Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume X: October. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Gerald, Confessor
[Count of Aurillac or Orilhac, Patron of Upper Auvergne.] THIS virtuous nobleman was born in 855, and inherited from his parents the most tender sentiments of piety and religion. It being the custom of that age for lords to lead their vassals to war in person, the art of war was looked upon as a necessary part of his education; but a lingering illness detained him a long time at home, during which he took so much delight in studies, prayer, and holy meditation, that he could never be again drawn into the tumultuous scene of a worldly train of life. By rooted habits of perpetual strict temperance and assiduous devotion he entered upon a penitential course of life. After the death of his parents he gave almost the whole revenue of his large estate to the poor, reserving a very small pittance for his own subsistence: he went meanly clad, in a manner suitable to the austere life he had embraced, fasted three days a week, never supped, and kept always a very frugal table. He rose every morning at two oclock, even in journeys, said the morning part of the divine office, and meditated till sunrise; then he heard mass, and divided the whole day between the duties of religion and those of his station, devoting a great part of it to prayer and pious reading. He had usually a good book read to him at table; but after meals, allowed himself a little time for relaxation and conversing with his friends, though his discourse turned always upon something serious: in his pilgrimages and journeys he always took with him some holy priests with whom he might pray, and always chose a lodging next to some church. At prayer he appeared quite absorbed in God. Calling once at the monastery of Solemniac, during the long office on Ascension-day, he stood unmoved in such devout contemplation as never to seem to perceive the seat and form richly covered that was prepared for him. The monks, from his very countenance and attitude, learned with what profound sentiments of adoration, awe, and love, we ought to present ourselves before God. He had such an abhorrence of praise and flattery that he discharged from his service any one who discovered anything that tended to manifest his virtue; and, if he was a slave, ordered him to be chastised. All miraculous cures which God wrought by his means he most carefully concealed. He found great satisfaction in visiting the tombs of St. Martin and other saints, being transported at the remembrance of the bliss which their happy souls now enjoy in the beatific vision. Acts of charity to the poor, and of justice to his vassals, were a great part of his external employments; and it was his chief care to make up all quarrels among them, to exhort all to virtue, and to furnish them with the best means for their spiritual instruction and advancement. In a spirit of sincere devotion and penance he performed an austere pilgrimage to Rome, and after his return founded at Aurillac a great church under the invocation of St. Peter, in 884, in the place of that of St. Clement, which his father had built there, together with a Benedictin abbey. This monastery our saint enlarged and enriched, and with great care and solicitude procured the most perfect observances of the Order to be established in it. He had some thoughts of taking himself the monastic habit, but was dissuaded by St. Gausbert, bishop of Cahors, his director, who represented to him that, in the station in which God had placed him in the world, he was able to promote the divine honour to greater advantage in the service of his neighbour, and that he ought to acquit himself of the obligations which he owed to others. Seven years before he died he lost his sight: in that state of corporal darkness his soul was employed in contemplating the divine perfections, and the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem; in bewailing his distance from God, and his own spiritual miseries, and those of the whole world, and in imploring the divine mercy. His happy death happened at Cezeinac in Quercy, on the 13th of October, 909. His body was conveyed to Orilhac, and interred in the monastery, where it was honoured with many miracles, attested by St. Odo of Cluni, and others. His silver shrine was plundered by the Huguenots in the sixteenth century, and his sacred bones scattered about, but some of them were recovered. This great abbey was secularized, and converted into a collegiate church of canons by Pius IV. in 1562, according to Longuerue,1 not by Pius V., as Piganiol and Baillet have it. The dignity of abbot is preserved, who is commendatory, and lord of the town and territory, with great prerogatives, but not of the castle, which belongs to the king. The town of Aurillac was raised about the abbey, and has been long the capital of Upper Auvergne. See the life of St. Gerald compiled in four books by St. Odo of Cluni, who died thirty-three years after him, extant in Surius, Biblioth. Cluniac. p. 66, and part in Mabillon, Act. Ben. Sæc. v, with extracts from the Chronicle of Adhemar, and other writers.