BLESSED GUALA OF BERGAMO, BISHOP
Blessed Guala, or Gualla, whom some authors also call William, belonged to the famed house of the Romanoni. Indeed, his ancestry ranked high among the most distinguished families of the old Italian Province of Bergamo, whose capital city of the same name is said to have been the place where he first saw the light of day. The date of his birth is unknown, but it must have been some time in the last decade of the twelfth century. Good Christians and blessed with worldly means' his parents impressed the fear of God on the mind of little Guala in his earliest years, as well as looked after his education. The progress which he made in his studies caused them to entertain great hopes for the future of their young son. Nor were they deceived. However, they do not appear to have entertained any idea of what God had in store for him, or of the use to which he was to devote his rare talents.(1)
It seems to have been in 1219 that Guala first heard Saint Dominic preach.(2) Like many other students of pure minds, he became enchanted with the character and virtue of the man of God. When, therefore, the founder of the Friars Preacher, having made a number of conversions in Bergamo, began preparations for the establishment of his Order in that city, Guala was one of the first to seek enrollment under his standard.(3) He received the habit from Dominic's own hands. If he was not already a priest, he must have been about ready for ordination. Be that as it may, through fidelity to the grace of his vocation and correspondence with the instructions which he received from the sage of Caleruega, he made rapid progress in virtue, no less than in those qualities which are required for leadership.
Thus our blessed was soon found well fitted for positions of trust and responsibility, whether in the cloister or in the active apostolate. Quite naturally, in the early years of any religious institute, the superiors are often noted for their youth. Yet there must have been something in Guala which appealed to Dominic in a special manner; for the priory in Bergamo had hardly been established before the founder placed him in charge, although it was his native city.(4) His government gave the greatest satisfaction to the community. He led all in the way of holiness, while his management of temporal affairs showed no mean business ability.
Perhaps it was this that induced Saint Dominic to call our blessed to Bologna, and appoint him one of three or four entrusted with the building of Saint Agnes' Convent for Dominican Sisters in that city. This project having failed, temporarily, because of the opposition of the family of Blessed Diana, O. S. D., Guala returned to his post in Bergamo. However, his stay there was of short duration. Dominic soon determined to gratify the wishes of the people of Brescia by establishing his Order in their city, called the subject of our sketch there for the purpose, and instituted him the first prior of the new convent.(5) The history of his superiorship in Brescia is practically the same as that of his labors in Bergamo.
These various appointments are not the only proofs of Dominic's esteem for Guala and trust in his ability. More than once the holy patriarch chose him as a companion in his apostolic travels. Thus it was but befitting that God should reveal the saint's death to his intimate and confidential friend, than whom perhaps no other in the incipient Order lay closer to the heart of its founder. Both Blessed Jordan of Saxony and Theoderic of Apolda, contemporaries of Guala, assure us that he learned of the saint's death in this way, and that he started at once for Bologna, where he discovered that the holy man had surrendered his soul to God at the very time the fact was made known to him in Brescia.(6) Possibly this loss to the Order was felt more keenly by no one than by our blessed.
Guala remained in Brescia as prior for some years after this sad event. Meantime, all had recognized that Dominic made no mistake in placing so much confidence in him; for, young as he was, he had shown that rare prudence, judgment, and wisdom which are ordinarily the fruit of long study and experience. The people loved him; the clergy admired him; his confrères esteemed him for his model life, his just treatment of all, and the zeal with which he looked after the conventual observances. His charity was a byword, especially in Brescia, where he did so much for the inhabitants during a year of extreme dearth.
Accordingly, when the priorship at Saint Nicholas' (now Saint Dominic's), Bologna, became vacant, the community elected Guala to the position. This was in 1226. It was no easy post to fill, for Saint Dominic's spirit of regularity prevailed there in all its pristine fervor. However, our blessed's government gratified even the most exact.
By this time the ability of the subject of our sketch had become widely known, a circumstance that rendered his priorship at Saint Nicholas' all the more difficult. Bologna and Modena were at swords' points. Honorius III appointed Guala apostolic nuncio that he might effect a reconciliation between the two cities. Through his skillful services as arbitrator not only were their differences composed, and their animosity allayed; a treaty of peace was agreed to that was to last for ten years.(7)
The pious man's success in this difficult undertaking led the Holy See to entrust him with several similar and difficult commissions, from which results of even greater importance were expected. Hardly, in fact, had the intrepid Gregory IX ascended the papal throne, March 19, 1227, when he selected the prior of Saint Nicholas' as his legate to Frederic II. The purpose of Guala's mission in this case was to induce the emperor to keep his often broken promise, and march to the relief of the Christians in the Holy Land. That Frederic might no longer have an excuse for delaying the expedition, the Friar Preacher was also instructed to labor for the reconciliation of the Lombard confederacy with the emperor.(8)
Our blessed's task in this matter was rendered all the more delicate and difficult by the fact that the Lombard confederacy and Frederic were not only distrustful of each other, but also enemies of long standing who bad often met on the battle field. Still Guala effected a reconciliation. However, his efforts were perhaps aided by the emperor, who bad publicly proclaimed a pardon of all the offenses which he might have received from his rivals.(9) Here we may add, though taken from another source, that the Friar Preacher's contemporaries represent him as "a man of great prudence, well acquainted with the world, and of accomplished manners." So was he a true religious and an eloquent preacher. These qualities, no doubt, had their part in giving him so high a standing at the courts of both the Vatican and Emperor Frederic. His name was no less popular than his influence great throughout Lombardy.(10)
From the time of his election as prior of Saint Nicholas', Bologna, all Brescia had longed for his return there. His prudence, judgment, and charity had won the heart of everyone. His presence, it was believed, would be a source of blessings, temporal as well as spiritual. So strong and universal was the desire to have him with them that, when their bishop, the Right Rev. Albert Razzati, died, both clergy and people with one voice chose him for their chief pastor. This was in 1229. All who knew the virtue and ability of the man of God praised the election in unmeasured terms.(11)
To Guala himself the choice brought no joy. Indeed, it pained him deeply; for, in his humility, he believed the duties of the position were beyond him, and felt that he should remain in the lowly station which he had embraced in his younger years. Besides, he had a great love for the quiet and solitude of the cloister, which he had hitherto had but little opportunity to enjoy. For these reasons, he left nothing undone in order to escape the dreaded burden. At first, he hoped that his intimate friendship with the Pope would save him from the necessity of accepting the honor. But all efforts failed, and he was finally obliged to bow in obedience to the voice of the Church.
Nor was this all. Gregory IX soon placed an additional weight on the already heavy burden of the zealous Friar Preacher. That Pope now appointed the new bishop of Brescia his delegate a latere to all the Duchy of Milan, or that part of Cisalpine Gaul which lies beyond the River Po.(12) This second dignity not merely multiplied Guala's anxieties; it also, much against his will, often took him away from his beloved flock. Padua and Treviso were engaged in a bitter conflict. To the apostolic delegate fell the principal part of the labor required to effect a reconciliation between the warring parties. Still he conducted the negotiations so zealously and wisely that he not only put an end to the strife, but even bad the peace cemented by alliances between the noblest families of the two provinces. Speaking of this event, Ughelli says: "The fame of his sanctity led to the miter in 1229. He was the legate of Gregory IX in northern Italy. In that capacity he arranged a treaty of peace between Padua and Treviso with remarkable skill."(13)
More trying still were the bishop's experiences with Frederic 11. Hardly had he received episcopal consecration, when the emperor broke his fair promises and began hostilities against Lombardy. This brought the prince again into conflict with Gregory IX. The cause of the Papal States and that of the Lombardic league now became one, for the liberty of all Italy was at stake. At this juncture, therefore, the apostolic delegate, by order of Gregory, was obliged strenuously to employ his zeal, eloquence, and diplomacy to reunite the leaders of the northern confederacy for the common good. In short, he preached a holy war, not against the Turks, but against Frederic II. There can be little doubt that he contributed greatly to the humiliations which the emperor suffered at this time.(14)
The most noteworthy success of our Friar Preacher at this epoch of his life was the freeing of his episcopal city from the sad conditions into which it had been plunged by quarrels between the Guelfs and Ghibellines. In 1238 the imperial army laid siege to Brescia. Only the zeal of the watchful bishop, who overlooked nothing, prevented the former seeds of division and antagonism from springing into new life. Earnestly did be implore all to forget the past, and to remember only what they owed to their country and to the cause of liberty. United by his exertions, as well as inspirited by his words, the inhabitants bravely repelled every effort to take the place by storm. After three months of futile endeavors to capture Brescia, Frederic was obliged to retire in disgrace.
Guala received the credit for the repulse of the imperial forces. Gregory IX sent him felicitations. The people heaped blessings on his head. But they felt that they owed their liberty to his prayers rather than to his labors.
Despite the fact that he was a trusted friend of Gregory IX, and bad vigorously opposed Frederic at this time, Guala's spirit of justice and equity caused him to still retain the esteem and admiration of the emperor. On his side, the Friar Preacher did not hesitate to show his sympathy for the imperial rights. He only sought to frustrate Frederic's secret ambitious designs, which he knew often came largely from evil advisers, who not infrequently thwarted even his better intentions. Ever did he strive to bring the Pope and the emperor closer together, and to prevent the quarrels in which they were engaged time and time again. After the bitter contest just recorded, it was through the good influence of Guala that the two powers were reconciled. He succeeded when all others had failed. As Ughelli says again: "In Brescia he wrote a treaty of peace for the Guelfs and Ghibellines, which placed them on friendly terms. After this they ceased to ruin the country. He spared no effort to bring Frederic II into favor with the Supreme Pontiff."(15)
At first, trials and difficulties of another kind faced the bishop in his diocese. There were those who sought to infringe on the rights of the Church, or paid scant respect to ecclesiastical discipline. But he feared only God, not the censures of men. His patience and firmness soon brought him victory in quelling these evils. So to express it, ever did he carry his flock in his heart. Whether amidst the greatest agitations, or in periods of blissful peace, his people always found in him a true father and a faithful pastor, watchful to guide them, fearless to defend them, careful to instruct them. His kindness was proverbial. His charity towards the poor knew no bounds.
Guala had governed the Diocese of Brescia for ten years in a saintly manner. The storms of which we have spoken had passed away, and he had every reason to expect only tranquil days for the future. But the call of the silence of the cloister, which he loved with his whole soul, was overpowering. He had never laid aside the habit of his Order. He wished to occupy his mind only with the thought of eternity and the care of his own salvation. Finally, in 1239, the Holy Father granted his earnest request, and permitted him to return to his beloved solitude.
That his separation from the world might be the more complete, Guala accepted the invitation of the Benedictine abbot, and went to end his days in the Monastery of the Holy Sepulcher at Astino, six miles from Bergamo. There he led a life of prayer, penance, and meditation until his death, five years later. Indeed, his austerities surprised, as well as edified, the community. The quiet of his retreat was rarely broken, except by the visits of the afflicted who came to seek his advice or obtain his prayers, and the poor who sought assistance from his charity. Ughelli writes: "He governed the diocese entrusted to his care with such holiness that, both during his life and after his death, he wrought many wonders through God. Finally, desirous of a retired life, he resigned his bishopric, and shut himself up in the cloister of the Holy Sepulcher, at Astino, that he might meditate on things divine. . . ."(16)
His successor in the See of Brescia held our blessed in such high esteem that he sought to regulate his own life, as well as to govern the diocese, by his wise counsel. At the request of this trustful friend, Guala performed the ceremony for the consecration of an altar in his former cathedral. No doubt in compliance with the wish of the same bishop and his former confrères, he also laid the corner-stone of Saint Stephen's, the new church of the Friars Preacher in Brescia. In this the holy man had an altar erected in honor of Saint Nicholas of Myra, towards whom he had a special devotion. Here again, as in all things else, we find him imitating Saint Dominic, who chose that saintly and much beloved bishop as one of the patrons of the Order he established.(17)
Besides the ecclesiastical authors who tell us of the deeds and virtues of the man of God, we have several briefs addressed to him by Gregory IX. These are an added proof of what is stated in this sketch. A historian writes that Blessed Guala had not resigned his see in 1242, or two years before his death. But this author could not have seen the list of the bishops of Brescia by Ughelli (Italia Sacra, IV, 547) ; for there we find, in 1239, the appointment of his successor, of whom we shall speak in our next article.(18)
All writers agree on the year of Guala's death; that is, 1244. Some of them place it on December 3; others on September 3.(19) He was buried under Saint Martin's altar, in the Benedictine Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Astino. We are assured that many miracles were wrought at his tomb, on which is carved: "Blessed Guala, Bishop, whose body lies enshrined within" (Beatus Guala, Episcopus, cujus ossa hae in arca quiescunt). There he still sleeps the sleep of the just, awaiting the day of resurrection, among many sons of Saint Benedict who belonged to the community of Vallombrosa.
Here, perhaps for the sake of brevity, Father Touron closes his sketch. But a further word seems demanded on Guala's vision at the time of Saint Dominic's death, and the bishop's beatification which took place long after Touron wrote his book. Our Blessed's revelation is the most interesting, as well as the most celebrated, of the several which are said to have been made to pious persons when the founder of the Friars Preacher died. The story runs thus:
As Guala, then prior in Brescia, fell asleep leaning against the bell-tower of the conventual church, he seemed to see two ladders let down from an opening in the sky. At the top of one was our Lord; at that of the other our Blessed Lady. Angels were going up and down both ladders. At their foot sat a Friar Preacher, whose identity, as his face was partly covered, Guala could not distinguish. The ladders were then drawn up into heaven, and he saw his brother in religion, dazzling with glory, received by a company of angels. Our blessed now awoke from his slumber, but he did not realize what was meant by his vision. However, he went to Bologna at once, where he learned that Dominic had died at the very time he had bad his dream. This fact is thus recorded in the office of the saint:"A ladder, reaching from the sky,Even in life the subject of our sketch was universally considered a saint. He died as be bad lived, most holily. After death the people called him blessed. A devotion and veneration towards him sprang up and continued down through the centuries. Finally Pius IX, of happy memory, took official cognizance of this fact. With his authority, the Sacred Congregation of Rites issued a decree, by which the dioceses of Bergamo and Brescia, as well as the Order of Friars Preacher, were permitted to say the divine office and celebrate mass in honor of Blessed Guala on the third day of September each year.
Shone brightly on a brother's eye,
Who clear descried our Father blest
Ascending to his saintly rest."(20)
1. Année Dominicaine, IX (September), 67 ff; BZOVIUS (Bzowski), Abraham, O. P., Annales Ecclesiastici, XIII, col. 305, 343, 344, 520; MAMACHI, Thomas, O. P. Annales Ordinis Praedicatorum, p. 544 and passim; MARCHESE, Dominic, O. P., Sagro Diario Domenicano, V, 12 ff ; SIGONIO, Charles, Historiae Ecclesiasticae (De Regno Italiae, Book 17); SPONDE, Henry de, Annales Ecclesiastici, Anno 1227.
2. Father Touron does not give the date of Guala's entrance into the Order. We took the one given in the text from the Dominican hagiography called Année Dominicaine, IX, 67. Others place this event in 1218, and some in 1220, which seems too late. (Ed. note).
3. FONTANA, Vincent, O. P., Monumenta Dominicana, Part I, Chapter II; MARCHESE, as in note 1; RAYNALDI, Oderic, Annales Ecclesiastici, Anno 1227.
4. MARCHESE, as in note 1; UGHELLI, Ferdinand, Italia Sacra, IV, column 547,
5. Année Dominicaine, IX, 69; DRANE, Augusta T., O. S. D., The History of Saint Dominic, 401, 420; MARCHESE, as in note 1; PIO, Michael, O. P., Delle Vite Degli Huomini Illustri del Ordine di San Domenico, col. 32. Some authors say that Guala was one of three appointed by Dominic to superintend Saint Agnes' Convent. Others make him one of four. (Ed. note).
6. Jordan of Saxony, quoted in Acta Sanctorum, XXXV (first volume for August), 551, No. 70; Theoderic of Apolda, quoted ibid., p. 599, No. 240.
7. CAVALERIO, 1, 8 (John Michael Cavalieri, O. P., Galleria de' Summi Pontefici, Cardinali, Patriarchi, Arcivescovi, Vescovi, dell' Ordine).
8. DE SPONDE and SIGONIO as in note 1.
9. See the preceding note.
10. See Année Dominicaine, IX, 72. Father Touron likely omitted what is stated in this paragraph for the sake of brevity. (Ed. note).
11. UGHELLI, op. cit., IV, column 547.
13. Ibid. Sanctimoniae fama episcopalem evasit ad sedem anno 1229. In Insubria pro Gregorio IX legatione functus est, interque Patavinos et Tervisinos foedus indixit dexteritate mirabili.
14. Possibly for the sake of brevity, Touron merely insinuates what is contained in this paragraph. See Année Dominicaine, IX, 73-74. (Ed. note).
15. UGHELLI, as in note 11. Brixiaeque Guelphis et Gibellinis ea pacis foedera scripsit, quibus deliniti, visi sunt in posterum ab excidio patriae abstinuisse. Multum conatus est ut Fredericus II in gratiam Pontificis rediret. This paragraph is somewhat enlarged over the original. (Ed. note).
16. Op. cit., as above. "Ea autem sanctimoniae laude sibi creditam Ecclesiam administravit ut, tum vivens tum ex humanis exemptus, plurima a Deo retulerit ornamenta. Denique, vitae solitariae percupidus, Episcopatus munere se abdicavit, claustroque Sancti Sepulchri de Astino, ut divina commentaretur, se inclusit . . ."
17. Father Touron expressly places all that is stated in this paragraph at Brescia. Other authors place these occurrences in Bergamo, and state that these religious ceremonies occurred in 1244. (Ed. note).
18. Touron evidently followed Ughelli in stating that Guala resigned his episcopal see in 1239. Other writers vary in placing this event in 1240, 1241, and 1242. It should also be noted that in Touron this paragraph comes after the one that immediately follows here. See also on Guala Bullarium Dominicanum, I, 17, 21, 26, 30, 113, 116; and Acta Sanctorum, XLI (first volume for September), 773 ff. (Ed. note).
19. Touron, evidently following Ughelli, places Blessed Guala's death on December 3. But, as we shall see, September 3 was chosen for his feast day. (Ed. note).
20.Scala coclo prominensThe translation of these verses in the text is taken from Devotions in Honor of St. Dominic, by Father Bertrand Wilberforce, O. P. (Ed. note).
Per quam Pater transiens