Feast of Bl. Gerlac of Valkenburg, O. Praem.

Gerlac of Valkenburg

Gerlac of Valkenburg

(c. 1100, 1172?)


  • Crown = Nobility
  • Pilgrim’s staff = Penitent pilgrim
  • Hollow oak tree = Solitude

Gerlac was born of nobility and served as a soldier in the imperial German army. He led a wild and licentious life, part as a roadside robber, until the death of his wife, after which he experienced a conversion and exchanged his uniform and weapons for the garb of a penitent. Gerlac went on pilgrimage to Rome where he confessed his sins and as penance made a further pilgrimage to the Holy Land. For seven years he served the poor and sick before returning to Rome.

Pope Hadrian IV sent him home in 1158 with a letter of advice by which his future life in solitude was to be regulated. He retired to Valkenburg and chose a hollow oak for shelter where he lived as a hermit, living a life of penance and renunciation. He wore a rough white habit, indicating that he belonged to the Norbertine Order. On Saturdays he made a pilgrimage barefoot to nearby Aachen to honor the Virgin Mary. Many people of that region came to ask for his prayers, advice and assistance; he gave them both material help and spiritual nourishment. St. Hildegard of Bingen, after hearing about his virtues, sent him the crown of her virginal consecration as a gesture of her esteem.

Gerlac died on January 5, the vigil of Epiphany, probably in 1172. His grave and hermitage soon became a pilgrimage site. In 1201 the Norbertine abbey of Heinsberg founded a small monastery in Houthem (near the oak tree) in order to preserve his relics. At the request of the order, Pope Benedict XIII allowed his cult on January 22, 1728.

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Date(s) - Tuesday January 5, 2021
All day


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