Tag Archives: St. John Gualbert

Forgiveness and forestry – St. John Gualbert

On a hill in Florence there is the beautiful Romanesque church of San Miniato. He was, according to the legends, Saint Minias was a royal Armenian in the Roman army. He converted to Christianity and became a hermit near Florence. Denounced to the authorities, he refused to abandon his faith. After tortures he was beheaded, about 250 AD. Like Saint Denis of Paris, he is said to have picked up his head and carried it to the site of his tomb.


San Minato, Florence


Interior of San Miniato


But the monastery is also important in the life of another saint of Florence, St. John Gualbert. He lived a frivolous life until an event one Good Friday.


Altarpiece of Saint John Gualbert, in Santa Croce Church Florence

His only brother Ugo had been killed shortly before. Entering Florence with some armed men, he ran across his brother’s murderer. The man opened his arms in the form of a cross and asked for mercy, reminding John that it was Good Friday. John let the man go.

He then went up to the church of San Miniato. Praying before the crucifix he saw Christ bowing his head as the murderer had done. He cut off his hair and soon joined the Benedictine monastery.

This example of breaking the cycle of revenge was very important for his culture, as it is for Honduras. This then is a good day to pray for an end to violence of revenge.

(A side note: revenge is such a problem here because there is no effective judicial system and so there is little follow-up to violent crime. The criminals get off – sometimes with a bribe, but often due to people’s fear of making public charges.)

John entered the order but after accusing the abbot and bishop of corruption, most notably simony, and desiring a more vigorous monastic life, he left. He eventual founded a branch of Benedictines, known as Vallambrosians, after the name of the place where he established his monastery

At Vallambrosa, he had his monks plant trees. He is the patron saint of parks, park rangers, and foresters. Maybe we should look to him as the patron saint of reforestation.

(Another side note: According to one report, the Vallambrosans left manual work to the lay brothers, a practice which I feel is an error and a deviation from the wisdom of St. Benedict who called his monks to “Pray and Work” – “Ora et labore.”)

He died on July 12, 1073; he was about 80 years old.

May he intercede for Honduras and for all those places in our world where revenge and deforestation are serious.


Apse mosaic, San Miniato

Photos taken by John Donaghy, February 8, 2013