Feast of Bl. Gerlac of Valkenburg, O. Praem.
(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.
Date(s) - Tuesday January 5, 2021