Today, 21 May 2012, is the memorial of Blessed Vivaldus (Vivaldo / Ubaldus / Ubaldo / Gualdo) of San Gimignano, a Third Order Franciscan who lived his holy life close to the borders of the Italian provinces of Siena and Florence. He lived an extraordinary, yet hidden, life of great holiness.
Blessed Vivaldus was born around 1260 in the Italian township whose name he bears. Even today its population is small, under 8000 people, located in the north eastern most point of the province of Siena. Of Vivaldus’ early life we know nothing, but we know that in his late teens or early twenties he was living under the protection of the parish priest of Peccioli, a priest of the Third Order of St Francis named Blessed Bartholomew Buonpedoni – himself a native of San Gimignano. Peccioli is about 25kms north east of San Gimignano as the crow flies.
Why Vivaldus was living a good 4 hours or more walk away from his birth place, we don’t know. From what comes next we can conclude that God brought the two together like Elijah and Elisha and that in Blessed Bartholomew young Vivaldus saw a spiritual father. Vivaldus himself joins the Third Order of St Francis, possibly after the example of Bartholomew.
Now Bartholomew had been on a rather long vocational journey himself and in years past had received a vision of Jesus Christ, wounded and risen, with the promise that he would fulfil God’s perfect plan through 20 years of suffering and not through monastic life. Around the year 1280 Bartholomew began to be visited by leprosy, or something very close to it. The goodness of God arranged that Vivaldus’s heart be moved with so much Franciscan spirituality (St Francis of Assisi spent some of his life caring for lepers) that he chose to go with Bartholomew to the little leper hospice about a mile outside San Gimignano and to minister to him throughout all twenty years of suffering. That is dedication and love of a very high order.
What Bartholomew went through in these years led him to be nicknamed ‘Tuscany’s Job’. Both physical and mental disorders are mentioned in the www.katolsk.no account, so it must have really tested Vivaldus’ patience, compassion and dedication to the limit. Most of us get squeamish watching the gore on cop shows, but Vivaldus ministered to ugly wounds day in and day out. By a special dispensation of God’s grace Bartholomew was still able to celebrate Mass as a priest, despite the depredations to his body. As Jesus promised, 20 years to the day that the leprous troubles started, He returned to take Bartholomew to his heavenly reward for being so closely united to His sufferings.
With his spiritual guide dead and buried, Vivaldus could have done almost anything, but he chose to withdraw even more from society and to serve God as a hermit with fasting, prayer and intercession. Retreating into the forest to the north, northeast of San Gimignano, near the town of Montaione, Vivaldus found a hollowed out chestnut tree to make his cell. This is where he offered up prayer, praise and entreaty to God on behalf of mankind. For twenty years Vivaldus served God in this way. When his death occurred in May 1320, Vivaldo’s body was found kneeling within the chestnut tree. The tree itself, sadly, is long gone, after the faithful kept on taking parts of it as relics.
At the site of the chestnut tree a small chapel was built early on, which led to the building of a bigger church later on. Around 200 years later a series of chapels closely modelling the holy places in Jerusalem were built in the same location that Vivaldus would have taken walks from his chestnut tree cell. It became, and still is, a place of recommended pilgrimage Around 400 years after Vivaldo’s death the monastery on the pilgrimage site, for a while was named a special retreat place for priests to do penance at. I very much doubt that these things happened by coincidence. It is not uncommon for Jesus to give His holy ones knowledge of far away places and insights into the places where His Passion took place and it is not far fetched to think that a good proportion of Vivaldus’ prayers would have been for the growth in holiness of the clergy.
For people to retain the memory of a holy hermit for some 600 years speaks volumes for the extent of Vivaldus’ intercessory powers. It was only in 1908 that he was formally inscribed upon into the Church’s list of Blesseds. Bartholomew received this recognition two years later.
We thank the Lord for the luminous witness of these two Francsican saints, and seek His blessings upon all those called by Him to tred similar paths in our day and age.
Blessed Vivaldus of San Gimignano, pray for us.
Blessed Bartholomew of San Gimignano, pray for us.