st.Anthelm-Carthusian monk and bishop

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Feast Day : June 26



Little is known of this saint’s early life. Anthelm was born ca. 1105–07 at Chignin Castle, six miles from the town of Chambéry, to nobility. Although he had chosen a life in the Church from an early age, he was more attracted to the things of this world, rather than the next, and pursued ecclesiastical positions to enhance his prestige. A visit to relatives at the Carthusian monastery at Portes changed his life, however, and he entered the strict order of St. Bruno in 1137. Not long into his novitiate, Anthelm was sent to help rebuild the monastery at Grande Chartreuse, which had been nearly destroyed in an avalanche. His gifts for organization and business soon restored the life and prosperity of the monastery. He supervised rebuilding the ruins and then built a security wall. He brought water to the monastery with an aqueduct and renewed the farmlands and sheepfolds. When Hugh I resigned as prior of the monastery in 1139, Anthelm succeeded him. Throughout these activities Anthelm enforced the Carthusian rule and organized the various monasteries—previously answerable only to the bishop—into a unified order, calling the first general chapter about 1140. Grande Chartreuse became the mother house and Anthelm the first minister general. Anthelm’s skills and reputation brought many new monks into the order, including his father, a brother, and William, count of Nivernais. Anthelm resigned his post in 1152, hoping to retire in solitude, but succeeded Bernard, prior of Portes monastery, as abbot instead. The monks at Portes had become very prosperous—too prosperous, Anthelm believed, for an order with rules of poverty. He gave away most of the grain stores and even sold church ornaments for alms. Two years later Anthelm returned to Grande Chartreuse, longing for the contemplative life, but was again called to service. In 1159 two popes vied for legitimacy: Alexander III (r. 1159–81), supported by King Louis VII of France and most of the bishops, and Victor IV, the favorite of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Anthelm threw himself into the argument and, along with Geoffrey, the Cistercian abbot of Hautecombe, recruited both clergy and nobility from France, Spain and England in support of Alexander. In gratitude, Alexander III appointed Anthelm as bishop of Belley, much against Anthelm’s wishes, in September 1163. Bishop Anthelm energetically promoted reform of his diocese. In his first synod he encouraged the priests and clergy to return to celibacy; many priests had married. When after two years he still found lapsed celibates he deprived them of their benefices. He tolerated no oppression or disorder from the laity, either, standing firm against the intrusion of secular kings into ecclesiastical affairs. Alexander III even sent him to England to try to mediate a truce between King Henry II and Archbishop Thomas Becket but with no success. Anthelm’s flock so loved him that for a time the town of Belley was renamed Anthelmopolis. Anthelm died at age 72 on June 26, 1178. He had devoted his last years to the Carthusian order and two other institutions: a women’s community at Bons and a leper house. His tomb at Grande Chartreuse quickly became known for its miraculous powers; St. Hugh of Lincoln visited the shrine before he died in 1200. Anthelm is depicted in art with a lamp lit by a divine hand.

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