Two Sundays ago, I made a quick trip down to The Big Apple (NewYork City) so that I could attend the Park Avenue Armory Rare Book Show and Sale. The event draws rare book and manuscript sellers from all over the world. And even though I cannot even begin to afford the prices of these collector volumes, I do get a chance to meet old dealer friends and pig-out at many of the city’s delicatessens.
I usually like to leave after office hours on Saturday afternoon, then drive like a maniac (I have made the trip in 3 hours and 45 minutes) down to the city, and rent a room so that I can sleep in till seven o’clock on Sunday morning.
One of my favorite loves on Sunday morning in New York City, is to go to Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Although it’s hard for me to be as intimate with our Precious Lord there as it is for me here in our humble St. James church, I am still overwhelmed by the beauty and magnificence of the great cathedral.
Arriving early, I had a couple of minutes to check out some of the side chapels dedicated to various saints. Because I’d been doing some research on mountain climbing in the French Alps and had seen his name mentioned a few times, I was surprised to discover that one of these chapels was dedicated to St. Bernard. I had read that St. Bernard was the Patron Saint of mountaineers. Also, since I’ve been treating a dear client’s St. Bernard dog for cancer recently, I briefly wondered if he was the same saint after whom the dog breed was named.
And so, upon viewing my chance encounter with the Blessed Saint as a sign from God, I stopped, and meditated, and prayed for his intercession on behalf of Theresa and me on our possible upcoming trip to climb Mt. Blanc this summer. When I returned home and told Theresa about my visit with the saint, she said it would probably make a good story. And she’s right, I think.
The only problem, however, (as my research for this article this morning has shown me) was that the St. Bernard I encountered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral was not the St. Bernard for either mountain climbers or the dog breed. The Saint I prayed with at St Patrick’s was Bernard of Clairvaux, who founded and led the monastery at Clairvaux, France in the eleventh century, and who later became the first Cistercian monk to be placed on the calendar of saints. This St. Bernard is the Patron Saint of beekeepers, bees, candlemakers, wax-melters, wax refiners, and of all places, Gibraltar.
The St. Bernard I was actually looking for was Bernard of Menthon, also known as Bernard of Montjoux. This Bernard was the Archdeacon of Aosta, Italy who evangelized to the people of the Alps for over 40 years. He started a patrol that cleared robbers from the Alps as well as established hospices (still there today) on the high mountain passes for travelers and pilgrims on their journeys from western Europe to Rome. I was pleased to also learn that the large dogs trained to search for lost victims in the mountains, the St. Bernards, are named after him as well.
Although it has nothing directly to do with veterinary medicine, my research of St. Bernard (the human, not the dog breed) turned up some interesting information. There are at least eight other saints named Bernard. There was one named simply, Bernard, who was a Benedictine Cistercian monk martyred by the Moors in 1180. Another one is the Blessed Martyr, Bernard of Toulouse who was tortured and sawn in half in 1320 by Albigensians. There is a Bernard of Valdeiglesias, a Benedictine Cistercian monk who died in 1155. There is Bernard of Vienne, a former military officer in King Charlemagne’s army, who is the Patron Saint of agricultural workers, farm workers, farmers, field hands, husbandmen. There is Bernard Due Van Vo, who was arrested in 1838 for the crime of priesthood, and became one of the Martyrs of Vietnam. Another one is Bernard of Tolomeo, founder of the Benedictine congregation of the Blessed Virgin of Monte Oliveto. A final St. Bernard, and one that’s quite interesting, is Bernard of Corleone. Noted for his extreme austerity and self-imposed penances in an attempt to atone for his earlier life (he had killed a fellow Sicilian in a sword dual), he seemed to have had a strong gift of healing animals by prayer. Hmm!
All of which brings me back to the Good St. Bernard (of Clairvaux) that I met in NYC last Sunday. Even though I blew it with regards to the mountaineering and dog breed things, I did gleam one bit of information that he and I somewhat share in common. It turns out that every morning when he awoke, the saint would always ask himself, “Why have I come here?” His answer: “To lead a Holy life.” My humble answer every morning to the same important question is: “To just try and save the lives of a few cats and dogs and the occasional cow.”