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Friday, September 13, 2019

Life of Saint Maurilius, Bishop of Angers

St. Maurilius of Angers (Feast Day - September 13)

Saint Maurilius (French: Maurille) was a follower of Saint Martin of Tours and a priest originally from Milan, who served as the Bishop of Angers in 423 till his death in either 426 or 453. He played an early role in the Christianization of Gaul. In the seventh century, a devotion to Saint Maurilius began. A biography of him was written by Bishop Magnobodus of Angers around 620 (which can be read below), and, in 873, his body was transferred to the Cathedral of Angers, which had already been dedicated to Saint Maurice. Two hundred years later, Saint Maurilius was frequently mentioned together with Saint Maurice as the patron saints of the Cathedral but eventually Saint Maurice became the primary patron of the Cathedral. Nevertheless, on 16 August 1239, the remains of Saint Maurilius were placed in a new urn but they were scattered in 1791, when the Cathedral was vandalized during the French Revolution. Only a few small parts were recovered and they are now kept at the Cathedral.

Preface

(§ 1) I, Magnobodus, bishop of the church of Angers, a sinner, have put together a Life of the holy bishop and confessor, Maurilius, simply and clearly, to the best of my limited ability, following the written notes (titulos) of the presbyter Justus. I wrote it in the tenth year since my ordination and the thirty-sixth year of the reign of our lord, king Clotharius, the son of king Chilperic [AD 620].

(§ 2) The achievements of the saints, through the agency of the Lord, cannot be passed over in silence. Having become poor in spirit on Christ’s behalf, they shun the fleeting rewards of the world and deal rather in the eternal profit of heaven. On earth they are witnesses to lead the faithful into the praise of God: ‘therefore they sow in tears, they reap in joy.’

Life

(§ 1) The blessed Maurilius left his homeland for the love of Christ in the reign of Julian Caesar, and came as a humble exile to the Gauls. He was already a Reader, following the path of holy poverty. He was born into an aristocratic family, but after his father’s death and although his mother was still alive, he gave up all the opportunities available to him in his native city of Milan. He sought out blessed Martin, famed for his virtues, at that time bishop of the city of Tours. Martin made him welcome and ordained him, first as subdeacon, then deacon and eventually as a priest. Martin wished to keep Maurilius at his side to help look after church affairs but this was not possible. And so, they embraced sadly and parted. Maurilius followed his own path, greatly desiring a life of solitude.

(§ 2) Maurilius, that man of God, heard about a very ancient shrine in the territory of Angers, in a place called Calonna, on the banks of the Loire. He went straight there, intending to take by storm this seedbed of paganism. There he successfully persuaded the Lord, with much prayer, fasting and preaching, so that the temple and all its shrines were utterly destroyed by heavenly fire, similar to the way that the blessed prophet Elijah invoked the wrath of God against the impious, begging for fire to be sent down from heaven.

‘And so, in that place, cleansed by heaven, the faithful servant of Christ built a church and founded a settlement where he took up residence until he took on the burden of becoming bishop.’

It is beyond my impoverished powers of description to chronicle the great deeds which the Lord brought about in that place through Maurilius, from that time on. But I shall try to recount a few, to the best of my feeble ability, in praise of the Lord and to venerate his most blessed confessor.

(§ 3) There was a man called Saturnus who lived in the villa of Pociacense. Both his hands had been withered for a long time. He came to the blessed Maurilius seeking a cure. He spent a night in vigil and when dawn came he threw himself at Maurilius’ feet, beseeching him and, by this resolute display of faith, compelling Maurilius to make the sign of the Cross over his hands. When Maurilius did this, his hands were immediately restored to health and ready for use. Not long afterwards some of the faithful brought a woman to the saint. For many years she had been tormented by a devil, a possession which had made her blind. When she came into the presence of the saint the devil soon left her. She regained both her mind and her eyes now received the light again, which the malign force had taken away, enabling her to make her own way home, when she had come guided by another

(§ 4) Some shepherds were carefully guarding their flocks at night when one of them was bitten by a snake. With the poison raging through him, he was half-dead when he was brought in desperation to Maurilius, whose medical skill was already well-known in the region. Maurilius spat in the boy’s face and immediately the swelling in his limbs subsided, the poison rooted out, and the lad was restored to health. Just as a snake-bite once did not prove fatal for the blessed apostle, Paul, so it was for this lad, due to the miraculous healing powers of the apostle Maurilius.

(§ 5) There was a woman in the area who had been barren for a long time. For quite a time a feminine sense of dignity restrained her but finally, compelled by necessity, she asked Maurilius to pray to the Lord on her behalf to give her a son, who would be devoted to the Lord to serve in that very church. The Lord heard Maurilius’ prayer and the woman conceived and bore a son. In fulfilment of his parents’ vow he was handed over to the sacred offices and served in the church of Calonna for a long time. His case was just like that of Samuel, born of Anna by the grace of the Lord, who served as a priest and prophet in the temple of God. He became the bishop of the church of Angers, in succession to Maurilius.

(§ 6) ‘A hill near Calonna, called Prisciacus, had continued to be full of pagan symbols. The Holy Spirit revealed to the saint that the Lord had granted him the opportunity to destroy this place of deception for souls. He therefore journeyed to that place. When he arrived there the demons immediately began to shout in the air, ‘Why do you pursue us even here, Maurilius? There is nowhere we can avoid you.’ Taking no notice of the vociferous complaint of the poisonous congregation of devils assembled there, Maurilius torched the site and built a monastery close by, which remains to this day to the glory of Our Lord Jesus Chrsist and in memory of the renowned confessor, Maurilius.’

(§ 7) A monk called Clemens was continually afflicted by a quartan fever for three years. At last he asked the saint for blessed bread, which he gave willingly. In an instant that long lasting debility vanished like smoke and longed-for health took its place.

(§ 8) One day some traders were passing through the estate of Calonna. One of their businesses was selling prisoners. One of the prisoners took refuge in the church. The blessed Maurilius begged the traders to set the wretched man free. However, they arrogantly ignored his entreaty and began a reckless attempt to drag the man from the church. He, now much more fearful, shouted out, ‘Servant of God, bring help to the captive.’ At once a great fever seized hold of the most aggressive of the traders, to the point of death. But the merciful saint prayed to the Lord for the villain and he recovered. The prisoner was released from captivity and formally freed.

(§ 9) Merchant ships, by the grace of Christ, sail up and down the Loire, day and night, going about their business. Once, some ships, loaded with a great deal of merchandise, began to sink in a sudden southerly gale, right by the monastery where the saint dwelt. In their despair and fear of death the sailors shouted out with one voice. The blessed Maurilius was moved by their voices and, fearless by virtue of his strong faith, went forth against the storm to save the shipwrecked men. As soon as he prayed to God, a divinely induced calm came upon them in their moment of trial and, unharmed, the sailors continued on their voyage.

(§ 10) Maurilius had a little donkey, which, due to his frailty, he was accustomed to ride. One evening, as night came on, it was stolen by a robber. But what an evil fate was in store for the perpetrator of this sacrilege! Possessed by a demon, he spent the whole night in flight, yet made no progress, wandering around, his efforts in vain. At dawn he was forced by the divine will to give the donkey back to Maurilius. Although the robber was completely defeated, the most merciful judge took pity on him, regarding him, not as a thief, but as a custodian of the donkey, and he gave him three gold pieces. And thus he both recovered his animal and allowed the man to leave behind his evil ways and take the right path in life.

(§ 11) A matron called Amelia, of aristocratic lineage, was gripped by a long illness; twelve years of daily increasing ill-health. At length her parents came to Maurilius and begged him to visit her for the sake of heavenly reward. The priest was fearful of the future judgement of the Lord upon those who did not show pity: ‘I was sick, and you did not visit me’ and so he went with her parents to the woman. Entering the house, he poured the healing oil on the sick woman, praying as he did so: the woman immediately got to her feet and gave thanks to God for the swift restoration of health effected by the saintly Maurilius. In the past she had spent a great part of her fortune on doctors from whom she had received no cure; in fact her illness had got steadily worse.

(§ 12) When Maurilius had become renowned in Calonna for such miraculous deeds, the position of bishop became vacant in the city of Angers. As is the custom, all the priests and laity gathered together to choose a new leader. As if a single individual, they began to discuss whom they might appoint as bishop. But differing opinions and partisan splits made a choice impossible. This was not God’s doing. As the Prophet says: ‘the thoughts of men are empty.’ For false shepherds were chosen, who, while in office, sought their own advancement, not that of Jesus Christ and were not able to unify the Lord’s flock, which perished.

(§ 13) Due to the opposing views about the election, the most holy prelate of Tours, the blessed Martin hastened to be present. His acknowledged holiness and the prestige of his metropolitan see gave him the right to choose the bishop. And so, he said to the people: ‘Listen to me, brothers. God will choose your bishop. It will not be hard. Maurilius, the priest of the church of Calonna, will become your bishop, with God’s aid.’ At once, swayed by such an influential leader, the factions came together and without delay messengers were sent to Maurilius, to compel him to come to the city, whether he wished to or not. Mild and gentle as he was, and no less lacking in obedience than in all the other virtues, he did not refuse the order but obeyed the instruction. As he entered the church in front of the whole throng of the watching populace, a dove descended above his head; a clear sign of the Lord’s favour. At this sight, the whole crowd prostrated themselves before Maurilius, declaring that no one other than he was worthy to be their bishop, not elected by men, but the revealed choice of God. When bishop Martin placed his hand above Maurilius’ head, to pass on the sacred blessing, the dove flew around again, giving approval to the very consecration itself. Quite often thereafter Martin would happily reminisce about the occasion that the Holy Spirit and a chorus of angels had most certainly been present at that consecration.

(§ 14) In this way Maurilius became pastor of the flock, chosen as one of the apostolic priests of the Lord. He was endowed with so much grace that wonders came about through him not less than through the apostles themselves in times gone by. For he routed demons with merely a word, cured the sick by speech alone, made the blind see and cured the paralysed. He performed many other miracles which, although they were not written down, have been preserved in the oral tradition to this day. Such a life shone in the church of the Lord; a beacon of apostolic simplicity and purity of heart. He devoted himself completely to the service of Christ, night and day and to the needs of the flock entrusted to him. By vigils and fasting, he clothed himself in heavenly armour, so that the ancient enemy, strong as he was, could not harm a single one of his flock with his lethal bite.

(§ 15) When he was conducting his usual vigil one night in the basilica of the blessed apostle *Peter (S00036), a man, blind from birth, beseeched the servant of God that sight be granted to him. When the blessed Maurilius made the sign of the life-giving cross above his eyes, there was an outpouring of blood and a sudden irruption of light. The man devoted himself to that particular church for the rest of his life, bearing an admirable witness to the virtues of Maurilius, the servant of God.

(§ 16) Nor should this incident, which was public knowledge, be ignored. Greed is a common human failing. One Sunday, a farmer took his axe and, rashly, began to work on his farm. Immediately divine vengeance struck, binding his hands to that very implement. After five months the farmer came to Maurilius, indicated his punishment and confessed his guilt. Maurilius took pity on the wretch and as soon as he took hold of the handle of the axe, the farmer’s hands were freed and were returned to normal. The man went away, a captive of God, cleansed by His priest.

(§ 17) I cannot and must not pass over in negligent silence a similar miracle in another place. A cruel and greedy man called Belgicus ordered his slaves to weed his crops on the first day of Easter. When the slaves began to pluck out the weeds, compelled by his unjust command, their master, already mentally blinded by greed, was also struck by actual blindness. Belatedly repenting of his impious irreverence, he asked them to leave and stop their untimely labour. The wretched man did not know what to do, or where to turn. At last he began to grope his way forward and got home. He remained blind for three years, until at last Maurilius was going around his diocese to bless his people. Belgicus, now a reformed character and kindled with the fire of faith, asked to be permitted to touch the priest’s robe. When he did so he recovered his sight, which he had lost through his own negligence, through the action of the priest of God.

(§ 18) The general progress of the whole of Angers, in the time Maurilius was bodily present there also must not be forgotten. From the day of his ordination until his death, Angers was so abundantly provided for, that the price of foodstuffs in the market did not change, either up or down. The barns of every citizen were full of wheat and wine. Wars had ceased and peace had increased the prosperity of the earth. Charity had filled the whole population, with the consequence of other virtues and good habits, as the good pastor had taught them both by his apostolic advice and example.

(§ 19) ‘There was a high crag in the district of Commonicum, covered in many different types of trees. In this grove each year a large crowd of stupid people would gather, still in thrall to pagan ritual. There, for a week, they would perform pagan rites in drunken celebration and singing. Frequently the wine and the feasting led to outbreaks of violence and bloodshed. Saddened by this, one day Maurilius came to this place with some of his brethren and spent the whole night there in prayer. At cockcrow such a stench came forth from that place that Maurilius and his brothers could scarcely stay there. This clear sign given openly to all, of the elimination of the pagan, diabolical filth, inspired the rustic crowd to the destruction of their superstition, and so at dawn the sacred leader ordered the trees to be cut down and burnt. A church was built there in honour of *Mary (S00033), the glorious mother of the Lord. The place itself, its original name also abolished, given its connection with paganism, took the name of the Fort of the Rock, in keeping with its natural situation.’

(§ 20) On one occasion Maurilius had been summoned to visit his brethren in the city of Cenomanica. As he was returning, having accomplished his business in peace, he came across a child at Pons-Leugae. His parents had deliberately placed him in the path of the bishop. The boy was held rigid, all his joints bound together, rolled up tightly like a ball. The unhappy parents began to plead for their unfortunate son to the bishop, that he might have mercy on both parents and child. Maurilius could not refuse, motivated not so much by the intensity of their pleas, as by his customary mercy and the will of God as well. He prostrated himself in prayer for a considerable time. There was no great delay. As he prayed the contracted limbs began to be stretched out and the veins recognised their pathways. Finally, the bishop took the boy’s hand and he stood up. The parents happily went home, their son restored to health, praising god and proclaiming the merits of the famous bishop.

(§ 21) One day, when Maurilius came to a river, he discovered that there was no boat ready; they were all moored on the other bank of the river. Without delay and without human guidance they all were steered together across the river towards him. God’s servant gave thanks to God, who had provided such a swift crossing with such miraculous service. To the boatmen, who had arrived late, and were standing by gazing in amazement, Maurilius paid the fare they had not earned.

(§ 22) The saint purchased the Villa Gerciacum with his own money for the church, to provide nourishment for prisoners, widows and orphans, as well as his fellow clergymen. One day, when he was going round the estate, a mad calf was charging everyone. It made for him in a wild-eyed frenzy. Unafraid, the saint stretched out his right hand towards the animal and a demon was drawn forth from its head in the shape of a crow, then vanished into thin air, in the presence of many eyewitnesses. Soon the animal, now as docile as a sheep, returned to its herd.

(§ 23) One day, when the blessed Maurilius was crossing the river Meduana, the little boat he was in began to sink, as the swell increased. The holy priest, worn out by his vigils, was asleep at the time, when his companions roused him saying, ‘What are you doing? We are going to die.’ He replied to them in kindly fashion, ‘Brothers, you could have done this yourselves’, and taking out a little jar, he poured the sacred oil into the waves, with a prayer, and the waters swiftly calmed.

(§ 24) On one occasion, when bishop Maurilius was absent, one of the ministers of the church fell gravely ill. He was brought into the sanctuary of the church, where his companions gazed down upon him, with a mixture of sighs and lamentation. He was a catechumen. By divine providence, Maurilius arrived back, just as he was at the point of death, and he ordered that all the rest should go outside. He stayed, alone with the child, who was scarcely breathing. After an hour the servant of God emerged, with the boy fully restored to health, due to his happy intervention.

(§ 25) Maurilius the confessor cured two wretched lepers by word alone. The holy man took pity upon them as they asked for alms. Their skin was healed and their health was unexpectedly restored.

(§ 26) Who would not willingly hear about what he did for the welfare of his soul and as an act of frugality? During the holy season of Lent, he ate dry food and barley bread, which he ground with his own hand, as an extra sign of his holiness. He would add salt and water and regarded it as a great luxury. However, his body was not wasted, nor was he pale in appearance. But, amazingly, he was sturdy and had a ruddy glow to his face, so that the purity of his soul seemed to shine in his vigourous body. He sailed untiringly through life, going barefoot in Lent and constantly mortifying his flesh with hair-shirts. As the saying goes, strong though his body was, stronger still was his mind in Christ.

(§ 27) This miracle was widely known in all the surrounding areas, which contributed to the growth of the church. Maurilius was making a difficult journey in winter to the town of Saponaria to tend to the needs of his flock. He arrived to encounter a sudden death; a foreigner, far from his home, had expired suddenly. His body was lying on a bier, ready to be committed to the tomb. A throng of the poor was mourning over the corpse. We can do nothing else but record what the divine power brought about through His servant. The merciful pastor stood beside the body, as the others mourned. As they spoke about the grave, the Lord’s priest, deeply touched by pity, prostrated himself in prayer, and kept on invoking God, the creator of life. After his prolonged prayer, he raised the corpse from death, in the manner of the prophet Elisha, who in his mercy, raised a dead child.

(§ 28) From the beginning to the end of his episcopate, Maurilius had very simple belongings and ate like a pauper, to fulfil his canonical duty in every respect. For what seems impossible to man, is possible for those who believe, with the help of God. He reached his ninetieth year, completely healthy in body but even more so in mind, considering frugality and solitude as great treasures. For even amid the bustle of the city this wise man found the solitude of the monastic way. His knees had become as hard and tough as those of a camel, so frequently had he bent them in prayer on behalf of his people. I have recorded what little I know of his countless good deeds, so many of which he hid. Only he knows all that he began and accomplished. In everyday discourse, nothing was more joyful than his severity; nothing more severe than his joy, nothing was sadder than his smile, nothing sweeter than his sadness. When he displayed self-control, he did so without ostentation. He was silent in his eloquence, eloquent in his silence. He moved neither too quickly nor too slowly. His garb was always the same, with little care and attention paid to it; yet he always seemed elegant. By the even tenor of his life alone he won respect. May good men praise him, and evil ones dare not criticize him and let priests treat him with every reverence. And so, let us return to the place where we started.

(§ 29) ‘Fulfilled by a happy old age, Maurilius realising that the longed-for day of his death was at hand, built a double tomb, following the example of our most holy patriarch Abraham.’

Having guided the church for forty years as a priest, and having held the bishop’s chair for thirty, Maurilius returned his soul to Christ, in the same state that he had taken it from the waters of baptism, on the Ides of September [13 September]. Rejoicing angels carried it to the delights of heaven. His people, left behind on this earthly vale, wept for their loss. But the most holy father showed them that, although he was dead, he had not abandoned them, and raised their spirits by a display of his usual talents even at his own funeral.

(§ 30) When his holy remains were being laid to rest in the tomb, two twin brothers approached. Both had been completely blind but their sight was simultaneously restored and they made haste to accompany the holy remains without any guidance, giving praise as they did so. Another man, confined to his bed for twenty-eight years by a severe debility, as soon as he heard the words of the Psalms at the funeral, totally forgot about his handicap and leapt from his bed, agile as a deer, and hurried to the funeral bier carrying the saint, and marvelled at the return of his long-forgotten health. Even today, the grave of Maurilius is famous for great miracles. It is a constant source of goodness and many cures, both of mind and body are attributed, by divine providence, to the merits of the sacred confessor, so that the name of the Lord, the living God, be blessed with praise and glory, through Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory with the Eternal Father and the Holy Spirit for ever. Amen.



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