Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume VII: July. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Theobald or Thibault, Confessor
HE was of the family of the counts palatine of Champagne, and son of Count Arnoul. He was born at Provins in Brie in 1017, and was called Theobald from the most virtuous archbishop of Vienne, who was his uncle. In his youth he preserved his heart free from the corruption of the world amidst its vanities; and the more pains others took to make him conceive a relish for them, the more diligent he was in fencing his heart against their dangers, and the more perfectly he discovered their emptiness and secret poison. In reading the lives of the fathers of the desert he was much affected by the admirable examples of penance, self-denial, holy contemplation, and Christian perfection, which were set before his eyes as it were in a glass, and he earnestly desired to imitate them. The lives of St. John the Baptist, of St. Paul the hermit, St. Antony, and St. Arsenius in their wildernesses, charmed him, and he sighed after the like sweet retirement, in which he might, without interruption, converse with God by prayer and contemplation. He often resorted to an holy hermit named Burchard, who lived in a little island in the Seine; and by making essays he began to inure himself to fasting, watching, long prayers, and every rigorous practice of penance. He declined all the advantageous matches and places at court or in the army which his father could propose to him. His cousin Eudo, Count Palatine of Champagne, and Count of Chartres and Blois, upon the death of his uncle Rodolph, the last king of Burgundy, in 1034, laid claim to that crown as next heir in blood; but the emperor Conrad the Salic seized upon it by virtue of the testament of the late king.1 Hereupon ensued a war, and Count Arnoul ordered his son to lead a body of troops to the succour of his cousin; but the young general represented so respectfully to his father the obligation of a vow by which he had bound himself to quit the world, that he at length extorted his consent.
Soon after the saint and another young nobleman called Walter, his intimate friend, each taking one servant, went to the abbey of St. Remigius in Rheims, and thence having sent back their servants with their baggage, they set out privately; and in the clothes of two beggars, in exchange for which they had given their own rich garments, they travelled barefoot into Germany. Finding the forest of Petingen in Suabia a convenient solitude for their purpose, they built themselves there two little cells. Having learned from Burchard that manual labour is a necessary duty of an ascetic or penitential life, and not being skilled in the manner of working to make mats or baskets, they often went into the neighbouring villages and there hired themselves by the day to serve the masons, or to work in the fields, to carry stones and mortar, to load and unload carriages, to cleanse the stables under the servants of the farmers, or to blow the bellows and to make fires for the forges. With their wages they bought coarse brown bread, which was their whole subsistence. Whilst they worked with their hands, their hearts were secretly employed in prayer; and at night retiring again into their forest, they watched long, singing together the divine praises, and continuing in holy contemplation. Their carriage and the tenderness of their complexion discovered that they had not been trained up in manual labour, and the reputation of their sanctity after some time drew the eyes of men upon them. To shun which they resolved to forsake a place where they were no longer able to live in humiliation and obscurity. They performed barefoot a pilgrimage to Compostella, and returned into Germany.
Passing through Triers, it happened that Theobald there met his father Count Arnoul; but with his tanned face, and in his ragged clothes, passing for a beggar, he was not known by him. He was strongly affected, and was scarcely able to stifle the tender sentiments with which his heart was quite overcome at the sight of so dear and affectionate a parent. However, he suppressed them; but to quit the neighbourhood where he might be again exposed to the like trial, he undertook a pilgrimage to Rome. The two fervent penitents travelled everywhere barefoot; and after they had visited all the holy places in Italy, they chose for their retirement a hideous woody place called Salanigo, near Vicenza, where, with the leave of the lord of the manor, they built themselves two cells, near an old ruinous chapel. Prayer and the exercises of penance were their constant employment, till after two years God called Walter to himself. Theobald looked upon this loss as a warning that he had not long to live, and he exerted his whole strength, redoubling his pace to run with greater vigour as he drew near the end of his race. He had lived on oat bread and water, with roots and herbs; but at length he interdicted himself even the use of bread, taking no other food but herbs and roots. He always wore a rough hair shirt; his bed was a board, and for the five last years of his life he took his rest sitting on a wooden seat. The bishop of Vicenza promoted him to priests orders, and several persons put themselves under his direction. His lineage and quality being discovered, his aged parents were no sooner informed that their son was alive, and that the hermit of Salanigo, the reputation of whose sanctity, prophecies, and miracles filled all Europe, was that very son whose absence had been to them the cause of so long a mourning; but they set out with great joy to see him. His frightful desert, his poor cell, his tattered clothes, and above all his emaciated body, made so strong impressions upon their hearts at the first sight that they both cast themselves at his feet, and for a considerable time were only able to speak to him by their tears. When they were raised from the ground, and had recovered from their first surprise, faith overcame in them the sentiments of nature, and converted their sorrow into joy. The sight of so moving an example extinguished in their hearts all love of the world, and they both resolved upon the spot to dedicate themselves to the divine service. The count was obliged by his affairs to return into Brie; but Gisla, the saints mother, obtained her husbands consent to finish her course near the cell of her son. The saint made her a little hut at some distance from his own, and took great pains to instruct her in the practice of true perfection. He was shortly after visited with his last sickness; his body was covered over with blotches and ulcers, and every limb afflicted with some painful disorder. The servant of God suffered this distemper with a most edifying patience and joy. A little before his death he sent for Peter, the abbot of Vangadice, of the Order of Camaldoli, from whose hands he had received the religious habit a year before. To him he recommended his mother and his disciples: and having received the viaticum he expired in peace on the last day of June, 1066, being about thirty-three years old, of which he had spent twelve at Salanigo and three in Suabia, and in his pilgrimages. His relics were translated to the church dependent on the abbey of St. Columba, at Sens, and afterwards to a chapel near Auxerre called St. Thibaud aux Bois. He was canonized by Alexander III., and his name is in great veneration at Sens, Provins, Paris, Auxerre, Langres, Toul, Triers, Autun, and Beauvais. See his life faithfully written by a contemporary author.
Note 1. The second kingdom of Burgundy was begun in 890, by Ralph, nephew to Bozon, whom the Emperor Charles the Bald, king of France, had made king of Arles in 876, giving him Provence and part of Dauphiné. This second kingdom of Burgundy comprised Provence, Savoy, the Viennois, and the county of Burgundy. The duchy of Burgundy hod its duke at the same time. [back]