Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Saint Gummarus

Sint Gommaar

Today on the 1962 General Calendar, Holy Mother Church celebrates the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, while the new Calendar has an optional memorial for Pope St. John XXIII. But in Belgium, the faithful observe the day by honoring a saint with a colorful biography and a comically tragic marriage.

Saint Gummarus or Gomer (717-44) was a man who had everything going for him. A son of the lord of Emblehem in the Brabant region, he could not read or write, but was inspired by his Catholic religion to be faithful in his duties and generous in works of mercy.
Gummarus served at the court of King Pepin, who was impressed with what he saw, and promoted him to a high post, coming up with the bright idea that his loyal subject should get married. Pepin suggested a lady of noble birth named Guinimaria, and Gummarus agreed.
The couple were wed, and that is when Gummarus’ troubles began. One account describes his new wife as “extravagant and perverse in her ways, cruel, capricious and altogether unteachable.” For years he tried mightily to make his wife agreeable to reason and religion, but to no avail. Eventually he was called away to war and was absent for eight years. When he returned, he found the place in shambles thanks to Guinimaria’s cruelty and incompetence. Apparently, “she was so mean that she even refused beer to the reapers at harvest!”
Gummarus made full restitution to the servants and tenants she had wronged, and his example even affected Guinimaria for a while. However, her good behavior did not last long, and she soon reverted to her old ways. Gummarus built a chapel where he could find some peace and quiet, but it was no good. He left his wife and became a hermit in the chapel that he had built. Eventually the town of Lier grew up around it. Today, Saint Peter’s Chapel, in the collegiate church of Saint Gummarus, stands on the original location of the Saint’s hermitage.
Saint Gummarus Church, Lier, Belgium
Readers may feel sorry for Gummarus’ marital woes, and may recall Shakespeare’s famous line that it is better to be well-hanged than ill-wed, but as Gummarus’ biographers point out, “this marriage, which seemed unhappy in the eyes of the world, was directed by God to perfect the virtue of His servant and exalt him to the glory of the Saints.” (Gummarus did not marry Guinimaria with the intention of testing his virtue, but his plight nonetheless reminds one of the philosopher Socrates, who married the termagant Xanthippe in order to practice dealing with the polis. Of course, that strategy did not go according to plan: Xanthippe despised him, and Athens executed him.)
Understandably, Gummarus is the patron saint of difficult marriages, separated spouses, and childless people. Because of his service at the court, he is the patron saint of courtiers. And we suspect that he is the patron saint of cowherds and glove makers because of his generous treatment of workers after he returned home from the war.
Gummarus’ most famous miracle is the time that he wrapped his belt around a felled tree and caused it to bloom again. As a result, the Saint is invoked for help with fractures (including hernias) and is a patron saint of foresters, lumberjacks, and woodcutters.
St. Gummarus is the patron saint of Lier, Belgium, and the city holds an annual Sint-Gummarus Fair on the first Sunday after October 10. The celebration includes a procession of the his relics (which are housed in a magnificent silver reliquary) through the streets of the city. The brewery Cornelissen in Limburg, Belgium also honors the Saint with an award-winning Sint Gummarus Tripel. We recommend that this beer be given to all your reapers at harvest.
An earlier version of this essay appeared in Drinking with Your Patron Saints (Regnery, 2020)

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