Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Adalard, or Adelard, Abbot and Confessor

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The birth of this holy monk was most illustrious, his father Bernard, being son of Charles Martel, and brother of king Pepin, so that Adalard was cousin-german to Charlemagne, by whom he was called in his youth to the court, and created count of his palace. A fear of offending God made him tremble at the sight of the dangers of forfeiting his grace, with which he was surrounded, and of the disorders which reigned in the world. Lest he should be engaged to entangle his conscience, by seeming to approve of things which he thought would endanger his salvation, he determined to forsake at once both the court and the world. His sacrifice was the more perfect and edifying, as he was endowed with the greatest personal accomplishments of mind and body for the world, and in the flower of his age; for he was only twenty years old, when, in 773, he took the monastic habit at Corbie in Picardy, a monastery that had been founded by queen Bathildes, in 662. After he had passed a year in the fervent exercises of his novitiate, he made his vows; the first employment assigned him in the monastery was that of gardener, in which, whilst his hands were employed in the business of his calling, his thoughts were on God and heavenly things. Out of humility, and a desire of closer retirement, he obtained leave to be removed to Mount Cassino, where he hoped he should be concealed from the world; but his eminent qualifications, and the great example of his virtue, betrayed and defeated all the projects of his humility, and did not suffer him to live long unknown; he was brought back to Corbie, and some years after chosen abbot. Being obliged by Charlemagne often to attend at court, he appeared there as the first among the king’s counsellors, as he is styled by Hincmar, who had seen him there in 796. He was compelled by Charlemagne entirely to quit his monastery, and take upon him the charge of chief minister to that prince’s eldest son Pepin, who, at his death at Milan in 810, appointed the saint tutor to his son Bernard, then but twelve years of age. In this exalted and distracting station, Adalard appeared even in council recollected and attentive to God, and from his employments would hasten to his chamber, or the chapel, there to plunge his heart in the centre of its happiness. During the time of his prayers, tears usually flowed from his eyes in great abundance, especially on considering his own miseries, and his distance from God. The emperor recalled him from Milan, and deputed him to Pope Leo III to assist at the discussion of certain difficulties started concerning the clause inserted in the Creed, concerning the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son. Charlemagne died in 814, on the 28th of January, having associated his son Lewis le debonnaire, in the empire in the foregoing September. Whilst our saint lived in his monastery, dead to the world, intent only on heavenly things, instructing the ignorant, and feeding the poor, on whom he always exhausted his whole revenue, Lewis declared his son Lothaire, his partner and successor in the empire, in 817; Bernard, who looked upon that dignity as his right, his father Pepin having been eldest brother to Lewis, rebelled, but lost both his kingdom and his life. Lewis was prevailed upon by certain flatterers, to suspect our saint to have been no enemy to Bernard’s pretensions, and banished him to a monastery, situated in the little island of Heri, called afterwards Hermoutier, and Saint Philebert’s on the coast of Aquitain. The saint’s brother Wala (one of the greatest men of that age, as appears from his curious life, published by Mabillon) he obliged to become a monk at Lerins. His sister Gondrada he confined in the monastery of the Holy Cross, at Poitiers; and left only his other sister Theodrada, who was a nun, at liberty in her convent at Soissons. This exile Saint Adalard regarded as his gain, and in it his tranquility and gladness of soul met with no interruptions. The emperor at length was made sensible of his innocence, and, after five years’ banishment, called him to his court towards the close of the year 821; and by the greatest honours and favours, endeavoured to make amends for the injustice he had done him. Adalard, (whose soul fixed wholly on God, was raised above all earthly things,) was the same person in prosperity and adversity, in the palace as in the cell, and in every station: the distinguishing parts of his character were, an extraordinary gift of compunction and tears, the most tender charity for all men, and an undaunted zeal for the relief and protection of all the distressed. In 823, he obtained leave to return to the government of his abbey of Corbie, where he with joy frequently took upon himself the most humbling and mortifying employments of the house. By his solicitude, earnest endeavours, and powerful example, his spiritual children grew daily in fervour and divine love; and such was his zeal for their continual advancement, that he passed no week without speaking to every one of them in particular, and no day without exhorting them all in general, by pathetic and instructive discourses. The inhabitants of the country round his monastery had also a share in his pious labours, and he exhausted on the poor the revenue of his monastery, and whatever other temporal goods came to his hands, with a profusion which many condemned as excessive, but which heaven, on urgent occasions, sometimes approved by sensible miracles. The good old man would receive advice from the meanest of his monks, with an astonishing humility; when entreated by any to moderate his austerities, he frequently answered, “I will take care of your servant, that he may serve you the longer;” meaning himself. Several hospitals were erected by him. During his banishment another Adalard, who governed the monastery by his appointment, began, upon our saint’s project, to prepare the foundation of the monastery of New Corbie, vulgarly called Corwey, in the diocess of Paderborn, nine lagues from that city, upon the Weser, that it might be a nursery of evangelical labourers, to the conversion and instruction of the northern nations. Saint Adalard, after his return to Corbie, completed this great undertaking in 822, for which he went twice thither, and made a long stay to settle the discipline of his colony. Corwey is an imperial abbey; its territory reaches from the bishopric of Paderborn to the duchy of Brunswic, and the abbot is one of the eleven abbots, who sit with twenty-one bishops in the imperial diet at Ratisbon: but the chief glory of this house is derived from the learning and zeal of Saint Anscarius, and many others who erected illustrious trophies of religion in many barbarous countries. To perpetuate the regularity which he established, in his two monasteries, he compiled a book of statutes for their use, of which considerable fragments are extant; for the direction of courtiers in their whole conduct, he wrote an excellent book, On the Order of the Court; of which work we have only the large extracts which Hincmar has inserted in his Instructions of king Carloman, the master-piece of that prelate’s writings, for which he is indebted to our saint. A treatise on the Paschal Moon, and other works of Saint Adalard are lost. By those which we have, also by his disciples, Saint Paschasius Radbertus, Saint Anscarius, and others, and by the testimony of the former in his life, it is clear that our saint was an elegant and zealous promoter of literature in his monasteries: the same author assures us, that he was well skilled, and instructed the people not only in the Latin, but also in the Tudesque and vulgar French languages. Saint Adalard, for his eminent learning, and extraordinary spirit of prayer and compunction, was styled the Austin, the Antony, and the Jeremy of his age. Alcuin, in a letter addressed to him under the name of Antony, calls him his son; whence many infer that he had been scholar to that great man. Saint Adalard was returned out of Germany to old Corbie, when he fell sick three days before Christmas: he received extreme-unction some days after, which was administered by Hildemar, bishop of Beauvais, who had formerly been his disciple; the viaticum he received on the day after the feast of our Lord’s circumcision, about seven o’clock in the morning, and expired the same day about three in the afternoon, in the year 827, of his age seventy-three. Upon proof of several miracles, by virtue of a commission granted by Pope John XIX (called by some XX.) the body of the saint was enshrined, and translated with great solemnity in 1040; of which ceremony we have a particular history written by Saint Gerard, who also composed an office in his honour, in gratitude for having been cured of a violent head-ache through his intercession; the same author relates seven other miracles performed by the same means. The relics of Saint Adalard, except a small portion given to the abbey of Chelles, are still preserved at Corbie, in a rich shrine, and two smaller cases. His name has never been inserted in the Roman Martyrology, though he is honoured as principal patron in many parish churches, and by several towns on the banks of the Rhine and in the Low Countries. See his life, compiled with accuracy, in a very florid pathetic style, by way of panegyric, by his disciple Paschasius Radbertus, extant in Bollandus, and more correctly in Mabillon, also the same abridged in a more historical style, by Saint Gerard, first a monk of Corbie, afterwards first abbot of Seauve-majeur in Guienne, founded by William, Duke of Aquitain and Count of Poitiers, in 1080. The history of the translation of the saint’s body, with an account of eight miracles by the same Saint Gerard, is also given us by Bollandus.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Adalard, or Adelard, Abbot and Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 16 January 2013. Web. 25 April 2014. <>