Saint Leonard of Noblac
|Wooden statue of Saint Leonard, Abbot of Noblac|
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
Eastern Orthodox Church
|Attributes||depicted as an abbot holding chains, fetters or locks, or manacles.|
|Patronage||political prisoners, imprisoned people, prisoners of war, and captives, women in labour, as well as horses|
Leonard of Noblac (or of Limoges or Noblet; also known as Lienard, Linhart, Leonhard, Léonard, Leonardo, Annard) (died 559 AD), is a Frankish saint closely associated with the town and abbey of Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat, in Haute-Vienne, in the Limousin (region) of France.
According to the romance that accrued to his name, recorded in an 11th-century vita, Leonard was a Frankish noble in the court of Clovis I, founder of the Merovingian dynasty. He was converted to Christianity along with the king, at Christmas 496, by Saint Remigius, Bishop of Reims. Leonard asked Clovis to grant him personally the right to liberate prisoners whom he would find worthy of it, at any time.
Leonard secured the release of a number of prisoners, for whom he has become a patron saint, then, declining the offer of a bishopric— a prerogative of Merovingian nobles— he entered the monastery at Micy near Orléans, under the direction of Saint Mesmin and Saint Lie. Then, according to his legend, Leonard became a hermit in the forest of Limousin, where he gathered a number of followers. Through his prayers the queen of the Franks safely bore a male child, and in recompense Leonard was given royal lands at Noblac, 21 km (13 mi) from Limoges. It is likely that the toponym was derived from the Latin family name Nobilius and the common Celtic element -ac, simply denoting a place. There he founded the abbey of Noblac, around which a village grew, named in his honour Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat.
According to legend, prisoners who invoked him from their cells saw their chains break before their eyes. Many came to him afterwards, bringing their heavy chains and irons to offer them in homage. A considerable number remained with him, and he often gave them part of his vast forest to clear and make ready for the labours of the fields, that they might have the means to live an honest life.
In the 12th century, although there is no previous mention of Leonard either in literature, liturgy or in church dedications, his cult rapidly spread, at first through Frankish lands, following the release of Bohemond I of Antioch in 1103 from a Danishmend prison, where the successful diplomacy was inspired by Leonard of Noblac. Bohemond, a charismatic leader of the First Crusade, subsequently visited the Abbey of Noblac, where he made an offering in gratitude for his release. Bohemond's example inspired many similar gifts, enabling the Romanesque church and its prominent landmark belltower to be constructed. About the same time Noblac was becoming a stage in the pilgrimage route that led towards Santiago de Compostela. Leonard's cult spread through all of Western Europe: in England, with its cultural connections to the region, no fewer than 177 churches are dedicated to him. Leonard was venerated in Scotland, the Low Countries, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, particularly in Bavaria, and also in Bohemia, Poland, and elsewhere. Pilgrims and patronage flowed to Saint-Leonard de Noblac.
Leonard or Lienard became one of the most venerated saints of the late Middle Ages. His intercession was cred with miracles for the release of prisoners, women in labour and the diseases of cattle. His feast day is November 6, when he is honoured with a festival at Bad Tölz, Bavaria. He is honoured by the parish of Kirkop, Malta on the third Sunday of every August.
Since the vita written in the 11th century is without historical value according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, one may approach the legendary Saint Leonard, whose bones lie in the Romanesque collegial church, by means of the historic village, instead of the other way around. The growing tide of pilgrims passing on their way to Santiago inspired romances to publicize more than one locally venerated saint along the pilgrim routes. Saint Martial is another example of a saint of the Limousin whose dramatic vita helped attract pilgrims to his shrine. The village below the shrine of Saint Leonard, perched on its hilltop site, had its origins in the 11th century, when under the jurisdiction of the château of Noblac it was first encircled with walls, a necessity of life in the region. It developed as a small center of commerce in the 13th century, based on forges and foundries (perhaps the origin of the saint's association with chains) and leatherworking, with communal consuls who were in charge of defending its rights and privileges -its "liberties" in the medieval sense. A history of the commune, written by the local antiquary and historian of the Limousin, Louis Guibert in 1890, was reissued in 1992.
Today Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat, Haute-Vienne, population 4766 in 1999, is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites connected with the routes to Santiago. It retains the Romanesque collegial church and its belltower, 52 m (171 ft) tall. Its old houses follow a medieval street pattern, with many streets converging in a public space by the former abbey church. In the 19th century, a papermill and a porcelain manufactory were added to its commerce. No longer attracting visitors as a stop on the route to Santiago, it is now attracting them as an overnight stop on the Tour de France. The town is also famous for its native son, the scientist Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac (1778 – 1850); there is a small museum in his honor.
Various places refer to this saint. Notable among these is the town of St Leonards-on-Sea in East Sussex. Sussex is also home to St Leonard's Forest. This part of England has a significant number of dedications to St Leonard. One of the best-known is the Parish church of St Leonard in Hythe, Kent, with its famous ossuary in the ambulatory situated beneath its chancel. There is a cluster of dedications in the West Midlands region, including the original parish churches of Bridgnorth (now a redundant church and used for community purposes) and Bilston, as well as White Ladies Priory, a ruined Augustinian house. The largest hospital in northern mediaeval England was an Augustinian foundation dedicated to St. Leonard, in York. Its partial ruins are to be found in the Museum Gardens although undercroft remains lie some hundred yards away and are used as a bar under the York Theatre Royal. In Newton Abbot, Devon, there is both a Chapel of Ease dedicated to St Leonard, first recorded in 1350, and a replacement Church built in 1834. The Chapel was near the bridewell (prison).
Several German churches are dedicated to the saint, including St. Leonhard, Frankfurt.
In Italy almost 225 places are dedicated to the saint, equally distributed in the North (in Friuli there's the oldest Italian church dedicated to this saint 774) as well as in the South where the shrine was introduced by the Normans. The shrine can be found even in Italian islands such as Sicily, Sardinia, Ischia, Procida. In September 2004, a National Meeting of the Italian parish churches dedicated to the Saint took place in the small village of Panza d'Ischia where a small chapel of St. Leonard was transformed into a church in 1536.
The Merranean nation of Malta contains a single parish dedicated to this saint, in the town of Kirkop. Kirkop's parish church was founded on May 29, 1592. The saint is known as San Anard Abbati in Maltese.
In Portugal the parish and church (late 12th century) of Atouguia da Baleia (Peniche) is dedicated to Saint Leonard. The saint's day is commemorated every 6 November (or the closest Sunday). This is the only parish dedicated to Saint Leonard in the whole country.
Tomb of St Leonard at Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat, Haute-Vienne.