Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Bavo, Anchoret, Patron of Ghent

Article

This great model of penance, called Allowin, surnamed Bavo, was a nobleman, and native of that part of Brabant called Hasbain, at present comprised in the territory of Liege. After having led a very irregular life, and being left a widower by the death of his wife, he was moved to a sincere conversion to God by a sermon which he heard Saint Amand preach. The apostolical man had no sooner finished his discourse, but Bavo followed him, and threw himself at his feet, bathed in a flood of tears. Sobs expressed the sorrow and emotions of his heart more eloquently than any words could have done, and it was some time before his voice was able to break through his sighs. When he had somewhat recovered himself he confessed himself the basest and most ungrateful of all sinners, and earnestly begged to be directed in the paths of true penance and salvation. The holy pastor, who saw in his unfeigned tears the sincerity of his compunction, was far from flattering him in the beginning of his work, by which his penance would have remained imperfect; and whilst he encouraged him by the consideration of the boundless mercy of God, he set before his eyes the necessity of appeasing the divine indignation by a course of penance proportioned to the enormity of his offences, and of applying powerful remedies to the deep wounds of his soul, that his inveterate distempers might be radically cured, his vicious inclinations perfectly corrected and reformed, and his heart become a new creature. By these instructions Bavo was more and more penetrated with the most sincere sentiments of compunction, made his confession, and entered upon a course of canonical penance. Going home he distributed all his moveables and money among the poor, and having settled his affairs, retired to the monastery at Ghent, where he received the tonsure at the hands of Saint Amand, and was animated by his instructions to advance daily in the fervour of his penance, and in the practice of all virtues. “It is a kind of apostacy,” said that prudent director to him, “for a soul which has had the happiness to see the nothingness of this world, and the depth of her spiritual miseries, not to raise herself daily more and more above them, and to make continual approaches nearer to God.”

Bavo considered that self-denial and penance are the means by which a penitent must punish sin in himself, and are also one part of the remedy by which he must heal his perverse inclinations, and carnal passions. He therefore seemed to set no bounds to the ardour with which he laboured to consummate the sacrifice of his penance by the baptism of his tears, the compunction and humiliation of his heart, the mortification of his will, and the rigour of his austerities. To satisfy his devotion, Saint Amand after some time gave him leave to lead an eremitical life. He first chose for his abode a hollow trunk of a large tree, but afterwards built himself a cell in the forest of Malmedun near Ghent, where wild herbs and water were his chief subsistence. He returned to the monastery of Saint Peter at Ghent, where Saint Amand had appointed Saint Floribert the first abbot over a community of clerks, says the original author of our saint’s life. With the approbation of Saint Floribert, Bavo built himself a new cell in another neighbouring wood, where he lived a recluse, intent only on invisible goods, in an entire oblivion of creatures. He died on the 1st of October, about the year 653, according to Mabillon, but according to Henschenius, 657. Perier rather thinks in 654. The holy bishop Saint Amand, the abbot Saint Floribert with his monks, and Domlinus the priest of Turholt were present at his glorious passage, attending him in prayer. The example of his conversion moved sixty gentlemen to devote themselves to an austere penitential life. By them the church of Saint Bavo was founded at Ghent, served first by a college of canons, but afterwards changed into a monastery of the holy Order of Saint Benedict. It was again reduced to its primitive state, being secularized by Pope Paul III in 1537, at the request of the Emperor Charles V who, building a citadel in that part, three years after, transferred the canons to Saint John’s, which from that time possesses the relics, and bears the name of Saint Bavo. When the bishopric of Ghent was erected by Paul IV in 1559, at the petition of King Philip II this church was made the cathedral. Cornelius Jansenius, author of a learned Concordance or Harmony of the Gospels, and other works, was nominated the first bishop. He is not to be confounded with the famous Cornelius Jansenius, bishop of Ipres. An arm of Saint Bavo is kept in a silver case at Haerlem, of which church he is the titular saint and patron, in the same manner as at Ghent. See the life of Saint Bavo, written in the eighth century, published by Mabillon. Another compiled by Theodoric, abbot of Saint Tron’s, in the twelfth century, is extant in Surius, but not of equal authority. See also the history of many miracles, wrought by his relics, in three books. This author gives us the history of the church of Saint Bavo, now the cathedral.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Bavo, Anchoret, Patron of Ghent”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 1 October 2013. Web. 29 August 2014. <>