Thought for the Day – 15 June – St Bernard of Menthon C.R.S.A (c 1020-1081)
Saint Bernard’s life was one of simple service in a difficult environment. His hospitality was legendary and his works survive today in the form of the hospices he established. His community—the Houses and Congregations of Saints Nicholas and Bernard—remains active today, maintaining the Alpine hospices as well as one in the Himalayas. Upon his death, he was interred at the cloisters of Saint Lawrence. Numerous miracles were reported at the site of his burial, as well as in Saint Bernard’s pass. We are inspired by the love of Saint Bernard to extend ourselves to those in need, never missing an opportunity to show God’s love. Saint Bernard reminds us of the epistle of Saint Peter:
The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen
Saint of the Day – 15 June – St Bernard of Menthon C.R.S.A (c 1020-1081) – Priest, Arch-Deacon, Vicar General, Preacher, Evangeliser, Founder of a patrol that cleared robbers from the mountains and he established hospices for travellers and pilgrims to Rome and the Holy Land, Italy; he established a community of Augustinian Hospitallers to staff them and they continue their good work today. The large dogs, trained to search for lost victims in the mountains, are named for him, also known as the Apostle of the Alps, Bernard of Aosta, Bernard of Aotha, Bernard of Mentone, Bernard of Montjoux. BornBernard de Menthon around 1020 and died in 1081 at Novara, Italy. Patronages – Alpinists, Alps (proclaimed by Pope Pius XI on 20 August 1923), Campiglia Cervo, Italy, mountain climbers (proclaimed by Pope Pius XI on 20 August 1923), mountaineers, skiers, travellers in the mountains (proclaimed by Pope Pius XI on 20 August 1923).
Born in c 1020, probably in the Chateaux de Menthon near Annecy, in Savoy. He was descended from a rich, noble family and received a thorough education. He refused to enter an honourable marriage proposed by his father and decided to devote himself to the service of the Church.
Placing himself under the direction of Peter, Archdeacon of Aosta, under whose guidance he rapidly progressed, Bernard was ordained priest and on account of his learning and virtue was made Archdeacon of Aosta, having charge of the government of the diocese under the bishop. Seeing the ignorance and idolatry still prevailing among the people of the Alps, he resolved to devote himself to their conversion. For forty two years he continued to preach the Gospel to these people and carried the light of faith even into many cantons of Lombardy, effecting numerous conversions and working many miracles.
For another reason, however, Bernard’s name will forever be famous in history. Since the most ancient times there was a path across the Pennine Alps leading from the valley of Aosta to the Swiss canton of Valais, over what is now the pass of the Great St Bernard. This pass is covered with perpetual snow from seven to eight feet deep and drifts sometimes accumulate to the height of forty feet. Though the pass was extremely dangerous, especially in the springtime on account of avalanches, yet it was often used by French and German pilgrims on their way to Rome. For the convenience and protection of travellers, St Bernard founded a monastery and hospice at the highest point of the pass, 8,000 feet above sea-level. A few years later he established another hospice on the Little St Bernard, a mountain of the Graian Alps, 7,076 feet above sea-level. Both were placed in charge of Augustinian monks after pontifical approval had been obtained by him during a visit to Rome.
Statue of St Bernard at the Little St Bernard Pass.
Statue of St Bernard at the Little St Bernard Pass.
These hospices are renowned for the generous hospitality extended to all travellers over the Great and Little St Bernard, so called in honour of the founder of these charitable institutions. At all seasons of the year but especially during heavy snow-storms, the heroic monks accompanied by their well-trained dogs, go out in search of victims who may have succumbed to the severity of the weather. They offer food, clothing, and shelter to the unfortunate travellers and take care of the dead. They depend on gifts and collections for sustenance. At present, the order consists of about forty members, the majority of whom live at the hospice while some have charge of neighbouring parishes.
St Bernard spent 42 years as a priest serving the people of this region. In addition to serving travellers, he founded schools and reformed parishes throughout the area. He lived to be 85 years old and died on this date in 1081.
The last act of St Bernard’s life was the reconciliation of two noblemen whose strife threatened a fatal issue. He was interred in the cloister of St Lawrence. Venerated as a saint from the twelfth century in many places of Piedmont (Aosta, Novara, Brescia), he was not canonised until 1681, by Innocent XI. His feast is celebrated on the 15th of June.
It seems that the dogs originally used by the religious belonged to a race that is now extinct. A stuffed specimen of the original breed is visible at the hospice. The St Bernard breed was first reported to the hospice of St Bernard in 1709 by the prior Ballalu.
St Bernard of Menthon, you saved pilgrims in the Alps from avalanches and robbers–pray for us!