Friday, September 28, 2012

Bl. John of Montmirail: Knight to Leper Keeper

Tomb of Bl John, smashed in 1793 (source).

This week, my Medieval Bodies and Spaces class is all about comparing the features of lordly towers to abbeys in the 9th century.  It makes today’s Menology entry for Blessed John of Montmirail, a knight turned monk, fit right into the places my head has been going.

In France, Blessed John of Mont Amirail. Noble by birth, in his early career he had been a brave cavalier, and won great distinction at the battle of Gisors, where he saved his King Philip Augustus from the hands of his enemy. Barely thirty years old, he changed his outlook upon life, got a hospice built for the poor and pilgrims, and practiced therein himself the works of piety and mercy. He specially loved the lepers, whom he brought to his room and table. All the while, he wore coarse haircloth, and often spent the night in holy prayer. At length by the advice of holy directors, he entered the Monastery of Longpont, where, through his love of abjection, he was nicknamed the humble. He was the model of all, and they unanimously regarded him as a saint. He died in peace in 1217. Many miracles were wrought at his tomb, and even at the present day his relics are the object of religious veneration in the parish Church. Pope Leo XIII granted in his honour an Office special to the Diocese of Soissons.

That last sentence tells you a bit about how long the Menology went between updates.  Bl. John’s tomb was destroyed after the French Revolution in 1793.

The ruins of the abbey church at Longpont (source).

Bl. John’s life is relatively well-attested. He was Baron de Montmirail, Comte de La Ferté-Gaucher, and lord of ten or so other places. He was a life-long friend of Philip Augustus, whose life he saved in battle against Richard the Lionheart, and endowed numerous abbeys before finally retiring to the cloister.  The Menology neglects to mention that he entered the cloister at around 30, leaving behind a wife and children, a bit of a problematic transition by today’s standards.