I'm what you'd call a Catholic geek. I love reading saints' hagiographies. I just can't get enough of them.
Each one I read is better, more heroic, humbler, more loving, kinder, etc. than the last. And as there are at least 17,000 saints, 200,000 beati and 45 million martyrs, I suspect God will call me right in the middle of reading the account of one of His illuminous followers.
The other day, I came across one which startled me. It had everything―jousting knights, angelic manifestations, inexplicable miracles, profound piety, wise Medieval monks, kings and queens, religious conversions and the renunciation of wealth and title.
They don’t make saints like they used to.
St. Thibaut of Montmorency (d. 1247), also known as Thibaud or Theobald of Marly, was a knight and a Cistercian monk of the French abbey of Vaux-de-Cernay. He was its abbot from 1235 to his death.
His parents, Bouchard de Marly and Matilda Châteaufort, granddaughter of King Louis VI, were noblemen. Thibaut was born at the castle of Marly and, as a young man, served as a knight at the court of Philip Augustus.
From a very early age, he expressed a great love and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom he called "his Good Mother and his Beloved Mistress."
One day, when Thibaut was about to participate in a jousting tournament, he passed a church as Mass was being celebrated. He dismounted and entered the church reveling in the fact that the Mass was being celebrated in honor of the Blessed Virgin. Afterwards, he ran to his companions hoping they wouldn't be cross with him for missing the tournament.
He was shocked when his friends congratulated him for having already won the tournament. It was then when Thibaut realized that his guardian angel had taken his place at the joust. Thibaut decided that very moment to become a monk and renounce the attractions of this world, including the important position he had held at Philip Augustus' court, in gratitude to the Virgin.
It was to Abbot Thomas of Vaux-de-Cernay, in the diocese of Versailles, that Thibaut first spoke of his desire to become a monk. The Abbot, wishing to be honest, warned the young nobleman that life as a Cistercian monk was severe and not to be taken on lightly. Despite the older priest's ominous warnings, Thibaut entered the abbey of in 1226.
In 1230, Thibaut was made prior and in 1235, became the monastery's ninth abbot. He accomplished all of the tasks set before him with great vigor and élan. He made sure he wore only the most threadbare clothes and ate the poorest, simplest food. He insisted that this lack of luxury was exactly what St. Bernard asked of his monks.
Thibaut kept a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin throughout his life. He wrote of her saying, "O sweet name of the Blessed Virgin! O blessed, venerable name, ineffable name, kind name for all eternity."
When asked about his strong devotion to her, he responded, "Know that I like the Madonna as much as I do, because she is the Mother of my Lord Jesus Christ; if it was not so, I would not love her any more than other holy virgin. Thus, it is Jesus Christ Himself that I love, that I honor and that I revere Mary."
In 1236, William of Auvergne, Bishop of Paris, entrusted Thibaut with the spiritual direction of the nuns of Port Royal. He was also responsible for the inspection of the Abbey of Joy-lès-Nemours. The General Chapter of 1237 put him in charge of Our Lady of the Treasury in the Vexin. He was also given responsibility of the monks at Abbey Breuil-Benoît near Evreux, France.
Having heard of Thibaut's holiness, St. King Louis IX and his wife, Queen Marguerite de Provence, begged the monk to pray for them that they might be blessed with many children.
On July 11, 1240, the queen gave birth to her first daughter, Blanche, who unfortunately died in infancy. However, she was followed by many other siblings who survived. Thankful for their children, the king and queen generously endowed the Abbey of Vaux Cernay.
In 1240, Thibaut composed an office for the Feast of the Holy Crown of Thorns―relics of Christ's Passion―which, at the request of St. Louis, was celebrated in all monasteries of his kingdom initially observed on August 11.
Thibaut was constantly travelling for the sake of his community giving him less and less opportunity to recollect with the Creator. He lamented in his diary, writing, "O my soul, your Beloved, the One you are looking for and desire is not here. Return, I pray thee, to Vaux-de-Cernay, that's where you will find Him. You may converse with Him and enjoy building your faith in prayer. There you may wait to see Him face to face. Return to your monastery! Go back promptly, and there you shall worship thy God with greater devotion and security!"
In 1247, Thibaut became seriously ill and died soon after on July 27. He was buried in the monastery's chapter room along with his predecessors. Pilgrims flocked to the monastery to pay their respects to the holy man. The queen and her son, King Philip III the Bold, came several times to visit the tomb. Since they could not get into the cloistered chapter room to see the saint's tomb, Thibaut's relics were transferred in 1261 in the infirmary chapel.
In 1270, after his canonization, his relics were brought into the church and placed in a stone sarcophagus covered four columns. During the violent French Revolution, the abbey was attacked and disbanded. Thibaut's relics were destroyed except for a small portion which is currently preserved in a church in Cernay-la-Ville.
St. Thibaut is commemorated on July 27, the date of the translation of his relics at his monastery. The saint is invoked in cases of indigestion, ulcers and tremors.
St. Thibaut serves modern people as a great model of Christian humility, dedication and holiness. This monk, who had it all, responded to Christ's love by freely giving up both wealth and rank―something most of dream to attain. And instead of honors and praise, he longed for holy obscurity in the arms of his Redeemer and His Holy Mother. And for this virtue, we remember and celebrate Thibaut.
He's a bright star in the Church's crown because he took up Jesus' admonishment to be "salt for the whole human race." A "light for the whole world." A "city built on a hill" which cannot be hid. St. Thibaut's light shines just as brightly on the modern world just at it had in the 13th century. We can model our light upon St. Thibaut's so that people who live in our modern world's great darkness will see the good things we do and praise our Father in Heaven (Mathew 5:13-16).