Saint Ubald, Bishop, Confessor

Saint Ubald, Bishop, Confessor

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May 16

Today is the feast day of Saint Unbald.  Ora pro nobis.

Ubald (Ubaldo, Ubaldus) was born of noble parents at Gubbio, Umbria, Italy, towards the beginning of the twelfth century.  He was related to Saint Sperandia. Ubaldo’s father, Rovaldo Baldassini, died when the boy was very young.  His mother was an invalid, afflicted with what we now consider a neurological disease. Ubald was raised by his uncle.

He had his education in the seminary of Saints Marian and James, and made great progress in his studies both profane and sacred.  The holy scriptures, those springs of living waters, were his chief delight. Many honourable matches were proposed to him by his friends; but he rejected all such offers, and made a vow of celibacy. His ardour in the perfect practice of virtue strengthened him against the bad example of many tepid companions. However, not approving certain irregularities which he saw tolerated among them, he exchanged this house for the seminary of Saint Secundus, where he finished his studies.

The bishop of Gubio made him prior of his cathedral that he might reform several abuses in the behaviour of the canons. Ubald prepared himself for this important work by fasting, prayers, and tears, by which he hoped to engage the divine assistance. He easily prevailed on three of his canons who were the best disposed, to join with him in his exercises and rules of life; and their example soon began to work upon the rest. The saint visited a community of regular canons, esteemed for their regularity and sanctity, which had been established by Peter de Honestis, a person of singular piety, in the territory of Ravenna. He stayed there three months in order to take an exact view of the discipline of the house.  He carried its rule back with him to Gubio, and in a short time got it received by the whole chapter to render their reformation complete. After some years, their house and cloister being burnt down, Ubald looked upon this as a favourable opportunity of leaving his post, and retiring into some desert.

In 1126, Saint Ubald was unanimously chosen bishop of Perugia; but he hid himself in the country, so that the deputies of that city were not able to find him.  When they departed, he went to Rome, threw himself at the feet of Pope Honorius II,  and with many tears begged that he might be excused.  Ubald employed all the interest he had in the world to obtain the favour he desired. Honorius granted his request; but the see of Gubio becoming vacant two years after, the pope directed the clergy of that city to proceed to his election according to the forms prescribed by the canons: in consequence of which his holiness consecrated him with his own hands in the beginning of the year 1129.

To his people he became a perfect pattern of all Christian virtues, and a powerful protector in all their spiritual and temporal needs.The saint often defended his flock in public dangers. Hearing one day that a sedition was raised in one of the streets, wherein some were wounded, others killed, he ran out, and venturing himself between the combatants, fell down amidst their naked swords. The mutineers thinking him dead, all threw away their weapons, running to take him up, and every one condemned himself as the murderer of their holy bishop. Then the saint, thanking God that the tumult was appeased, dispelled their fears by assuring them that he had received no hurt. The Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, in his cruel wars in Italy, having taken and plundered Spoleto, threatened to do the like by Gubio. Ubald, moved by a more than fatherly tenderness for his flock, met the emperor on the road, and on his first interview softened the heart of that tyrant to compassion, and obtained of him the safety of his people.

The two last years of his life he laboured under a complication of painful distempers, which he bore with the patience of a saint. On Easter-day, in 1160, his devotion to the glorious mystery of that festival made him forget his infirm condition, get up, say mass, and give the people a discourse on eternal life. From the cathedral he would be carried to the church of Saint Laurence, near which he had an apartment. He continued there till the feast of the ascension in retirement, to prepare himself for death. After that he was removed into his own house, where he repeated his last instructions to his clergy and people, who came to visit him and beg his last blessing. Having received the rites of the church, he expired on the 16th of May, 1160. The people from all the neighbouring provinces attended his funeral in crowds, and were eye-witnesses of the many miracles God performed at his tomb.

So tender was the devotion which this spectacle excited in every one, that animosities and dissensions over the whole country were extinguished, and a most wonderful spirit of charity was infused into all hearts. Injuries were forgotten, and cities which had been long at variance, renewed the most sincere league of friendship. Saint Ubald had been favoured with the miraculous gift of curing diseases in his lifetime, which he performed by the sign of the cross and prayer; yet, when a certain blind man addressed himself to him to be cured, the bishop told him that his corporal sight would be prejudicial to his soul, and that his temporal blindness would be recompensed with the clear vision of God in heaven for all eternity: at which the good man was so well satisfied, that he no longer desired to be cured.

Numerous miracles were wrought by him in life and after death. At the solicitation of Bishop Bentivoglio Pope Celestine III canonized him in 1192. His power, as we read in the Office for his feast, is chiefly manifested over the evil spirits, and the faithful are instructed to have recourse to him “contra omnes diabolicas nequitias”.

The devotion to the saint is very popular throughout Umbria, but especially at Gubbio, where in every family at least one member is called Ubald. The feast of their patron saint is celebrated by the inhabitants of the country round with great solemnity, there being religious and civil processions which call to mind the famous festivities of the Middle Ages in Italy.

Image: Fresco of Saint Ubald (4)





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