BLESSED BERTRAND OF GARRIGUE
Blessed Bertrand gets the last part of his name from the village in southern France in which he was born. Those of the older writers who speak of his birthplace generally say that it was the Garrigue near Alais, in the present Department of Gard, which borders on the Mediterranean Sea. The writer of the sketch of his life in the Année Dominicaine, possibly basing his conclusion on Abbé J. P. Isnard’s Saint Bertrand de Garrigue, thinks this honor belongs to Drome, a department just northeast of Gard, and in the Diocese of Valence. There is, he says, a place in this civic division called Garrigue, where local tradition holds that Blessed Bertrand was born, and the ruins of an ancient manor house are still pointed out as the home of his parents. Others, by way of compromise, suggest that he might have been born near Alais, but that he was taken to “Bouchet” in his early youth. Father Touron says that be first saw the light of day in the old County (Comtat) of Venaissin, in the Department of Vaucluse, just south of Drome and east of Gard.(1)
Even with the Frenchman who is not a native of either of these departments it matters little which of the above opinions is correct; for the three governmental divisions mentioned border the one on the other, and afford an approximate idea of the part of France in which our blessed was born..(2) We have seen no date given for his birth, but he was probably a few years younger than Saint Dominic. Bertrand’s parents, who were splendid Catholics, trained him well in his religion. They were also close friends of the Cistercian Sisters of the Convent of Notre Dame of the Woods (du Bosquet), at Bouchet. These associations must have made a strong impression on the tender mind of Bertrand, for he was a pious youth, and given to the practice of virtue.
It is no matter of surprise to see one so circumstanced turn his thoughts towards the ecclesiastical state. Indeed, Bertrand seems to have been ordained at an early age. From his childhood he had had personal experience of the abominations committed by the Albigenses; for he had seen with his own eyes how they defied the laws of both God and man, how they desecrated churches and convents, how they trampled all authority under foot, and how little they valued the lives of those who opposed them..(3) When a young priest, therefore, the man of God did not hesitate to join the band of missionaries, under the direction of the Cistercian Fathers, delegated by the Holy See to bring the benighted Albigenses back to the ways of civilized life, no less than back into the bosom of the Church.
Here Saint Dominic found him at the return of Bishop Didacus (or Diego) de Azebes from Rome, for Bertrand was on the ground before the founder of the Friars Preacher. In fact, he seems to have been one of the first missionaries with whom the holy man from Caleruega came in contact. From the outset the two ambassadors of Christ became fast friends. Cast in the same mold and filled with the same spirit, they labored, prayed, and fasted together-all for the glory of God, the benefit of the Church, the good of religion, and the salvation of souls..(4) Doubtless they effected more by their saintly lives and supplications before the throne of mercy than by their sermons, however eloquent and earnest these were.
The early writers speak of none of Saint Dominic’s first disciples more frequently, or in terms of higher praise, than of Blessed Bertrand of Garrigue. They represent him as pious, candid, humble, zealous, much given to prayer, extremely mortified. If we may judge by their representation of him, he was a true Israelite in whom there was no guile, greatly beloved by Saint Dominic, one of his most frequently chosen companions in labor and travel. For this reason, as well as because they had toiled together for years, one can but believe that Bertrand was one of the first to whom Dominic made known his design of establishing an apostolic order, whose primary object should be the salvation of souls through an active ministry, and whose field of operation should embrace the world. In spite of his modesty and retiring manners, Bertrand was the kind of a man who would espouse such a cause with his whole heart, for the grace of God ever impelled him to do all in his power to increase the harvest of heaven.
Thus we find Bertrand of Garrigue at the side of Dominic, when the latter began to gather recruits for the foregoing purpose. Bertrand received the habit at Toulouse in 1215, and in the house which Peter Seila gave Dominic that it might become the first distinct home of the fathers of the new institute. The event must have occasioned the ardent French ecclesiastic no little joy, for he was now in a fair way not only to enlarge the sphere of his spiritual activity, but also to bind himself the more tightly to serve the Church and to magnify the glory of his Creator. Dominic’s happiness could not have been less at having such a man in his little company. The experience of years had taught him the worth of Bertrand, who had shown himself proof against all trials and temptations.
Father Bertrand seems to have been considered by his confrères second in rank (at Toulouse) to the founder of the incipient Order. This, together with the confidence which the venerable founder reposed in him, is shown by the fact that Dominic left him in charge of the community, when be went to Rome in the fall of 1215 to seek papal confirmation for the institute. He well knew that everything would be safe in such bands. After the saint’s return to France, in the late Spring of 1216, Bertrand certainly took an active part in all the deliberations at Toulouse and Prouille, of which we have spoken in the sketches of Blessed Mannes and Matthew of France; but we have no record of what he did.
When they had selected the rule of Saint Augustine of Hippo as the corner-stone on which the projected Order should be established, Dominic returned to the house of Peter Seila, at Toulouse. In July, 1216, Bishop Fulk and his cathedral chapter bestowed on the incipient religious congregation the Church of Saint Romanus, in that city, and a small vacant priory contiguous to it. Into this latter the community was moved at once. There Father John of Navarre made his religious profession on August 28. Shortly after this, Dominic set out for Rome again that he might obtain the final approbation of his Order. But before be left Toulouse he instituted Father Bertrand of Garrigue prior of Saint Romanus’, which made him the third to hold this position among the Friars Preacher, Dominic being the first, and Natalis of Prouille the second..(5)
Bertrand filled the office of superior at Toulouse until after the return of Dominic, with the bulls of confirmation, in May, 1217, or until the renewal of their vows by the brethren at Prouille on the fifteenth of the following August. In the distribution of his disciples which Dominic made at this time, Father Peter Seila became the new prior of Saint Romanus’, Toulouse. Blessed Bertrand was sent to Paris under the leadership of Matthew of France. Possibly, as such temporal affairs are a necessity, the settlement of his little accounts at Saint Romanus’ detained him a while, and was in part the reason why he, Matthew, John of Navarre, and Lawrence of England, who travelled together, did not reach the French capital for about three weeks after the arrival of Blessed Mannes, Michael de Fabra, and Brother Oderic of Normandy, the other three assigned to that mission..(6)
Paris, because of its university, was one of the world’s great intellectual centers. The fact that he sent nearly half of his little company to this place shows the importance which Saint Dominic attached to a good beginning there. He realized that he must put his best foot forward in so renowned an educational city. This most likely explains the choice of Father Matthew as superior. He and Michael de Fabra, it seems, were to occupy themselves largely with the instruction of the new recruits. This left the other four priests, with the possible exception of John of Navarre, to devote their main attention to the work of the apostolate, while Brother Oderic busied himself with the temporal affairs of the house.
Our blessed’s stay in northern France, however, was of short duration. After the death of Count Simon de Montfort, June 25, 1218, while besieging Toulouse, the Albigenses, through their abetters, gained the ascendency in that city. Dominic seems to have foreseen this catastrophe by divine intuition. The new Friars Preacher, because of the former labors of their founder and his companions in those parts, were both feared and bated by those now in power. This circumstance necessitated the departure of Father Peter Seila from Toulouse. Dominic sent him to Saint James’, Paris. But Bertrand of Garrigue was soon returned to Saint Romanus’ as its prior, and made that convent his home until death..(7)
From Toulouse, no doubt, he attended the general chapters held at Bologna in 1220 and 1221. At this last meeting, it will be recalled, the Order was divided into various provinces — eight in number. To that of Provence, which included southern France, was given our blessed as its first provincial. It was hardly to be expected that Dominic would overlook so close and trusted a friend, whom not a few of the writers call his rival in holiness and mortification. The two apostolic men met then for the last time..(8)
Here we must pause in the course of our sketch to gather up a few hagiological points in Blessed Bertrand’s life which we have not touched. The reader has been told of the close friendship that existed between him and Dominic. Judging from the early writers of the Order, up to the time of their separation by the dispersal of the brethren at Prouille, August 15, 1217, we might call him the saint’s travelling companion par excellence; for the holy founder does not seem to have chosen any other to accompany him quite so often. In this way, Bertrand became an eye-witness to a number of the wonderful miracles wrought by Dominic. In obedience to the patriarch’s command he kept them a secret until after the saint’s death; and then he revealed them to only Blessed Jordan of Saxony, who evidently used his authority as Master General to extract a knowledge of them from him..(9)
Bertrand himself seems to have had the reputation of performing miracles. Nor would this be any matter for surprise, when we consider his purity of soul, his spirit of prayer, and his extraordinary severity with himself. More than once Dominic felt obliged to use his authority to make the pious man observe more discretion in his penances. Another matter in which the saint interfered was Bertrand’s habit of incessantly bewailing his imaginary sins. Dominic, who knew well the purity of his heart, commanded him not to weep any more f or his own fancied misdeeds, but for those of the wicked. Almost incredible as it may seem, such was our blessed’s spirit of obedience, this injunction was observed most faithfully.
The last journey of the two holy men together was in the first half of 1219, when Dominic made his way from Spain to Paris. He stopped to visit the communities at Prouille and Toulouse. From the latter he took the prior, Bertrand of Garrigue, as a companion thence to the French capital. They spent one entire night in prayer in Notre Dame Church, at Roe-Amadour, in the Department of Lot, north of Toulouse.
As they travelled along, they spoke only of God or the things of God. Often they sang sacred hymns-especially those to the Blessed Virgin. It was on this occasion that, in answer to their prayers, God gave them the gift of tongues, and enabled them to speak to some German pilgrims in their native language..(10)
Bertrand’s labors in southern France from the time he returned from Paris, in 1218, as prior of Saint Romanus’ were long both trying and delicate. Raymond VI, count of Toulouse, and his son, Raymond VII, held the reins of authority. They were not only open abetters of the Albigenses, but also men of the most turbulent and disingenuous character. Until the surrender of Raymond VII, the last count of Toulouse, to Louis VIII, Bertrand, whether as prior or provincial, had the dangerous task of steering between Scylla and Charybdis. However, his patience, tact, and peaceful disposition guided him safely through those troublous times.
Because of the slow travel of the day and the custom of speedy burial, the subject of our story did not attend the funeral of his friend Saint Dominic, in August, 1221. But we find him at the general chapter assembled at Saint James’, Paris, on May 22, 1222, where he gave his vote to the great Jordan of Saxony for Master General. Bertrand had doubtless known Jordan in Paris, when the latter was a student at the university there. He had also met him at the first general chapter (1220) at Bologna. This casual acquaintance, as seems to have been the case with all who came in contact with the extraordinary Saxon, convinced Bertrand that no better choice could be made f or a successor to the first head and founder of the Order.
As prior of Saint Romanus’, evidently with vicarial powers from Saint Dominic, our blessed began to erect houses here and there. No sooner was he appointed provincial than he showed that no wiser selection could have been made for the office. Back and forth he traversed the Midi, or southern France. His zeal, kindly manners, and saintly life won the confidence of the bishops, the good will of the clergy, the affection of the faithful. Everywhere he was regarded as a saint. Convents of the Order, peopled with exemplary subjects, rose under the influence of his charming personality. These he visited with marked regularity. His confrères considered him a second Dominic. Despite his otherwise busy life, he preached incessantly. On his way from place to place he rarely passed through a city, town, or village without giving the people a sermon. Rarely, if ever, did he fail to draw large crowds, or to meet with a warm approval by his audience.
Saint Dominic’s work in southern France may be said to date from the historic meeting which the papal delegates and missionaries, commissioned to convert the Albigenses, held at Montpellier. Dominic and Bishop Didacus de Azebes formed a part of the assembly. Possibly it was there that Bertrand of Garrigue and the founder of the Friars Preacher first met. This would explain the special affection in which our blessed ever held the Montpellier convent, Saint Matthew’s..(11) There, after hard labors, he loved to retire and recuperate his spirit and his energy in prayer and retreat. This was one of the first houses he had built; for it was erected in 1220, or before he became provincial.
An incident told in connection with one of the holy man’s sojourns at Montpellier is so full of interest, as well as so illustrative of his character, that it deserves a place in these pages. Possibly in consequence of Saint Dominic’s command not to weep for his own imagined misdeeds, but for those of the wicked, Bertrand very frequently said mass for the conversion of sinners, and rarely for the dead. A Father Benedict of the Montpellier community ventured to ask him the reason for this custom. The reply was that those who die in grace are sure of salvation, and the Church is always praying for them; whilst sinners are continually in danger of losing their souls, and are never safe. Benedict then asked him, if he had two beggars before him, one of whom was strong and able-bodied, and the other without feet or bands, which would he help? The one who could do nothing for himself was the immediate reply. That is precisely the case with the dead, said Benedict. They can do nothing for themselves. But sinners can help themselves by a reformation.
Our blessed, as the story runs, was not fully convinced by his confrère’s argument. The next night he had a frightful dream of a soul in purgatory, which awoke him from his slumbers time and time again. When morning came, be told his friend, Father Benedict, of his distressful experience. From that time he frequently said mass for the departed souls..(12)
Evidently Blessed Jordan and the fathers of the Province of Provence were eminently satisfied with Bertrand as provincial, for they seem to have kept him in the position until death. One of the things which he ever sought to impress on the minds of those under his charge was that the calling of a Friar Preacher is to labor for the salvation of souls; or, as he was wont to express it, to convert sinners. In this, as in all things else, he set the example which he wished others to follow. While the embodiment of kindness towards those under his charge, or with whom he came in contact, he showed himself no mercy. Ceaselessly did he toil on and on and on until the end. He died in harness..(13)
The holy man’s last apostolic work was for the Cistercian Sisters of Notre Dame of the Woods (“du Bosquet”), which Father Touron says was in the old County (Comtat) of Venaissin, and the Année Dominicaine at Bouchet, in the Diocese of Valence. These austere religious asked Bertrand to give them a course of sermons on the spiritual life. While thus engaged, he fell sick and died. This was in 1230, but the time of the year is not known. As the Friars Preacher then had no house in the vicinity, the first provincial of the Province of Provence was buried in the conventual cemetery of the Cistercian Nuns near the apse of the abbatial church.
Blessed Bertrand had always enjoyed a great reputation for sanctity. Shortly after his death marvellous cures began to be wrought through his intercession. In consequence of this, the sisters had an altar erected to his honor in their church, and placed his statue on it. Then his remains were moved under this altar. When the body was taken from the grave, although he had been dead twenty-three years, it was found to be wholly intact. From this time until more than a century and a half afterwards Notre Dame of the Woods was one of the most popular places of pilgrimage in southern France. Many miracles occurred there. Devotion to the holy Friar Preacher was not only intense, but also widespread.
Then came the unfortunate Schism of the West, with its chilling effect on the piety of the faithful. As is always the case, the religious houses were the first to suffer from the demoralization; the more rigid their rule, the quicker their decline. The great Notre Dame of the Woods became all but desolated, and the convent was fast falling into ruins. For this reason, in 1413, the few remaining sisters were removed to the larger Abbey of Aiguebelle. Then the Friars Preacher, who now had a house at Orange, transferred the relics of their saintly confrère to their church in that city, and enshrined them under the main altar. Almost immediately the sacred edifice became a noted place of pilgrimage. But the devotion to Blessed Bertrand did not cease at the former Notre Dame of the Woods and its vicinity. Indeed, as will now be seen, it was fortunate that his relics bad long been left there.
The mad vagaries of Martin Luther soon made their way into southern France, where they found many followers who have become known in history as Huguenots. They were even more violent than the Albigenses had been. In 1545, they gained the ascendency in Orange. Sixteen years later (1561), they seized the Dominican church by night, and appropriated it to their own usages. The interior of the sacred edifice was completely demolished. Altars, crucifixes, statues, and all other religious objects, that could not be converted into coin, were torn to pieces and burned. Even the body of Blessed Bertrand of Garrigue, which until then had remained incorrupt, was ruthlessly consigned to the flames. Those who are over prone to censure the cruelty meted out to the Huguenots of France at a later date should reflect that it was largely brought on them by their own misdeeds.
As was but natural, this act of desecration, by depriving the faithful of Orange of every vestige of (and physical contact, so to express it, with) the man of God, greatly lessened the devotion towards him in that city and its environs. Happily, the band of tyranny and impiety bore with less weight on the rural parish at Bouchet, whose people continued to venerate our blessed and to seek his intercession before the throne of divine mercy.
There can be no doubt that the tombstone which marked Bertrand’s grave in the quondam cemetery of the Cistercian Sisters of Notre Dame of the Woods, and the altar and statue erected to his honor in their church, aided greatly in the preservation of this tender devotion at Bouchet. Hither people came from far and near to pray. From the place where his body had lain earth was taken as a cure for all kinds of ailments. Many miracles were attributed to him. The graveyard of Notre Dame of the Woods became known as “Saint Bertrand’s Cemetery,” the name which it still bears. The red-handed revolutionists of 1790 destroyed his altar and mutilated his statue; but even the remnants of the latter continued to be cherished as something sacred.
By good fortune, these miscreants overlooked the Friar Preacher’s tombstone and former grave. Possibly it was God’s way of keeping alive the memory of Saint Dominic’s early disciple and co-laborer. In any ,case, devotion and veneration towards him did not wane. In 1870, the Right Rev. Francis N. Gueulette, bishop of Valence, gave his juridical approval to the immemorial cult of Bertrand in his diocese. From that time the cause of the beatification of the first bead of the Province of Provence was urged at Rome by the cardinals, archbishops, and bishops of Paris, Toulouse, Marseilles, Valence, Nimes, Avignon, Besancon, Carcasonne, Montpellier, Orleans, and Cahors, as well as by his own Order. The cardinal archbishop of Bologna, Italy, and the bishop of Cordova, Spain, also took an active interest in the matter..(14)
Finally the Sacred Congregation of Rites sanctioned the cult of Blessed Bertrand of Garrigue. This was by a decree of date July 12, 1881. Two days later, the great Leo XIII gave it his formal approval, and allowed his mass and office to the Order of Preachers and the dioceses of Nimes and Valence. September 6 was assigned as his feast day.
1. Acta Sanctorum, LXII (13th vol. for October), 136-141, 919-921; ALBERTI, fol. 179; Année Dominicaine, IX (September), 171 ff; BALME-LELAIDIER, II, 44 ff, 285; CASTILLO, p. 54; FRACHET, de, Vitae Fratrum, passim; JORDAN of Saxony, Vita Sancti Dominici in Acta Sanctorum, XXXV, 541 ff, and Opera (Berthier ed.), p. 17; MALVENDA, pp. 175, 262-264; MAMACHI, pp. 366-367, and passim; MORTIER, I, 27-28, 90, 96, and passim; PIO, col. 14-15; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 16; THEODERIC of Apolda, Vita Sancti Dominici in Acta Sanctorum, XXXV, 558 ff. The story is taken more from the Année Dominicaine than from Father Touron. It is strange that Marchese does not mention Blessed Bertrand in his Sagro Diario Domenicano. Practically always one sees the subject of this sketch given in English as Bertrand of Garrigua. But the use of the Latin name for the French town of Garrigue, just as the use of the Latin name Calaroga for the Spanish town of Caleruega, where Saint Dominic was born, does not seem congruous to the writer when it is just as easy to give the vernacular. (Ed. note).
2. As stated in the text, the three civic departments mentioned are contiguous, and it would be hard to point out three counties in the United States so small that they would not have a much larger area. (Ed. note).
3. The Albigenses were strong in his own neighborhood, and it is said that their abetters once attacked Notre Dame of the Woods. (Ed. note).
4. Such statements are made by all the early writers. (Ed. note).
5. See MAMACHI, pp. 366-367, who makes a digest of all that had been said about Bertrand by previous writers. (Ed. note).
6. See sketches of Blessed Mannes and Matthew of France; also BALMELE-LAIDIER and QUETIF-ECHARD, as in note 1.
7. MAMACHI, p. 367; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 19.
8. DE FRACHET (Reichert ed.), p. 338; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 21.
9. Malvenda, as in note 1, mentions several of these miracles, as do a number of the writers referred to there.
10. These facts are also mentioned by nearly all the authorities given in note 1.
11. The only place we found the name of this convent is in MORTIER, VI, 226-227. (Ed. note).
12. Many of the writers named in note 1 give this story.
13. Bertrand’s zeal, industry, holiness, kindliness towards others, and severity on himself are frequently mentioned by the writers of Dominican history. (Ed. note).
14. Gams’ Series Episcoporum shows the deaths of the ordinaries of some of the places given in the text, and their succession by others, within the decade before Father Bertrand’s beatification. Thus, as we found no author giving the names of those who appealed to Rome to take such a step, we could not with certainty designate all of them, and so concluded that it were better to give the names of none. (Ed. note).
- Saint Peter of Verona
- Blessed Bartholomew Di Braganza, Bishop
- Blessed John di Scledo of Vicenza
- Blessed Guala of Bergamo, Bishop
- Elias Roberto, Patriarch
- Albert Boschetti, Bishop
- Peter Scaligeri, or Della Scala, Bishop
- Reginald of Bologna, Primate of Ireland
- William di Monferrato
- James Xurone of Milan
- Blessed Nicholas Puglia of Giovenazzo
- Tancred Tancredi
- Tancred of Germany
- Rudolph of Faenza
- Chiaro, A Noted Doctor of Bologna
- Roland of Cremona
- Moneta of Cremona
- Amizo di Solar
- Buonviso of Piacenza
- Bonaventure of Verona
- Conrad of Germany
- Stephan of Spain, Archbishop
- Saint Hyacinth Ordowaz
- Blessed Ceslas Ordowaz
- Herman of Germany
- Henry of Moravia
- Paul of Hungary, Martyr
- Blessed Sadoc, Martyr
- Blessed Mannes Guzman
- Matthew of France, Dominican Abbot
- Blessed Bertrand of Garrigue
- John of Navarre
- Lawrence of England
- Michael de Fabra
- Sueiro Gomes
- Peter Seila
- William Claret
- Dominic of Segovia, or “The Little”
- Peter of Madrid
- Stephen of Metz
- Natalis (or Noel) of Prouille
- Thomas of Toulouse
- Michael de Uzero
- Oderic of Normandy
- Some Other Original Disciples
- Blessed Reginald of Orleans
- Blessed Jordan of Saxony
- Henry of Utrecht (or of Cologne)
- Henry of Marsberg (or of Germany)
- Peter of Reims, Bishop
- Clement of Scotland, Bishop
- Philip, Missionary Apostolic
- John of Wildeshausen, Bishop and Master General
(or John the Teuton)
- Raymond de Felgar, Bishop
- Blessed John of Salerno
- Blessed Isnard of Chiampo (or Vicenza)
- Father Touron’s Bibliography