August 23 – Eutychius and Florentius; Philip Benizi

Eutychius and Florentius (d. 540, 547, resp.) were ascetic monks near Nursa or Nursia or Norcia, some 173 km NE of Rome as the Fiat drives (on the A1, E45, and—well, you might want to bring a map). When the nearest available abbot died, the monks at his monastery implored Eutychius to replace him, and Eutychius, if nothing else a good sport, agreed. He converted many to Christ, which was nothing to sneeze at in sixth century Umbria (as that part of Italy is called, at least nowadays), but that’s about all we know his life.

Florentius, on the other hand, stayed behind in their hermitage, and soon grew lonely. “Oh Lord,” he prayed, “give me someone to talk to.” He did not, however, specify someone who could talk back, and when his prayer ended, there was a bear outside the door. The two soon became fast friends, but Florentius reckoned the bear needed a job to keep him out of mischief, so he put him in charge of his small flock of sheep. The sheep were very obedient to their new shepherd. One day some monks from the monastery were driven wild with jealousy, either because they wanted pet bears themselves, or because Florentius had a reputation for sanctity[1], or for some other reason none of our sources knows about. At any rate they killed the bear. Florentius in his grief prayed that God would smite them mightily, and God came through (via leprosy). Florentius mourned their deaths, accounting himself their murderer, for the rest of his life. He did many other miracles in his life, most of them with happier outcomes.

Eutychius was not much of a wonderworker when he was alive, but his clothing achieved a certain level of fame after he died. In 1492, the locals, suffering from a drought, got together and said (roughly), “What we need is the hairshirt of a monk from 900 years ago.” They unearthed Eutychius’ garment and processed with it, and sure enough, the clouds dumped their loads on the land, as if to say, “Take that thing back inside where we don’t have to see it.” It was then placed in a reliquary, which was stolen in the nineteenth century. When it was recovered, the hairshirt was gone. If you have any information that might lead to its recovery, please contact the monks of Spoleto.

Philip Benizi (1233–1285) was born on the very day that the Virgin Mary appeared to the Seven Founders of the Order of the Servants of Mary (Servites), which he was doomed—haha, just kidding, destined—to lead. He studied in Paris and Padua, and took a double doctorate in medicine and philosophy (a popular combination even today) at age 19. He practiced medicine (we’re not told if he practiced philosophy) for about a year, then joined the Servites as a lay brother. Hoping to remain a simple monk, he fudged the education part of his application, but eventually it came out, and he was pushed into increasing levels of authority, culminating in head of the order.

In 1283 Philip was thumbed to play ambassador between the Papal States and the city of Forli, where he was abused, mocked, reviled, and also treated badly. But his calm, gentle ways eventually impressed the delegates, and one of them, Peregrine, took to him so much he became a Servite himself, and eventually a saint (see what I did there?). When Philip heard rumors that he was to be made pope, he fled into the mountains until Gregory X was chosen. He was known as a miracle worker, and once cured a beggar of leprosy by giving him his cloak. He died on the octave of the Assumption (yesterday), and was canonized (the first Servite to be so) in 1671. He is the patron saint of Sergio Osmeña, a dot on the map of the Philippines.

[1]My guess, given precedent.