November 6th - Saint Leonard, Hermit, Patron of prisoners
(d. Second half of the Sixth Century)
Saint Leonard was born towards the end of the fifth century of illustrious
parents, residing in the part of the province of Gaul which was then
beginning to be called France. Several historians believe that with his
brother Saint Lifard, his origins can be traced to the castle of Vendome
in the region of Orleans. He belonged to the nation of the Franks, and at the
court of Clovis his relatives were dignitaries, baptized at the same time
as the king by Saint Remi. That monarch himself stood as sponsor in Baptism
for this child of predilection.
As Leonard grew he was so moved by the holy examples of the bishop of
Rheims that he renounced the world in order to lead a more perfect life. When
Saint Remi had trained Leonard in virtue and conferred on him the tonsure, he
began to exercise his charity on behalf of prisoners. Clovis, in response
to a prayer of Saint Remi, had already issued an edict that prisoners in
Rheims might be freed whenever his royal highness would pass through that city.
Leonard asked the kind monarch to grant him personally the right to liberate
prisoners whom he would find worthy of it, any time at all.
The reputation of Saint Leonard's goodness and sanctity soon spread, and the
sick came to him for healing and alms. He did not fail to teach them also
the value of Christian patience and to console them by the divine doctrine.
The king desired to attach him permanently to his court, but Saint Leonard,
in a discourse brilliant by its humility, replied that he preferred to live
in the obscurity Christ had chosen for Himself for so many years, and he
retired to a monastery. Saint Maximin, its abbot, saw to it that he was
ordained a deacon, which office he accepted out of obedience, but he did not
aspire to any additional ecclesiastical dignities. He recognized that his
role was not to remain always in the monastery, and departed to preach to
the pagans of the province of Limoges. He found on a nearby mountain a
forested solitude where he decided to remain, and there he built a cell of
branches and considered himself rich in the possession of God, joyous in his
freedom to devote himself to meditation, prayer and mortification.
He continued to obtain miracles when solicited by the suffering members of
Jesus Christ. The spouse of a king living nearby had a successful delivery
of a child by his prayers, when her very life was despaired of; and the king
in gratitude gave him a part of the forest to dispose of as he wished. He
then built an oratory to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Two disciples joined him
in this sanctuary, continuing to pray without interruption when their master
went on pilgrimage to the tombs of the Saints.
Soon the sick came to Saint Leonard here also, and prisoners who invoked him
from their cells saw their chains break before their eyes. Many came to him
afterwards, bringing their heavy chains and irons to offer them in homage.
A considerable number wished to remain with him, and he often gave them part
of his vast forest to clear and make ready for the labors of the fields,
that they might have the means to live an honest life. He continued to be
their guardian and father and preached the religion of our Saviour to them;
and those who had once been malefactors were transformed by prayer and labor.
Seven families of persons who were his relatives in the north heard of his
reputation and decided to come to him and remain with him. He was surprised
but encouraged their good resolutions, saying: "A fare of dry bread, eaten
in the joy of a pure conscience, is of more worth than a house abundantly
furnished, where quarrels and divisions prevail." After increasing in
holiness until his last days, he died on the 6th of November in the oratory
he had dedicated to Our Lady, after having himself transported there,
sometime during the second half of the sixth century. Miracles on behalf of
prisoners and the sick followed, as they had preceded, his death. The cult
of Saint Leonard has remained extremely popular in France ever since; and
throughout all of Europe churches and monasteries have been placed under his