Saint of the Day – 28 February – Saint Romanus of Condat (c 390–c 463) Hermit, Abbot Born in c 390 at Upper Bugey, France and died in c 465 of natural causes. Patronages – drowning victims, insanity, mental illness, mentally ill people. Together with his brother St Lupicinus, he founded the Monastery of Condat, that of Lauconne, that of the women of La Balme and that of Romainmôtier . His life was inspired by that of the Fathers of the Thebaid desert.
Romanus was born in the territory of the Sequani , today in the current Diocese of Belley-Ars. His parents sent him to study in the Ainay Monastery in Lyon , built at the confluence of the Saone with the Rhone , where he was a pupil of the Abbot Sabino who gave him a Life of the Desert Fathers. Soon he wished to live the life of a hermit, in order to better realise his ascetic ideal At the age of 35 he then retired to the forests of the Jura Massif , to a place called Condat. He lived as a Hermit, imitating the Desert Fathers of the Thebaid. He had found shelter under a great lonely pine, whose fronds protected him from the elements, feeding on wild fruit and drinking from a cool spring nearby. He had also brought a spade and seeds, which he sowed, obtaining good crops. After a few years his brother Lupicinus, who had remained a widower, joined him. Together they lived as Hermits for a few more years, fasting and doing penance.
The beginnings were difficult, above all due to the cold and humid climate of the place. Romanus and Lupicinus, discouraged by the effort, decided to abandon Condat. After a day of walking they stopped at a farmhouse and asked a woman for hospitality, but she encouraged them to go back, arguing that they should not leave the field free to Satan, who had wanted to chase them away from their hermitage.
After a few years, attracted by the fame of holiness that the few inhabitants of the surrounding area had spread, other young people came, eager to imitate them. In around 445, Romanus built the Monastery of Condat and Lupicinus, not far away, built the Monastery of Lauconne . The two brothers had completely different characters, Romanus was more good-natured and meek, while Lupicinus was austere and severe. They often alternated in the direction of the two Monasteries – when Lupicinus’ severity discouraged his Monks, Romanus intervened to encourage them with his gentleness.
In the two Monasteries a Roman rule was in force, derived from that of St. Basil, St Pachomius and the Monastery of the island of Lerino di Sant’Onorato di Arles. The whole community abstained from eating meat, on rare occasions they ate milk and eggs, dressed in animal skins and wore clogs . A few centuries later, the community founded by Romanus and Lupicinus adopted the Benedictine Rule .
When their sister Lola (or Yole) joined them, they founded for her the female Monastery of La Balme (or La Baume), on a sheer rock on the right bank of the Bienne river, which was soon populated by more than a hundred Nuns. . This Monastery was later called Saint Romain de Roche.
In 444 , the Bishop of Arles Saint Hilary, being in Besançon to depose the Bishop Celidonio, received news of the works of Romanus, he wanted to convene him in Besançon and to give him more authority and official recognition, he Ordained him a Priest but this honour did not change the behaviour of the Saint who continued to remain even more humble and kind with his Monks In 450 , Romanus founded the first Monastery of today’s Switzerland, which then took the name of Romainmôtier, which was active until 1536, when the Protestant reform destroyed it.
It is said that when going on a pilgrimage to the tomb of St Maurice in Saint Maurice-en-Valais , Romanus was surprised by the night near Geneva. He asked for hospitality from two lepers who lived in a hut and who wanted to reject him so as not to infect him but he he was not afraid of the disease and wanted to sleep under their roof. In the morning the two lepers realised that they were completely healed and went to Geneva to reveal their healing. The Genevans, who knew them well, went to look for Romanus and gave him a great celebration. Romanus, being a little confused by their attention, took the opportunity to invite them to convert and do penance.
Shortly after his return to Condat, around 465 Romano died. As he himself had arranged, he was buried in the Convent of La Balme. His relics were immediately the object of great veneration. In the seventh century they were moved to the Church of the Abbey of Condat (which, in the meantime, had been dedicated to Saint Eugendus). In 1522 a fire destroyed the Church and the relics of Romanus and Lupicinus. The few surviving remains were preserved in the Church of Saint-Romain-de-Roche built in the 16th century which replaced the Monastery of la Balme. They are enclosed in a 13th Century Reliquary in the shape of a mausoleum.