05 Nov Saint Bertilla, Abbess
Today is the feast day of Saint Bertilla. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Bertilla was born during the seventh century to one of the most illustrious Christian families in the region of Soissons. As she grew up she learned to despise the world and earnestly desired to renounce it. Before telling her parents of her aspirations, she first consulted Saint Owen, by whom she was encouraged in her resolution. The Saint's parents were then made aware of her desire, which God inclined them not to oppose. They conducted her to Jouarre, a large monastery four leagues distant from Meaux, where she was received with great joy and formed in the strictest practices of monastic perfection.
She was named to receive visitors, then assigned to the care of the sick. In all her duties gentleness was joined with firmness, mercy with justice, humility with courage, and prudence with simplicity. She seemed to be the servant of each of her Sisters, and acquitted herself with such great charity and edification that she was chosen to be Prioress by the Abbess, to assist her in her administrative duties. (1)
Here she was formed in the strictest practice of monastic perfection and became a model of perfect obedience and piety. She was also remarkable for her prudence and tact and the duties of hospitality, ministering to the sick and infirm, and the care of the children educated at the monastery were in turn committed to her charge.
Bertilla, however, had also a very strong temperament with a serious flaw: a temper. Her eighth-century biographer recounts the following incident in the life of the Saint:
“Once, when a troubled sister spoke angry words to her, Bertilla called down divine judgment upon her. Although the fault was forgiven, Bertilla worried about her curse. Then the sister died unexpectedly, choked by asthma. Not having heard the signal for the funeral, Bertilla asked the reason for the resounding chorus of psalms. When she learned of the sister’s death, she trembled fearfully. She hurried to the place where the little body lay lifeless and with great faith laid her hand on the dead nun’s breast. Bertilla ordered her receding soul through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, not to leave, but before she spoke with Him, to forgive her anger against her. And God permitted the spirit that had left the body to return to the corpse. To the amazement of all, the revived cadaver drew breath.
Looking at the servant of God, she said: “What have you done, sister? Why did you retrieve me from the way of light?”
“I beg you sister,” said Bertilla humbly, “to give me words of forgiveness, for once I cursed you when you had a troubled spirit.”
“May God forgive you,” said the nun. “I harbor no resentment in my heart against you now and I love you. Please entreat God for me and permit me to go in peace and don’t hold me back. For I am ready for the bright road and now I cannot start without your permission.”
“Go then in the peace of Christ,” said Bertilla, “and pray for me, sweet sister.” (3)
About the year 646 she was appointed first abbess of the abbey of Chelles, which she governed for forty-six years with equal vigor and discretion, until she closed her penitential life in 692. (2) Saint Bertilla was buried beside Saint Bathilda, in the abbatial church. (1)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff