Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Feast of St Romuald

The incorrupt body of St Romuald was transferred to the church of St Blaise in the Italian city of Fabriano on February 7, 1481. When Pope Clement VIII added his feast to the general calendar in 1595, in the second edition of the Breviary of St Pius V, it was assigned to the anniversary of the translation, since the day of his death, June 19th, had been from very ancient times the feast of the Milanese martyrs Ss Gervase and Protase; on the calendar of the Ordinary Form, he is kept on the latter date.

Born in the mid-10th century, an age in which religious life had in many places fallen into terrible decadence, Romuald became one of the great monastic reformers in an age of great reformers. The pattern of Benedictine monasticism which he created was formed by bringing together two different ways of life. The first of these was the traditional communal life, as practiced at the monastery of Sant’Apollinare in Classe near Ravenna, in accord with the Cluniac reform. To this day, there stands right in the middle of the church’s nave the altar where St Romuald was praying, when Apollinaris, an early martyr buried therein, appeared to him in a vision, and confirmed his monastic vocation.

The second was the eremitical life, a tradition more focused on personal austerity, which he learned under a spiritual master named Marinus; Romuald’s biographer, St Peter Damian, describes Marinus as “a man of simple spirit... driven to the eremitical life only by the impulse of his good will,” while referring also to his “severity lacking in judgment.” The monastery founded by Romuald at Camaldoli near Arezzo would thus become the model for a rather loosely organized order, formerly divided into five separate congregations, in which the cenobitic and eremitical life were united.

In the year 1365, the Florentine painter Nardo di Cione executed an altarpiece for the chapel of St Romuald in the Camaldolese house in Florence, St Mary of the Angels. (He is better known today as the first painter of Dante’s Divine Comedy. including what was once an exceptionally vivid, though now much-ruined vision of Hell, in the Strozzi Chapel at Santa Maria Novella.) The central panel shows the Trinity, in the form known as the Mercy Seat, with St Romuald on the left, and St John the Evangelist on the right.

The Lamb of God, as described in the fifth and sixth chapters of the Apocalypse of St John, is represented at top, on the book with the seven seals.

On the left of the predella is shown the appearance of Saint Apollinaris to Romuald.
On the left part of the middle panel, Marinus is shown disciplining Romuald by hitting him in the face with a stick. St Peter Damian tells us that after enduring many such blows, Romuald humbly asked that Marinus might beat him on the right side of his face, since he was starting to loose his hearing on the left side. (Hence the reference to “severity lacking in judgment.”) On the right, Romuald overcomes the assaults of demons, like many great monks before him, such as St Anthony.
On the right panel, the famous vision of St Romuald is depicted, in which he beholds a ladder by which monks in the white Camaldolese habit ascend to heaven, “in the likeness of the Patriarch Jacob”, as the Roman Breviary says.

This is a revised version of an article originally published in 2015.

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