The Madonna in Glory
c. 1533

The Saint is on the right, the backgound figure with the Crucifix.


St. John Gualbert
July 12

St. John Gualbert, son of the noble Florentine Gualbert Visdomini, was born in 985 (or 995), and died at Passignano, July 12, 1073, on which day his feast is kept; he was canonized in 1193. One of his relatives having been murdered, it became his duty to avenge the deceased. He met the murderer in a narrow lane and was about to slay him, but when the man threw himself upon the ground with arms outstretched in the form of a cross, he pardoned him for the love of Christ. On his way home, 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 generosity. he became a Benedictine at San Miniato, but left that monastery to lead a more perfect life. His attraction was for the cenobitic [communal] not eremitic [hermit-like] life, so after staying for some time with the monks at Camaldoli, he settled at Vallombrosa, where he founded his monastery.

The holy lives of the first monks at Vallombrosa attracted considerable attention and brought many requests for new foundations, but there were few postulants, since few could endure the extraordinary austerity of the life. Thus only one other monastery, that of San Salvi at Florence, was founded during this period. But when the founder had mitigated his rule somewhat, three more monasteries were founded and three others reformed and united to the order during his lifetime.

St. John adopted the Rule of St. Benedict but added greatly to its austerity and penitential character. His idea was to unite the ascetic advantages of the eremitic life to a life in community, while avoiding the dangers of the former. Severe scourging was inflicted for any breach of rule, silence was perpetual, poverty most severely enforced. The rule of enclosure was so strict that the monks might not go out even on an errand of mercy. The main point of divergence lay in the prohibition of the manual work, which is prescribed by St. Benedict. St. John's choir monks were to be pure contemplatives and to this end he introduced the system of lay-brothers who were to attend to the secular business. He was among the first to systematize this institution, and it is probable that it was largely popularized by the Vallumbrosans. The term conversi (lay brothers) occurs for the first time in Abbot Andrew of Strumi's Life of St. John, written at the beginning of the twelfth century. The Vallumbrosans do not, strictly speaking, form a separate order, but a Benedictine congregation, though they are not united to the confederated congregations of the Black Monks. The oldest extant manuscript of the customs of Vallombrosa shows a close relationship with those of Cluny. The Vallumbrosans should be regarded only as Benedictines who followed the customs observed at that time by the Black Benedictines throughout Europe. "Horror of simony was a special bond between them and Cluny, and it was only special circumstances which caused them later to be looked upon as a peculiar institute within the Benedictine order" (Albers, op. cit. infra). The habit, originally grey, then tawny coloured [as pictured above], is now that of the Black Monks. The abbots were originally elected for life but are now elected at the general chapter, held every four years. The Abbot of Vallombrosa, the superior of the whole order, had formerly a seat in the Florentine Senate and bore the additional title of Count of Monte Verde and Gualdo.

He is a patron of forest workers, foresters, park services, and parks.

The above image also appears in our Assumption Gallery.



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