Florence, Tuscan Margrave
12 July 1073 (aged 88)|
Badia di Passignano, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, Florence, Tuscan Margrave
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
|Canonized||24 October 1193, Old Saint Peter's Basilica, Papal States by Pope Celestine III|
Saint Giovanni Gualberto (c. 985 – 12 July 1073) was an Italian Roman Catholic abbot and the founder of the Vallumbrosan Order. Gualberto was once a vain individual who sought pleasure in vanities and romantic intrigues and set off to find and kill the man who slew his brother Ugo. But in Florence where he found him he did not kill him; he embraced the man and offered him his friendship. He soon after became a member of the Order of Saint Benedict though left in order to found his own congregation. He condemned nepotism and all simoniacal actions and was known for the pureness and meekness of his faith. Even popes held him in high esteem and heard of his fame.
Giovanni Gualberto was born circa 985 to nobles who hailed from the Visdomini house; he was born in the castle known as Poggio Petroio. His sole sibling was his brother Ugo. He was also related to the Blessed Pietro Igneo.
He was educated and raised in the faith but in his adolescence cared little for faith. He was instead focused on frivolous things and was concerned with vain amusements and romantic intrigues. But his dedication to his parents and his brother was great despite these vanities of his.
Gualberto's grief was so great upon learning that a man had slain his beloved brother Ugo and this prompted him to search and kill the murderer. On one particular Good Friday he was entering Florence alongside armed followers when in a narrow lane he happened to come across the man who had killed his brother. He was about to kill the man with his sword in revenge when the other fell upon his knees with arms outstretched in the form of a cross and begged for him to be merciful in the name of Jesus Christ bearing in mind that He had died on that day. Gualberto forgave the man and extended his hand to him to pick him up from the floor. The two embraced and Gualberto offered him his friendship. He entered the Benedictine church at San Miniato to pray and the figure on the crucifix bowed its head to him in recognition of his generous and merciful outreach to the man. He begged God in tears to pardon him of his sins and that week cut off his hair and began to wear an old habit that he had borrowed. This tale forms the subject of Burne-Jones's picture "The Merciful Knight" and Shorthouse adapted this in "John Inglesant".
Gualberto became a Benedictine monk at San Miniato despite his father's opposition. His father hastened to find his son but gave him his blessing when he heard his son's arguments and saw that he was resolute in his decision. But he counselled his son to do good. He fought against simoniacal actions of which both his abbot Oberto and the Bishop of Florence Pietro Mezzabarba were accused and their guilt discovered. Unwilling to compromise with them he left to lead a more perfect life far from those impurities. He often fasted and imposed other strict penances on himself. His attraction was for the cenobitic and not eremitic life so after he spent some time with the monks at Camaldoli he settled at Vallombrosa where he founded his own convent. The area surrounding this place at Vallombrosa was wild and deserted when he first arrived and thought that it would be more conducive to contemplation and discipline if the grounds were better kept. But instead of a traditional garden he opted to have his monks plant trees (firs and pines for the most part) thus creating a park and nature preserve to enhance the environment. Mabillon estimates its foundation sometime before 1038. He founded additional convents for his order in locations such as Rozzuolo and San Salvi. Pope Alexander II issued formal papal approval for the foundation of Gualberto's order.
He became a noted figure for his compassion to the poor and the ill. Even Pope Leo IX knew about him and travelled to his convent to visit and speak with the monk. Even Pope Stephen IX and Alexander II held him in the greatest esteem as did Pope Gregory VII who praised Gualberto for the pureness and meekness of his faith as a staunch example of compassion and goodness. Gualberto also admired the teachings of the Church Fathers as well as Saint Basil and Saint Benedict of Nursia in particular.
His canonization was celebrated under Pope Celestine III on 24 October 1193.
His liturgical feast was not included in the Tridentine Calendar but was later added to the General Roman Calendar in 1595. Owing to its limited worldwide importance his feast was removed from that calendar in 1969. The date assigned for his feast still remains as indicated in the Roman calendar and according to the new rules given in the Roman Missal in 1969 could still be celebrated across the globe with his own Mass unless in some places an important celebration is assigned and thus coincides.
Gualberto is the patron saint for foresters and also is the patron for park rangers and parks. Pope Pius XII named him - in 1951 - as the patron saint for the Italian Forest Corps while he was named as the patron for Brazilian forests in 1957.
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