Bernardino of Siena


Bernardino of Siena

Infobox Saint
name=Saint Bernardine of Siena
birth_date=1380
death_date=1444
feast_day=May 20
venerated_in=Roman Catholic Church


imagesize=250px
caption=Statue by Antonio Raggi
birth_place=Massa Marittima, Italy
death_place=Aquila, Italy
titles=
beatified_date=
beatified_place=
beatified_by=
canonized_date=24 May 1450
canonized_place=
canonized_by=Pope Nicholas V
attributes=Tablet with IHS; three mitres representing the bishoprics which he refused
patronage= advertisers; advertising; Aquila, Italy; chest problems; Italy; diocese of San Bernardino, California; gambling addicts; public relations personnel; public relations work;
major_shrine=
suppressed_date=
issues=

Saint Bernardino of Siena (sometimes Bernardine, September 8 1380 – May 20, 1444) was an Italian priest, preacher, Franciscan missionary and Christian saint.

Early life

Bernardino was born in 1380 to the noble Albizeschi family in Massa Marittima (Tuscany), a Sienese town of which his father was then governor. Left orphaned at six, he was raised by a pious aunt. On the completion of his education he spent some years in the service of the sick in the hospitals. While he was studying civil and canon law in Siena, he worked in the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala throughout the bubonic plague outbreak of 1400 and even urged other young men to stay and help. He thus caught the plague, of which he nearly died.

In 1402 or 1404, he joined the Franciscan order in the strict branch called the Observants, of which he became one of the chief promoters, after donating all his possessions to the poor. About 1406 Saint Vincent Ferrer, while preaching at Alessandria in Piedmont, foretold that his mantle should descend upon one who was then listening to him, and said that he would return to France and Spain leaving to Bernardino the task of evangelizing the remaining peoples of Italy. Nearly twelve years passed before this prediction was fulfilled. During this period, of which we have no details, Bernardino seems to have lived in retirement in the convent on the hill of Capriola, near Siena.

He was reported to "cure" a Sienese prostitute by striking her and "driving the demon" from her body. He then moved on to preach at Milan in 1418 (1417 according to other sources) before traveling to perform evangelical preaching in neighbouring cities in the next four years.

Missionary work

For more than 30 years St Bernardino preached all over Italy, and played a great part in the religious revival of the early fifteenth century. His success was claimed to be remarkable. Enormous crowds came to hear him speak. It was said that feuds and factionalism were reconciled by his counsel and that miracles took place. Donations to the Holy Name of Jesus (which he preached particularly) increased dramatically. Furthermore, "bonfires of vanities" were held at his sermon sites, where people were encouraged to burn objects of temptation. In 1425, he preached every day for seven weeks in Siena.

In 1427 he was summoned to Rome to stand trial on charges of heresy, with theologians including Paulus Venetus present to give their opinions. Bernardino was found innocent of heresy, and he impressed Pope Martin V sufficiently that Martin requested he preach in Rome. He was acquitted and thereupon preached every day for 80 days. A typical sermon, would last for an hour long, but some lasted for more than four. Bernardino's zeal was such that he would prepare up to four drafts of a sermon before starting to speak. That same year, he was offered the bishopric of Siena, but declined in order to maintain his monastic and evangelical activities. In 1431, he toured Tuscany, Lombardy, Romagna, and Ancona before returning to Siena to prevent a war against Florence. Also in 1431, he declined the bishopric of Ferrara, and in 1435 he declined the bishopric of Urbino.

Saint John Capistran was his friend, and Saint James of the Marches was his disciple during these years. Both Pope Martin V and Pope Eugene IV were urged by their cardinals to condemn Bernardino, but both almost instantly acquitted him. The Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund sought Bernardino's counsel and intercession and the future saint accompanied him to Rome in 1433 for his coronation.

Soon after he withdrew again to Capriola to compose a series of sermons. He resumed his missionary labours in 1436, but was forced to abandon them in the following year, when he became vicar-general of the Observant branch of the Franciscans in Italy. In 1438, Bernardino was elevated to vicar-general of the Franciscan Order in Italy. This cut back his opportunities to preach, but he continued to speak to the public when he could. Having in 1442 persuaded the pope to accept his resignation as vicar-general so that he might give himself more undividedly to preaching, Bernardino resumed his missionary labours. Despite a Papal Bull issued by Eugene IV in 1443 and which charged Bernardino to preach the indulgence for the Crusade against the Turks, there is no record of his having done so. In 1444, notwithstanding his increasing infirmities, Bernardino, desirous that there should be no part of Italy which had not heard his voice, set out to the Kingdom of Naples. He died that year at L'Aquila, in the Abruzzi. According to the tradition, his grave continued to leak blood until two factions of the city achieved reconciliation.

Reports of miracles attributed to Bernardino multiplied rapidly and Bernardino was canonized in 1450, only six years after his death, by Pope Nicholas V. His feast day in the Roman Catholic Church is on May 20, the day of his death.

Attacks on sodomy

Saint Bernardine attacked the sodomitical customs of the Italians in his sermons, among which one pointing out the reputation of the Italians beyond their own borders: which can be translated as: "O, Italy, how much more than any other province have you become contaminated! Go to the Germans, and hear what lovely things they say about the Italians! They say there is no people in this world that are greater sodomites than the Italians." ("Abominabile peccato della maladetta soddomia". "Prediche volgari sul campo di Siena. 1427" vol. 2, Milan, p. 1149). The practices had been blamed for "divine" misfortunes, like the plague, and some in the clergy hoped that catastrophes could be averted by restricting practices they blamed as immoral.

In 1424 in a Lenten sermon preached in Santa Croce, he admonished his hearer's: "Whenever you hear sodomy mentioned, each and every one of you spit on the ground and clean your mouth out as well. If they don't want to change their ways by any other means, maybe they will change when they're made fools of. Spit hard! Maybe the water of your spit will extinguish their fire." [Louis Crompton, "Homosexuality and civilisation", Harvard University, 2003]

He particularly decried Florentine lenience. In Verona, he told his hearers, a man was quartered and his limbs hung from the city gates. In Genoa, men were regularly burned. In Venice a sodomite had been tied to a column along with a barrel of pitch and brushwood and set to fire. He advised the Sienese to do the same, "even if they had to burn every male in the city".

Work for the Order and the spreading of the Observants

Saint Bernardine laboured strenuously to spread the Observant branch of the Friars Minor from the outset of his religious life: but, contrary to what is sometimes stated, he was not its founder. (The origin of the Observants, or "Zelanti", may be traced back to the middle of the fourteenth century.) Nevertheless, Bernardine became to the Observants what St. Bernard had been to the Cistercians, their principal support and indefatigable propagator. Some idea of his zeal may be gathered from the fact that, instead of the one hundred and thirty Friars constituting the Observance in Italy at Bernardino's reception into the order, it counted over four thousand before his death.

In addition to the number he received into the order, Bernardino himself founded, or reformed, at least three hundred convents of Friars. Not content with extending his religious family at home, Bernardino sent missionaries to different parts of the Orient and it was largely through his efforts that so many ambassadors from different schismatic nations attended the Council of Florence in which we find the saint addressing the assembled Fathers in Greek.

Iconography

After his death, the Franciscans promoted an iconographical program of diffusion of images of Bernardino, which was second only to that of the founder of the order. He is typically represented in painting with three mitres at his feet (representing the three bishoprics which he had rejected) and holding in his hand the "IHS" monogram with rays emanating from it (representing his devotion to the "Holy Name of Jesus").

A portrait is known to have circulated in Siena just after Bernardino’s death which, on the basis of physiognomic similarities with his death mask at L'Aquila (the bald head and emaciated face), is believed to have been a good likeness. It is thought probable that many subsequent depictions of the saint derive from this portrait.

The most famous, and perhaps most highly appreciated, depictions of Bernardino are found in the cycle of frescoes of his life executed towards the end of the fifteenth century by Pinturicchio in the Bufalini Chapel of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Rome. There is also an altar panel at the Alte Pinakothek in Berlin, done by Pietro Perugino, known as "The Virgin appearing to St. Bernard". This showing the saint having a vision of the Virgin Mary.

Patron

Saint Bernardino is the patron saint of advertising, communications, compulsive gambling, respiratory problems, any problems involving the chest area, the city Carpi (Italy), the Philippine barangay Kay-Anlog and the diocese of San Bernardino, California.

Legacy

In the 15th century, the Roman Catholic Church began to respond to the pressures both of the multiple heresies that had spread throughout southern France and northern Italy and the challenge of Protestantism. As Martin Luther emphasized the direct participation of the laity in the divine and the importance of the sermon, the monastic orders, in particular, reformed. Instead of remaining cloistered and speaking only the liturgy, some, like Bernardino of Siena, attempted to preach directly to the public. The effect was both to stem the inroads of Protestant evangelism and to make the populace more aware of orthodox dogma. The first edition of his works, for the most part elaborate sermons, was printed at Lyon in 1501.

Notes

References

*1911|article=St. Bernardin Of Siena|url=http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/St._Bernardin_Of_Siena
*Catholic|St. Bernardine of Siena


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