St. Bernard, Abbot of Clairveaux, was born of noble parents near Dijon, France, 1190. He was one of the most remarkable men of his time. He was educated at the University of Paris. At the age of 23 he entered the reformed Benedictine Monastery of Citeaux. The monastery became overcrowded and his Abbot sent him out to found another. The manner of their going was strikingly characteristic of the age; the Abbot chose twelve monks, representing the twelve apostles, and placed at their head a leader representing Jesus Christ, who, with a cross in his hand, went before them. Bernard led his followers to a wilderness called the Valley of Wormwood, and there arose the celebrated Abbey of Clairveaux. Bernard was chosen Abbot of the new house, a position he kept during his life. His fame attracted a great number of novices, many of whom became famous. Among them were Pope Eugenius III., six Cardinals and many Bishops.
In 1128 he prepared the statutes for the order of Knights Templars.
The feudal lords appealed to him to decide their differences, the ecclesiastics to settle questions of theology, and he was authority on all points of religious discipline. Louis VI. appointed him arbiter between the rival Popes, Anacletus and Innocent IL, and when he decided in favor of Innocent, the whole church accepted the decision with perfect submission. He was the bitter adversary of Arnold of Brescia, and procured his banishment from Rome and Zurich. He had a public debate with Abelard on some doctrines of his philosophy and procured his condemnation. He courageously opposed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin. He was the founder of 160 monasteries. He preached the second Crusade, but of all those whom his fiery exhortations had induced to go to Palestine very few returned.
The power, and tenderness, and simplicity that characterized his sermons and other works have secured him the admiration of Protestant and Catholic alike. Dante introduces him in the last cantos of the “Paradise” with profound reverence and admiring love. Dante says, “Bernard, he who drew light from Mary, as the morning star from the sun.”
Bernard died at the age of sixty-three. Twenty years after his death he was canonized by Alexander III. He was remarkable for his devotion to the Blessed Virgin. One of his most celebrated works, the “Missus est,” was composed in her honor as mother of the Redeemer. He wrote eighty sermons on texts from the Song of Solomon, in which he set forth her divine perfection, as the “Selected” and “Espoused,” the type of the church on earth. He was very feeble when he was writing these sermons. On one occasion when he became so ill he could scarcely hold his pen, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him, and comforted and restored him by her divine presence.
This is the subject of Filippino’s picture. You will find it in the church of the Badia, over the altar of the first chapel to the left as you enter the church. It is painted on wood. It measures six feet seven inches wide, by seven feet one inch high. St. Bernard sits at a rude desk formed of the stump of a tree. He is robed in the white habit of the Cistercians, which order he founded.
On the rock beside him and just above his head, is placed his famous motto, Sustine et abstine (Bear and forbear). This can be seen distinctly with a glass. At the right are two demons chained. The chained demon is one of the attributes of the saint and signifies heresy. One of these is in the form of an owl. The time is early evening. The light in the sky is the celestial light through which the Virgin and her train have just descended. The Virgin’s face is in profile and how beautiful, delicate and pure it is! Her blue mantle is trimmed with gold. Her dress is a rich crimson. The angel by her side wears a yellow robe, the one on the other side blue. St. Bernard seems overcome by the beauty and wonder of the apparition. Above is another scene. St. Bernard and a brother monk are engaged in prayer. The saint is on the right, his hands clasped. The efficacy of these prayers is seen in the healing of the cripple whom another monk holds by the hand. Higher up two monks are bringing another cripple to be healed.
In the foreground on the right Filippino has introduced the portrait of the donor of the picture, Francesco di Pugliese. He kneels in adoration.
( Originally Published 1912 )
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