Today, 2 Jul 2012, is the feast day of St Monegundis (a.k.a. Monegundes, Monegonde) and according to the Roman Martyrology her anniversary of death. She is a French Saint of the 6th century, who came to holiness gradually by way of profound personal tragedy. The principality of Chimay, in France has claimed her as their patroness since the 12th century.
The beginning of St Monegundis’ life was very ordinary. Growing up in Chartres, France, she married and had two daughters. So far, so good. Then sometime between infancy and adulthood, both girls died. Given the depths of St Monegundis’ grief at their loss, it seems reasonable to assume that the deaths happened suddenly and possibly either as a result of a short illness or accident. Can you imagine the number of ‘What if?’ questions she asked herself? What if I hadn’t done this? What if I had done that? Would they still be alive? For quite some time Monegundis lived a listless life, sunk in grief.
What the turning point was, which started leading her out of grief and back to life, we don’t know. Perhaps she began to find that the only times that her black clouds parted were when she was praying, that prayer was the only thing that brought any peace into her life. Possessing enough wisdom to know that she needed to pursue her relationship with God, ‘lest in her grief she should become so centred in herself as to be unmindful of God’ Monegundis sought and obtained permission from her husband to withdraw from the world so as to focus her all upon God. A cell was built for her near the parish church and she shut herself up in it in order to pray and to do penance.
Did prayer and penance for the welfare of the souls of her daughters motivate her? Did sorrow for her self-focus during her worst years of grief impel her to want to do penance? Was seeking after God’s peace her main goal? Probably a bit of all of these. Choosing to live a life as simple and poor as possible, Monegundis was dependent upon a maid bringing her coarse, plain food on a regular basis. When the maid grew tired of this arrangement and started forgetting to come, the good Lord provided for Monegundis in a miraculous way. Solitude, prayer and fasting helped her to quickly progress in the spiritual life. As time went on and her holiness increased, the number of people coming to her window to seek prayers and advice also increased. It makes sense that she would have a particular gift to be able to help others in times of grief and loss. ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…Who comforts us in all our sorrows, so that we can offer others, in their sorrows, the consolations that we have received from God ourselves.’ 2 Cor 1:3-4.
When the good Lord began granting healings and miracles through St Monegundis’ intercession, too many people started visiting her cell and taking away the solitude which brought her closer to God. A new start was needed. One where she could start again as an unknown. A few hours journey in a south westerly direction from Chartes was the city of Tours where St Martin had lived. Being the first Saint who was not a martyr, going to Tours and building a new cell near his shrine made a lot of sense.
Even in Tours, the good Lord continued to use Monegundis to relieve the sufferings of others. It is said that she helped people with blisters by preparing a paste of leaves and saliva, applying it and making the Sign of the Cross over it. Others claimed that the blessed water she dispensed from her window was able to heal sore throats and fevers. In due course other women wanted to imitate Monegundis’ devotion to God. Through them the good Lord kept His Gospel promise, ‘There is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, children or land for My sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not be repaid a hundred times over…’(Mark 10:29-30). He had taken away her beloved daughters, but now He gave her spiritual daughters to care for.
So many women felt the call to imitate Monegundis in her austere life and dedication to God that a convent was built which was eventually called Saint-Pierre-le-Puellier’, the daughters of St Peter. If Monegundis was involved in the naming of the convent is says volumes for devotion to the Pope and her intercession for the needs of the Church.
When the good Lord called her into eternal life in the year 570 many miracles were experienced at her grave site, quickly becoming a place of pilgrimage. Devotion to St Monegundis has survived over many centuries, despite wars that destroyed her shrine and caused its rebuilding, testifying to her enduring powers of intercession from heaven.. The grief Monegundis suffered could easily have destroyed her, but God’s grace used those sufferings to shape a life of great holiness and benefit to others.
St Monegundis please pray for us, and for all souls deeply sunk in grief.