Today, 5 Jul 2012, is the anniversary of death of Venerable Elias of Bourdeilles (a.k.a. Helie de Bourdeilles, Elie of Bourdeilles.). From an early age he entered the Franciscan Order and rose to become a Cardinal. His greatest claim to fame is the defence he wrote of St Joan of Arc’s innocence around 20 years after her death.
Venerable Elias of Bourdeilles is often referred to as ‘Blessed’, even though he has not yet been beatified. The process for his Beatificaton began in 1526 but has not yet been completed.
Elias was born at Agonac around 1413 (although some say 1423, or even 1407), the fifth son of a noble French family. By the age of 10 he was wearing the habit of a Franciscan, and beginning the studies that would lead to ordination. Proving to be a gifted student he studied theology and eventually obtained a doctorate in theology. Following his ordination to the priesthood, firstly Elias was sent to teach Scripture and Theology at the Franciscan convent at Mirepoix, and from there to other convents in France.
At the very young age of 24, Elias was appointed in 1438 as Bishop of Perigueux, in south western France. This wasn’t something he wanted at all, but due to his exceptional talents it was something that Pope Eugenius IV and the canons of Perigueux insisted upon. They either wanted these talents used in the service of God’s Church or wished the protection of his family connections, or both. Due to the ongoing conflicts between France and England at that time, his early years as a bishop did not go smoothly. Elias was imprisoned by the English for a while, probably in the hopes of obtaining a nice fat ransom. It took the archbishop of Bordeaux to set him free, either through diplomacy or ransom.
As a bishop Elias was very active on behalf of the Church. He attended the Council of Basel and took part in the assemblies of the Etats Genereaux (Estates General). These assemblies were called by the King of France at various times to advise the king, with clergy, nobles and commoners all providing input and submitting petitions. While bishop he found time to write learned treatises and diplomatic documents, including the ‘Consideration sur la Pucelle de France’ which set out the case for Joan of Arc to be considered a Saint. This document was influential enough to get her cause for canonization opened.
Elias was blessed with wisdom, kindness, tact and holiness, managing with these gifts to keep on the good side of the nobles and of the clergy whenever conflict came between the two groups. Increasingly King Charles VII and King Louis XI of France looked to his advice, with the latter choosing Elias as a confessor and advisor. More importantly holy people valued him and the virtuous life he led, with St Francis of Paola accounted as a personal friend.
In 1468 he was appointed Archbishop of Tours, and in November 1483 ( a few months prior to his death) Pope Sixtus IV named him as a Cardinal, sending him the red hat. Such was Elias’ humility, that he could not be brought to wear it. The good Lord took this faithful servant of His home to eternity on 5 July 1484. Following miracles at his place of burial, the process for his canonization was begun, but for some reason was never taken forward to completion. Hopefully in our lifetimes his cause will be successfully concluded so that this servant of God may be honoured properly and the holiness of his life prove inspirational to many.
Venerable Elias Bourdielles, pray for us