Saint of the Day – 1 October – Saint Bavo of Ghent (c 589–654) Married. Widower, Soldier, Monk and Hermit, Penitent. Born in c 589 at Brabant, Liege, Belgium as Allowin and died on 1 October 654 at Saint Bavo’s Abbey of natural causes. Patronages – the Cities of Ghent, Zellik and Lauwe in Belgium, City of Haarlem, Netherlands, Diocese of Amsterdam, Netherlands, the Netherlands, of falcons and falconry. Also known as – Allowin, Bavone of Ghent.
The Roman Martyrology states of him today: “In Ghent in Flanders, in present-day Belgium, Saint Bavo, a Monk, who was a disciple of Saint Amand. He abandoned the world, distributed his goods to the poor and retired to the Monastery he founded in this place.“
Bavo was born into a family of high social rank. His father was Pippin of Landen, the Mayor of the Palace and his mother, Itta of Metz.
A wild, young aristocrat of Brabant, he contracted a beneficial marriage to the daughter of the Merovingian Count Adilone and had a daughter named Agletrude. At that time, he was a soldier who led an undisciplined and disorderly life.
The young wife died, it is not known how and Bavo, deeply struck by the misfortune, interrupted his dissolute life and suffered a moral crisis, which was the starting point of his conversion.
He went to St Amand who was preaching to the still pagan populations of the Ghent region. On returning to his house he distributed his wealth to the poor, and then received the tonsure from Amand. He entered the Monastery of Ganda as a Monk., This Monastery had been founded by St Amando and was later renamed in Bavo’s honour.
He became a disciple of the missionary St Amand and followed him on his apostolic wanderings in Flanders and France. On one occasion, Bavo met a man whom he had sold into slavery years before. Wishing to atone for his earlier deed, Bavo had the man lead him by a chain to the town jail as penance and reparation for the sins of his past life.
After some time he returned to Ganda, where he had a small cell built in the hollow of a large tree and led a reclusive and ascetic life for three years.
But privations and sacrifices quickly weakened him, dying around 654. His body was buried in the Monastery of Ganda.
At present, his relics rest partly in the Cathedral of Ghent, which too is dedicated to St Bavo and partly in the Benedictine Abbey of Nesle-la-Reposte, the place where the Monks who fled from Ganda had taken refuge, to escape the Norman invasions, around 882- 883.
The most popular scene is the moment of his conversion, which has many legends attached to it. Because he is so often shown with a falcon, he came to be considered the patron saint of falconry. In medieval Ghent, taxes were paid on Bavo’s feast day, and it is for this reason, that he is often shown holding a purse or money bag.
The City of Bamberg in Belgium is named after him, with Bamberg meaning “Mount of Bavo.” Several Churches are dedicated to him, including:
Saint Bavo Cathedral, in Ghent which is most famous for housing the breath-taking Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck completed in 1432, see video below;
Sint-Bavokerk and Cathedral of Saint Bavo, both in Haarlem;
Sint-Bavokerk in Heemstede, Lauwe, and Zellik;
Saint Bavo Church and School, in Mishawaka, Indiana;
Sint-Bavokerk in Wilrijk..
His picture is also part of the Coat of Arms of the Antwerp Suburb Wilrijk.