this decision, Matteo asked for admission as a lay brother into the Order of St Augustine and was received in a Convent in Sicily. There he took the name Augustine/Agostino and there, he would live unknown to the world, far from his home and his people, devoted to exercises of piety. He lived there tranquilly until an unforeseen incident brought him once more before the world.
The title to some property belonging to the Convent was claimed by a local Bishop. The Augustinians were represented by a learned lawyer of Siena, Giacomo Pallares, who recognised Augutine as a former colleague. Pallares, lost no time in informing the Ecclesiastical authorities of Augustine’s identity, advising them, to no longer keep such a wealth of learning, in obscurity.
When Blessed Clement of Osimo, General of the Order, heard of this, he compelled Augustine, under obedience, to receive Holy Orders and brought him to Rome, where he reformed the Constitutions of the Order, Pope Nicholas IV appointed him, as his Confessor and Grand Penitentiary, a position which he accepted, again only under obedience.
Augustine was elected Prior General in 1298. Despite his attempts to refuse this position he was ordered by the Pope to accept. In 1300 he resigned from office and spent the remaining ten years of his life at the Hermitage of San Leonardo al Lago.
In his retreat and retrement near Siena, Augustine not only dedicated himself to the practice of the virtues proper to the religious state. He also ministered to the people of the surrounding villages ,as well as in nearby Siena. He was known and respected for his deep humility and love of contemplation. He played an important role in the founding of Siena’s Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala and composed a set of guidelines for the Hospital community.
He died on 19 May 1309/10 at San Leonardo. Because his reputation for prayer, charity and miracles was know far and wide, the Bishop of Siena insisted that his body be placed in a casket and kept in the Augustinian Church in Siena, the Church of St Augustine. His casket and related works of art, see below, remained in the Church of Saint Augustine in Siena for many centuries. It was later taken to Sicily, where he had worked for the King before becoming a member of the Order of Saint Augustine. His tomb is now located at Termini Imerese in Sicily. Along with that of Clement of Osimo, the Prior General who had called him out from his anonymity at Rosia.
His Statue is found on the façade of the Cathedral.
Many of the miracles wrought through the intercession of Blessed Augsutine were verified and authenticated. by Pope Clement XIII , who solemnly Beatified him in 1761, and Pope Clement XIV authorised his cult on 23 July 1770.
In the Church of Saint Augustine in Siena there was a wooden Sarcophagus in which the Augustine of Tarano was buried and an Altar consecrated to him. A painted Altarpiece was commissioned by the best painter available, Simóne Martini (1280/1285 – 1344). Appropriate to its environment, the Altarpiece is a colourful and simple form of devotional painting. It is presumed that the Altarpiece was in place for the celebrations in honour of the Augustine of Movello held there in 1324. The Altarpiece depicts some of the miracles of Blessed Augustine, see the images above.