October 13 marks the anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun, when large crowds gathered in Fatima, Portugal witnessed the sun appearing to “dance” in the sky.
The 1917 miracle, the culmination of the Our Lady of Fatima apparitions, was witnessed by tens of thousands of people, and was widely recorded by newspapers at the time. It remains a day of particular devotion for many Catholics today. The day is often recognized as an opportunity for fasting and prayer, remembering Our Lady’s call for conversion, and particularly to pray the rosary for peace in the world.
The Fatima anniversary has, in many ways, overshadowed the feast of St. Gerald of Aurillac, a medieval saint whose liturgical celebration falls on October 13.
But the 9th century French saint - who lived a prayerful life amid political instability - in many ways complements the message of Our Lady of Fatima.
Here are 6 things you probably didn’t know about St. Gerald:
He wasn’t a bishop or a monk
Unlike many celebrated medieval saints, Gerald was not a member of the clergy, nor did he renounce the world to enter a monastery (although he did found a Benedictine monastery in Aurillac, France, and he discerned joining for a while).
Instead, he was a wealthy nobleman and a count. He owned a significant amount of land and wielded authority as the administrator of justice on the estates he inherited from his family.
Although he never became a monk, he took a vow of celibacy, followed a personal rule of life that involved simplicity, asceticism, and intense prayer, and gave away much of his income.
He lived in a period of violence
The world in which St. Gerald lived was one of dueling nobles fighting for land and prestige. It was a time of political instability and significant violence.
In his younger years, Gerald had wanted to donate all of his land to the Church. However, he later became convinced that protecting his land - and the people living on it - was the best way he could serve God.
The saint proved himself to be shrewd in defending his land. He avoided fighting when possible, but was known to broker deals and even to turn competing rivals’ attention to one another. He himself refused to kill others, even in battle, and would sometimes decline to defend his land and livestock during raids. Despite this, his status continued to blossom, and he became one of the leading noblemen in the region.
Since he had no son to be his heir, Gerald toward the end of his life created a monastery on his property to administer his land. He took the unusual step of making it independent of his own control, and answerable only to the pope.
Much of his devotion was carried out quietly
One of the things St. Gerald is most known for today is the way in which he lived a life of prayer and generosity in the midst of the aristocratic society into which he was born.
However, his allegiance to the pope would not have been looked on kindly at the time. The saint therefore practiced his faith quietly. He tonsured his head by shaving a small portion of it, but kept it covered, so the sign of devotion would be known only to him.
Publicly, Gerald was a man of virtue. In particular, he was charitable toward the poor and merciful in running the affairs of his estates, making him stand out among many of the aristocrats of the time period.
Pimples gave him a love of learning
St. Gerald suffered significant health issues throughout his life. As a young man, he suffered from severe skin blemishes, which were either caused by acne or a skin disease. The blemishes left his parents concerned about his health and social standing. As a result, they directed him to focus more heavily on his studies, thinking he would be unable to follow in his father’s footsteps as a nobleman.
Eventually, Gerald’s skin blemishes cleared up - although they left his face permanently scarred - and he was able to fully re-enter aristocratic society. However, his time of intensive study had left him with a love for learning, and he devoted time regularly to study as an adult.
His biographer doubted his sainthood at first
Virtually everything that is known today about St. Gerald comes from a biography written by French abbot St. Odo of Cluny. Despite being contemporaries, the two men never met each other.
Odo researched the biography extensively. He acknowledged initial misgivings about whether a layman and aristocrat could be a saint, but eventually concluded that Gerald lived his life with virtue and sanctity, despite his wealth. Odo also noted that many miracles were attributed to Gerald, both during his life and at the site of his tomb following his death.
He’s the patron saint of counts
St. Gerald is probably one of the only count saints. As such, he has become the patron saint of counts. In addition, he’s the patron saint of bachelors, since he took a private vow of chastity, despite being a layman.