RAYMOND DE FELGAR, BISHOP
The Right Rev. Raymond de Felgar belonged to the line of the barons of Miremont, southern France, where he was born. We do not know the date of his birth, for it has not been handed down to us. The mantle of piety settled on him in early youth, and his parents watched over his education from his tenderest years. It was while a student at the schools of Toulouse that, through the zeal, virtue, and eloquence of Saint Dominic and his companions, the pure-hearted young man felt irresistibly drawn to the budding Order.(1)
Father Bernard Gui is not certain but that Raymond might have been among those who associated themselves with the saint before the actual confirmation of the Order. The common opinion of the authors, however, is that he received the habit from Dominic at Toulouse almost immediately after the Prouille dispersion. From the same source we learn that the patriarch, who set great store on the young nobleman's religious spirit, earnestness, and talent, took special pains to instruct him in the spirit and aspirations of his new religious institute. The saint's care was abundantly rewarded; his hopes realized perhaps even beyond his expectations.
Indeed, Father de Felgar soon became not only a model religious, with the true spirit of recollection, but also an eloquent preacher and a noted theologian. His rise to distinction was rapid. In the various offices entrusted to him he combined a rare capacity for the management of business affairs with an unwonted tact in the direction of those under his care. These gifts were brought into clearer light while he held the post of provincial in the Province of Provence, now Toulouse.
A contemporary historian of Languedoc, William de Puy-Laurens, tells us that the splendid qualities of our Friar Preacher won the hearts of the clergy of the Diocese of Toulouse. With Bishop Fulk he took the place of Saint Dominic; for the zealous prelate often declared that he would die happy, could he be assured that Raymond de Felgar would succeed to his miter. God granted the prayer of Dominic's friend and protector. Fulk died on Christmas Day, 1231. Shortly afterwards, when the chapter of Saint Stephen's Cathedral met to select a new head for the diocese, Father de Felgar was at once their unanimous choice. Walter de Marvis, bishop of Tournai and resident legate of the Holy See, confirmed the election immediately. The holy man's consecration took place on the fourth Sunday of lent (March 21), 1232, the representative of Gregory IX most likely officiating.(2)
Raymond had not sought the position. He accepted it because the spontaneous choice of the cathedral chapter indicated that it was the will of God. His path, at least in the first years of his episcopacy, was by no means one of roses. The Albigenses, still powerful, continued their efforts to undermine all authority, whether spiritual or temporal. A number of influential men, with more greed than religion, had taken advantage of political disturbances to seize ecclesiastical property which they were loath to relinquish. These were troubles to which he fell heir in the acceptance of the miter of Toulouse. Another source of constant annoyance was the conduct of treacherous Count Raymond VII, who, although he professed to be a Catholic, rarely ever failed to favor the Albigenses, or whoever opposed the Church.
As he took his great predecessor for a model, and set about his spiritual charge and work of reformation with the same earnestness and zeal, it was only natural that the new bishop should soon be confronted by the same difficulties with which Fulk of Marseilles had contended for years. Raymond expected this, and was prepared for it. Through an unalterable patience, in which he ever combined strength and gentleness, he overcame all obstacles. Even in the greatest trials he never slackened his vigilance over the flock entrusted to his care, leaving nothing undone in order to guide them in the straight path. No one could have labored harder, more faithfully, or more constantly to recall the Albigenses to the fold of Christ. Eventually, through his tireless exertions, the Diocese of Toulouse was brought back to its former glory.
Raymond de Felgar was the most charitable of men. The aid and solace of the poor or afflicted took much of his time, as well as drew heavily on his purse. For their sake he would almost deprive himself of the necessaries of life. Another work of charity in which he took a keen interest was the church of the Friars Preacher in Toulouse. Bishop Fulk, his predecessor, had commenced the sacred edifice, and blessed its corner-stone. Raymond took up the legacy thus left him. But, because the means that remained after his other deeds of kindness were so limited, he did not live to see the structure completed as it still stands in the beautiful southern French city.
Our bishop was no less a friend of education and a man of public spirit than a zealous prelate. From Gregory IX he obtained a bull of confirmation for the University of Toulouse, which had been initiated by the treaty of Paris, April 12, 1229. Later he procured two other bulls in favor of the institution from Innocent IV.(3) While, through Raymond's influence, the Holy See conferred many favors on the students there, our watchful chief pastor procured for them the most capable professors he could find. Among these, it will be remembered, was one of whom a sketch has been given in these pages-Father Roland of Cremona, who had been a leader in the University of Bologna, where he entered the Order, and then taught with great distinction at the University of Paris.
Bishop de Felgar's example of watchfulness gave an added impulse to the zeal of the clergy in his diocese. Without exception they strove in every way to bring the Albigenses into the Church again, or at least to prevent them from proselytizing among the faithful. The duplicity of Raymond VII, count of Toulouse, proved an insurmountable obstacle to the efforts of both bishop and priests. De Felgar sought in vain to induce him to keep his word pledged at the treaty of Paris in April, 1229, and to show more constancy in the cause of God. When all things else failed, the prelate reported the count to the papal legate.(4)
The legate, accompanied by the Most Rev. Peter Amelin, archbishop of Narbonne, and several of his suffragans, repaired to Melun, where they met Saint Louis, king of France. There Louis held a council, to which he summoned Raymond VII. The subject of our sketch also attended. The count of Toulouse was ordered to carry out the solemn promises which he made at the treaty of Paris, and to act in concert with his bishop for the repression of the Albigenses. De Felgar and Chevalier Giles de Flageac were commissioned to draw up the rules and regulations, in accordance with which the civil and ecclesiastical powers were to act in concert for holding the enemies of the faith in check.
When de Flageac reached Toulouse, he found that the indefatigable bishop was there ahead of him, and had written a document very much like that to which all had agreed at the treaty of Paris in the days of Fulk. It greatly pleased the lay commissioner. Raymond VII not only accepted the conditions without complaint, but even bound himself by his signature to observe them. King Louis confirmed the agreement on February 18, 1234. The substance of this ordinance is given by both Catel and Fleury. Had the count of Toulouse been a man of his word, Languedoc and its Church would have at once entered on an era of peace and tranquility; but, as was his wont, he again proved false to his most solemn engagements.(5)
The Albigenses and the wily politicians of the day knew only too well that Raymond VII had no intention of fulfilling his promises; and that he had given them merely as a matter of policy. They treated the new covenant with contempt. As a matter of fact, they used it as a pretext for raising a persecution against Bishop de Felgar, his priests (whether diocesan or religious), and the inquisitors. There was great tumult in a number of places. De Felgar and the Friars Preacher were driven from Toulouse on November 6, 1235. William de Puy-Laurens, an eyewitness of this violence, admits that, for the sake of the honor of his city, he does not mention some of the dastardly deeds which he saw. However, in a brief to Raymond VII (April 28, 1236), reproaching the count for having authorized the insurrection, Gregory IX details the atrocities of the time.(6)
Our prelate retired to Carcasonne, whence he informed the courts of France and Rome of the prevaricating conduct of Count Raymond, as well as of the misdeeds of the Albigenses and their abetters. The author of the History of Languedoc is of the opinion that de Felgar, although suffering from the quartan fever, made a personal visit to the Eternal City that he might lay his complaints before the Holy Father. But Catel, Father Anglais, and Fleury believe it was the Most Rev. John de Bournin, archbishop of Vienne and papal legate in southern France, who undertook this journey.(7) All these authors base their statements on William de Puy-Laurens, whose text, though somewhat obscure in this place, seems to favor the latter interpretation.
Be this as it may, the pious bishop and the Friars Preacher were recalled at the order of Gregory IX. They arrived in Toulouse September 4, 1236, and were received with acclamation by the faithful. During his exile de Felgar had striven to watch over his flock as best he could at a distance, and in stormy times. Now he doubled his efforts to restore peace in his diocese, to protect the faith from the poison of Albigensianism, and to thwart the intrigues of those who sought to incite trouble for selfish ends. Unfortunately, in spite of himself, he was again drawn into the whirlpool of strife.
Trencavel, son of Raymond Roger, formerly viscount of Beziers, formed a powerful league with several leaders in the country. Then he enlisted the services of cavaliers from Aragon and southern France. In 1240, he appeared at the head of these adventurers, many of whom were proscribed, in the dioceses of Narbonne and Carcasonne. Where opposition was encountered, the defendants of castles and strongholds were put to the sword. Finally Treneavel laid siege to Careasonne.
The marauders found the watchful bishop of Toulouse there before them. He had hastened to the city that he might encourage the people, give more heart to their resistance, strengthen their patriotism, and confirm their faith. Possibly he also sent word to Paris. Through his invincible eloquence he induced all to take an oath on the Bible that they would never forsake either their faith or their king. Although the outposts of the town were taken, or treacherously surrendered, the besiegers strove in vain for more than a month to carry the inner defenses against the bravery of the citizens who were sustained by the exhortations of de Felgar. When the troops of King Louis neared Carcasonne, Treneavel and his followers fled in dismay. It was another victory over the Albigenses and their abetters, the credit for which largely belonged to our early disciple of Saint Dominic.(8)
The French monarch was deeply grateful to the bishop of Toulouse for his conduct on this occasion. A twelvemonth later the pious prelate strengthened this friendship by an action that was as important to the royal family as honorable to his own wisdom and candor. Raymond VII had married Santia (or Sancha) of Aragon, who bore him no male child. Thus their daughter Jane, consort of Alphonsus, count of Poitiers and a brother of King Louis, was the heir apparent to Raymond's titles, rights, and jurisdiction. That he might prevent such a succession, which was much against his wishes, the unscrupulous politician conceived the idea of setting his lawful wife aside, and of marrying Santia (or Sancie) of Provence, by whom he hoped to have a son who would legally become count of Toulouse at his (Raymond's) death. To effect this separation the ever tricky man declared that his father, the notorious Raymond VI, was the godfather of the Aragonese princess; and that consequently, for this spiritual relationship constituted a diriment impediment, the marriage was null and void. False witnesses were procured to prove his statement.
When the question was laid before the highest ecclesiastical tribunal, the Holy See delegated Durand, bishop of Alby, and the provost of Saint Salvi to examine into its merits. Acting in good faith on the testimony laid before them, the two commissioners gave a decision in favor of Count Raymond. But wary, prudent de Felgar strongly suspected perjury. For this reason, he refused to have anything to do with the case. No amount of persuasion could induce him to any act that might in the least wise imply his sanction of the procedure.(9) Through him the count's nefarious .scheme came to naught. Quite naturally our pious prelate's stand won him the thorough good will of all concerned, except Raymond and his partisans.
The year 1242 also brought Bishop de Felgar many trials, for the Albigenses again rose up in arms against him and the inquisitors whom the Holy See ever spurred on in the performance of their duties. One of the sorrows that bore heavily on his heart at this time was the martyrdom of Blessed William Arnaud and ten companions by the fanatics. This occurred at Avignonet, a little town about twenty-three miles southeast of Toulouse, May 29, 1242. William and two others of the martyrs were our prelate's confrères. Two were Franciscans, one a Cistercian, four priests of the Diocese of Toulouse, and one a lay notary.(10) Yet the distinguished churchman did not suffer this sad catastrophe to chill his zeal or lessen his determination to protect his flock from the contagion of evil. Because of his remissness in carrying out the laws of the land, the cruel deed must in no small measure be laid at the door of Raymond VII, the last count of Toulouse.(11)
Perhaps, from a human point of view, nothing in our saintly prelate's life places his burial of self, his spirit of forgiveness, or his charity towards even an enemy in distress, in so clear a light as the deed which we have now to record. Raymond VII had long yearned to regain the estates which his father had lost in the wars waged against him for his protection of the Albigenses. For this purpose he entered into a league with Henry III of England and Count de la Marche against Saint Louis. Afterwards James I of Aragon, Ferdinand III of Castile, Theobald I of Navarre, and the counts of Foix, Armagnac, and Comminges, together with a number of other nobles of southern France, joined the alliance.
Despite the formidable character of the association, the continued success of Louis' troops made Raymond tremble for his life and title. In his distress he bad recourse to the mediation of his bishop. One would naturally expect to see de Felgar, pious and humble though he was, rejoiced at the danger which threatened the count, and refuse to extend him a helping hand. On the contrary, the prelate at once promised to undertake a reconciliation. First, he persuaded Raymond to throw himself entirely on the mercy of the French monarch. The count wrote a letter, in which he pledged undying fidelity to Louis, promised to defend and protect the Church, and acknowledged that the murder of the inquisitors at Avignonet was due to his own shameful neglect of duty. No doubt de Felgar took this missive with him on his hurried visit to Saint Louis. The mission was successful in every way; and the reconciliation was concluded in a treaty signed at Lorris, in old Gatinais, now Loiret. From this time, Count Raymond seems to have been more decent and respectful. Possibly our prelate saved the unruly man's soul by this act of kindness.(12)
During the rest of his long episcopate Bishop de Felgar was able to devote his undivided attention to the administration of the diocese. Although the Albigenses and the evil-minded at times sought to blacken his character, his innocence caused their accusations to recoil on themselves. While this sort could not love so true a chief pastor, by the others he was held in the deepest affection. The holy man's zeal embraced the entire Church. In 1241, he started for the council which Gregory IX intended to hold in Italy; but when he arrived at Marseilles, he learned that Frederic II had imprisoned a number of bishops who were on their way to it, and that the meeting had been cancelled. In 1245, he attended the council which Innocent IV held in Lyons. In 1246, he took part in the provincial council convoked at Narbonne by Archbishop William de Broue. At these assemblies the subject of our sketch had occasion to show the wisdom and zeal with which God had blessed him.
The chronicles of a contemporary of the bishop, William de Puy-Laurens, show that de Felgar never failed to champion the cause of religion and justice. He readily forgave injuries or insults to himself. Never did he refuse to return good for evil. To the poor he was always a father; to the defenseless widow a protector; to the orphan a guardian. Until the end he watched with ceaseless care over the faithful whom God entrusted to his charge. To the last he opposed the designs of the wicked with adamantine firmness.
Such was the life of Raymond de Felgar, bishop of Toulouse and one of Saint Dominic's first disciples. It is no wonder that he was held in the highest esteem by King Louis of France, implicitly trusted by several Sovereign Pontiffs, loved and revered by the good, feared and cordially detested by the evil. He died October 19, 1270, after an episcopate of more than thirty-eight years. His death caused universal sorrow. At his own request he was buried in the church of the Friars Preacher, Toulouse, which he bad helped to build.
In his annals, or history, of the Convent of Toulouse (Monumenta Conventus Tolosani -- A. D. 1270, No. 8), Father John James de Percin tells us that Raymond wrote several theological or controversial works; but the manuscripts have disappeared. Bishop Fulk's prayer was heard, for de Felgar was one of the great prelates of his day. He deserved well of the Diocese of Toulouse and the Church in southern France.
1. ALBERTI, fol. 115; Année Dominicaine, X (October), 578 ff; FONTANA, p. 105; MALVENDA, pp. 480-481; MAMACHI, p. 413; MORTIER, 198-199, 238, 239; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 16. Marchese and Pio overlooked this distinguished and saintly man. Mamachi promises to speak of him again later, but he did not live to have the rest of his Annals published. (Ed. note).
2. PUY-LAURENS, William de, Chronicon de Albigensibus, Chap. XLII.
3. DUBOULAY, Historia Narbonensis Prima (?), Vol. III, 149. We could not find the full name of this man, or the precise title of his book. He seems to have also written a history of Languedoc. (Ed. note).
4. See note 2.
5. Ibid.; CATEL, William, Historia Comitum Tolosanorum, Book 2, p. 354; FLEURY, Claud, op. cit., XVII, 56-58.
6. Op. cit., Chap. 43; RAYNALDI, Oderic, Annales Erclesiastici, Anno 1236, No. 39.
7. DUBOULAY (?), Vol. III, 407; CATEL, op. cit., Book 2, p. 358; FLEURY, op. cit., XVII, 100-102; ANGLAIS, Book 8, p. 446. For Duboulay see note 3. Of Father Anglais or his work we could discover nothing. (Ed. note).
8. DUBOULAY (?), Histoire du Languedoc, III, p. 420 (see note 3); PUY-LAURENS, op. cit., Chap. 43.
9. PUY-LAURENS, op. cit., Chap. XLIV.
10. See Année Dominicaine, V (May), 757.
11. Raymond died in 1249. His estates passed to his daughter Jane, who was the wife of Alphonsus, count of Poitiers and brother of Saint Louis. 1n 1271 Toulouse was annexed to the French crown. (Ed. note).
12. PUY-LAURENS, op. cit., Chaps. XLIV and XLV.