7 Years a Slave

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‘The Ascent of the Blessed’ by Hieronymous Bosch (edited)

MAY 14  – Blessed Egidius (or Giles) of Portugal, Confessor (A.D. 1183-1265)

“EGIDIUS (or GILES) RODRIGUEZ was born of noble parents at Vouzella in Portugal about A.D. 1183. His family destined him for the ecclesiastical state and sent him for his education to Coimbra, where he became eminent as a philosopher and devoted himself to the study of medicine. Several rich benefices had been obtained for him; but the young man entirely neglected his sacred obligations and even entered into an unholy compact with Satan, which he signed with his own blood.

For seven years he is said to have studied magic in the caves of Toledo under his infernal master. When he reappeared amongst men, he was found to be endowed with a marvellous power over the elements and able to cure the most inveterate diseases. He took his degree at Paris as doctor in medicine and established his reputation by numerous and striking cures, evidently surpassing human power, whilst his life was one of unbridled iniquity.

But God in His infinite mercy had decreed to change this unhappy slave of the devil into one of His own most faithful and loving servants. One night, as Egidius was pursuing his unholy studies with the doors locked upon him, an armed horseman of gigantic stature suddenly appeared before him, and, shaking his lance, exclaimed in terrific accents, “Change thy life! Change thy life, I tell thee.” The vision disappeared and the trembling Egidius cast a remorseful glance on the miserable past. But his bad habits soon regained the mastery. Then the fearful apparition came a second time, charged full upon the unhappy sinner, and hurled him to the ground, exclaiming thrice, “Change thy life or I will slay thee.” “I will change, Lord, I will change; pardon my delay,” faltered the miserable man. He rose an altered being.

His first act was to consign all his books of magic to the flames. He then set out for Spain, took the habit of a Friar Preacher in the newly founded Convent of Palencia about A.D. 1220, and fervently entered upon a course of penance and devotion.

But for seven years (the same term as that of his unholy apprenticeship to Satan) no comfort came to his anguished soul. Terrifying visions of demons continually assailed him and the thought of the contract signed with his own blood and binding him to the Evil One filled him with fear and remorse. Yet he persevered in prayer and penance, continually commending himself to her who is the Refuge of sinners and who is never invoked in vain. One night, when he was exposed to the most terrible assaults of the demons, the paper of his contract was suddenly and violently thrown on the ground before him, and an infernal voice cried aloud that Mary had conquered. Egidius took the bond, felt himself freed from his sufferings, and for the first time tasted the consolations of a soul perfectly at rest.

From that time, he became as distinguished for his holiness and his seraphic love of God as he had formerly been for his apostasy and rebellion. He bore in particular a most tender devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, the mere casual utterance of which often had the power to cast him into ecstasy. He became one of the most celebrated religious of his time, and was more than once Provincial of the Order in Spain. His miracles were very numerous, and his power over the evil spirits who had so long and so cruelly tyrannised over him was exhibited in many wonderful ways. One of his favourite maxims was that we must forget ourselves in the service of our neighbour, and that the salvation of souls must take precedence of all private devotions.

There is something singularly attractive in the picture which is left us of the life and practices of this wonderful man. He would take advantage of the time when the Brethren were in the schools to clean and tidy their cells for them and would render the lowliest services to the sick. Being naturally of a cheerful and loquacious disposition, he found extreme difficulty in practising the rule of silence; but, understanding this to be a temptation of the devil, he resolved to live in strict retirement in his cell; and so generously did he overcome himself in this matter, that thenceforth he was hardly ever heard to utter a useless word. If anyone needed his help, he would at once lay aside his own occupation and hasten with a joyful countenance to render the desired service. His whole bearing attracted souls to the love of the Order and to the practice of poverty and obedience. He was ever ready to console the tempted and to render the humblest services to the sick Brethren.

When the hour of his death drew nigh, he caused a hair-cloth to be stretched upon the ground, and, extending himself upon it, received the Last Sacraments and spoke words of consolation to his weeping Brethren. Then he raised his hands to heaven, saying, “Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit;” after which, stretching forth his arms in the form of a cross, without agony, he happily departed this life on the Feast of the Ascension, A.D. 1265.”*

Benedict XIV. approved the veneration which had always been paid to Blessed Egidius in the Dominican Order and the kingdom of Portugal.

Source: ‘Short Lives of the Dominican Saints,’ Paternoster House, 1901

*Some Dominican historians have cast doubt on certain elements of this story. Are these doubts justified? That question, unfortunately, is beyond my competence. But I can say this much: Bl. Bartolo Longo is surely not the only former slave of Satan who now dwells in the courts of Paradise!

[Update: I don’t always have much time on a Sunday to work on the blog, but I certainly plan to continue with it. There is plenty of material in the pipeline.]