NATALIS (OR NOEL) OF PROUILLE
Somehow, though he can not say precisely why, the writer feels instinctively drawn towards the subject of this sketch. We can not help picturing him as a splendid young man, deeply religious, endowed with the best qualities of the southern French character, and blessed with a gentle, diplomatic finesse for the government of a community of nuns. Perhaps this is because of the work in which Saint Dominic largely employed him.(1)
Unless he is so called from the place of his labor, the last part of Father Natalis' name shows that the beautiful little village of Prouille, where the Order was started, has the honor of being his birthplace, and that from youth he became acquainted with the atrocities of the Albigenses. We could not ascertain when he was born, or when he associated himself with the founder of the Friars Preacher. The establishment of the sisters at Prouille and the assembling of the little band of missionaries there might explain how he first came in contact with the saint. Be this as it may, the facts which we shall now lay before the reader are proof that he at least became allied with the holy company soon after this event, and that Dorninic was not slow to recognize and appreciate his real worth and magnificent character.
The earliest record of Natalis we have found bears the date of March 2, 1215. He is there noted as superior of the fathers and sisters at Prouille.(2) Dominic, who had acted as prior of the double institution until then, had evidently gone to Toulouse to make arrangements for the transfer of the house of Peter Seila to the projected apostolic religious Order (which took place on April 25, 1215), and to install some of his followers therein. Father Natalis was appointed head at Prouille in his place, making him the first prior of the institute after its founder. Natalis held the position, when Innocent III took the community of Prouille and its possessions under the protection of the Holy See. This was on October 8, 1215. (3) Subsequent documents prove that he continued to fill this post until the dispersion of the former missionaries, who had then become fullfledged Friars Preacher.
Father Bernard Gui does not mention the subject of this sketch in his list of the original disciples of Saint Dominic. However, this was certainly an oversight; for, in his History of the Monastery at Prouille, the noted writer states that Father Natalis was one of the first priors there.(4) In the light of the documents published in the Cartulaire de Saint Dominique and the Cartulaire de Notre Dame de Prouille, not only does it become evident that he was one of the number; there can be no doubt that he exerted an influence in the deliberations which preceded the dispersion. At this time, he was not sent to other parts, but left in his office of superior at Prouille -- possibly at the request of the sisters.
Unfortunately the holy man did not live long after the parting of the brethren, for he was the victim of a sad accident the very next year. The editors of the Cartulaire de Saint Dominique inform us that Bernard Gui says he was drowned while attempting to cross the Blau, a torrential little stream in flood. His foot slipped, and he fell into the mad waters, and was drowned. From the fact that William Claret became prior of the double community at Prouille in 1218, they fix the date of Father Natalis' death in that year. He was probably the first Friar Preacher buried in the hallowed spot where the Order started. His loss was deeply regretted by both the fathers and the sisters, for everybody loved him.(5)
Thus we must not, as the same editors warn us, confound this original disciple of Saint Dominic with another Natalis of Prouille, who entered the Order after the dispersion, but before the patriarch's death. This second man of the name also spent some years at Prouille, and perhaps died there; for we find him mentioned in documents relating to the institution in 1219, 1223, 1225, 1227, and 1230.(6) Possibly he was a relation of the original beloved disciple. A model chaplain was the first Natalis who would make an ideal patron for those of his Order engaged in the same work.
1. BALME-LELAIDIER, I, 526 ff, II, 9 ff, 141 ff; GUIRAUD, John, Cartulaire de Notre Dame de Prouille, passim; MAMACHI, pp. 164, 368, 411; MORTIER, I, 27, 28, 90; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 16.
2. GUIRAUD, op. cit., II, pp. 189-190.
3. BALME-LELAIDIER, I, 526 ff.
4. MAMACHI, p. 164.
5. BALME-LELAIDIER, II, 248-249,284.
6. GUIRAUD, op. cit. II, 4, 46, 51, 56, 137, 140.