Tuesday, August 5, 2014


St. Stephen of Muret

Feast day: February 8

Birth  1046

Death 1124

Canonized By: 1189 by Pope Clement III

The early life of Stephen, a native of Thiers, France, is uncertain due to historical inaccuracies in the medieval biography of the saint. Nonetheless, his undertaking of consecrated life as a hermit is related in moving and convincing detail. Having built for himself a small hermitage on the mountain of Muret, Stephen vowed himself to God thus: I, Stephen, renounce the devil and all his pomps, and offer myself to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the one true God in three Persons. He also prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, declaring, Holy Mary, Mother of God, I commend my body, soul, and senses to your Son and to you. Thereafter, Stephen spent the next forty-eight years of his life in this wilderness, devoting himself to prayer and penitential self-denial. When on one occasion two papal legates visited him, they inquired as to whether he was a monk, a hermit, or a canon. He replied, I am a sinner. Other men intending to imitate Stephen came to join him, so that the hermitage of Muret grew into a monastic community and a new religious congregation that would later be known as the Order of Grandmont.

Stephen Etienne of Grandmont of Muret, OSB, Abbot Born in Thiers, Auvergne, France, 1046; died 1124; canonized by Pope Clement III in 1189 at the request of King Henry II of England. Saint Stephen was the son of the virtuous viscount of Thiers. His life from infancy presaged uncommon sanctity. Father Milo, then the dean of the church of Paris, was appointed his tutor. At age 12, Stephen accompanied his father, lord of the district, to the tomb of Saint Nicholas of Bari. He fell ill at Benevento and remained there to continue his education under Milo, who had become Benevento's archbishop. At the appropriate time, he ordained
Stephen a deacon. Following Milo's death, Stephen pursued his studies in Rome for four years. In the meantime his parents died. In 1076, on his return to France, Stephen renounced his inheritance to become a hermit in the mountains of Ambazac at Muret northeast of Limoges. He led an austere life, with little food or
sleep for 46 years. He wore a metal breastplate which is one of his attributes in art instead of the usual hairshirt. When he was not employed in manual labor, he lay prostrate on the ground in profound adoration of the majesty of God. The sweetness which he felt in divine contemplation made him often forget to take any refreshment for two or three days together. Stephen remained a deacon throughout his life, never seeking presbyterial ordination. As with many of the holiest hermits, disciples gathered about him. There on the mountain-top he founded a congregation of Benedictine hermit-monks using the model he observed in Calabria; thus, its rules was based on his sayings. Although he was strict with himself, he was mild to those under his direction, and proportioned their mortifications to their strength. But he allowed no indulgence with regard to the essential points of a solitary life, silence, poverty, and the denial of self-will. He behaved himself among his disciples as the last of them, always taking the lowest place, never suffering any one to rise up to him; and while they were at table, he would seat himself on the ground in the midst of them, and read to them the lives of the saints. He ruled but never seems to have become a monk himself. The order is conspicuous for its intransigent insistence on total renunciation. Stephen compared monastic life to life in a prison. "If you come here, you will be fixed to the cross and you will lose your own power over your eyes, your mouth, and your other members. If you go to a large monastery with fine buildings, you will find animals and vast estates; here, only poverty and the cross." To those wishing to join his community, he would say: "This is a prison without either door or hole whereby to return into the world, unless a person makes for himself a breach. And should this misfortune befall you, I could not send after you none here having any commerce with the world any more than myself."  God give Stephen the ability to read hearts. The author of his now lost vita, the fourth prior Stephen de Liciaco, gives a long history of miracles which he wrought. But the conversions of many obstinate sinners were still more miraculous; it seemed as if no heart could resist the grace which accompanied his words. Saint Stephen died at Muret. In his last hours he was carried into the chapel, where he heard mass, received extreme unction and the viaticum. His disciples buried him privately, but news of his death drew many to his tomb, which was honored by innumerable miracles.  Four months after his death, the priory of Ambazac, dependent on the great Benedictine abbey of St. Austin, in Limoges, put in a claim to the land of Muret. The disciples of the holy man immediately gave up the ground without any contention, and retired to Grandmont, taking Stephen's remains with them.With its austere rule it never became widespread; however, the successors to Stephen's spirit gained the admiration of many. Abbot
Peter of Celles, calls them angels, and testifies that he placed an extraordinary confidence in their prayers Epistle 8. John of Salisbury, a contemporary author, represents them as men who, being raised above the necessities of life, had conquered not only sensuality and avarice, but even nature itself .

 The rule of the Grandmontines consists of seventy-five chapters. The prologue reminds its members that the rule of rules, and the origin of all monastic rules, is the gospel: they are but streams derived from this source, and in it are all the means of arriving at Christian perfection pointed out. It recommends strict poverty and obedience, as the foundation of a religious life; forbids compensation for their Masses or to open their oratory to outsiders on Sundays or holy days, because on these days each should attend his parish church. Its religious are forbidden to engage in any lawsuit or to eat meat even in time of sickness. The rule
prescribes rigorous fasts, with only one meal a day for a great part of the year.

 The rule abounds with great sentiments of virtue, especially concerning temptations, the sweetness of God's service and his holy commandments, the boundless obligation each has to love God and the
incomprehensible advantages of praising Him, and the necessity of continually advancing in fervor. It speaks of good works as the flowers of the garland of which our lives should be composed. King

Saint Henry II was one of the admirers of the order. He founded several monasteries for the Grandmontines in France and England, and petitioned the Vatican for Stephen's canonization. The usterity of Saint Stephen inspired both Armand de Rance and Charles de Foucauld .

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