Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Odilo, or Olon, Sixth Abbot of Cluni

[Saint Odilo of Cluny]Article

His family was that of the lords of Mercœur, one of the most illustrious of Auvergne. Divine grace inclined him from his infancy to devote himself to God with his whole heart. He was very young when he received the monastic habit at Cluni, from the hands of Saint Mayeul, by whose appointment he was made his coadjutor in 991, though only twenty-nine years of age; and from the death of Saint Mayeul in 994, our saint was charged with the entire government of that great abbey. He laboured to subdue his carnal appetites by his rigorous fasting, wearing hair-cloth next his skin, and studded iron chains. Notwithstanding those austerities practised on himself, his carriage to others was most mild and humane. It was usual with him to say, that of two extremes he chose rather to offend by tenderness, than a too rigid severity. In a great famine in 1006, his liberality to the poor was by many censured as profuse; for he melted down the sacred vessels and ornaments, and sold the gold crown Saint Henry made a present of to that abbey, to relieve their necessities. He accompanied that prince in his journey to Rome when he was crowned emperor in 1014. This was his second journey thither; he made a third in 1017, and a fourth in 1022. Out of devotion to Saint Bennet he paid a visit to mount Cassino, where he begged leave, with the greatest earnestness, to kiss the feet of all the monks, which was granted him with great difficulty. Besides the journeys which the reformation he established in many monasteries obliged him to undertake, he made one to Orbe, to wait on the empress Alice. That pious princess burst into tears upon seeing him, and taking hold of his habit kissed it, and applied it to her eyes, and declared to him she should die in a very short time. This was in 999, and she died on the 16th of December the same year. Massacres and plunders were so common in that age, by the right which every petty lord pretended of revenging his own injuries and quarrels by private wars, that the treaty called the truce of God was set on foot. By this, among other articles, it was agreed that churches should be sanctuaries to all sorts of persons, except those that violated this truce, and that from Wednesday till Monday morning no one should offer violence to any one, not even by way of satisfaction for any injustice he had received. This truce met with the greatest difficulties among the Neustrians, but was at length received and observed in most provinces of France, through the exhortations and endeavours of Saint Odilo, and B. Richard, Abbot of Saint Vanne’s, who were charged with this commission. Prince Casimir, son of Miceslaw, king of Poland, retired to Cluni, where he professed the monastic state, and was ordained deacon. He was afterward, by a solemn deputation of the nobility, called to the crown. Saint Odilo referred the matter to Pope Benedict IX, with whose dispensation Casimir mounted the throne in 1041, married, had several children, and reigned till his death in 1058.

Saint Odilo being moved by several visions, instituted the annual commemoration of all the faithful departed, to be observed by the members of his community with alms, prayers, and sacrifices, for the relief of the suffering souls in purgatory; and this charitable devotion he often much recommended. He was very devout to the Blessed Virgin; and above all sacred mysteries, that of the divine Incarnation employed his particular attention. As the monks were singing that verse in the church, “thou being to take upon thee to deliver man, didst not abhor the womb of a virgin;” melting away with the tenderest emotions of love, he fell to the ground; the ecstatic agitations of his body bearing evidence to that heavenly fire which glowed in his soul. Most of his sermons and little poems extant treat of the mysteries of our redemption, or of the Blessed Virgin. He excelled in an eminent spirit of compunction, and contemplation. Whilst he was at prayer, trickling tears often watered his cheeks. Neither importunities nor compulsion could prevail upon him to submit to his being elected archbishop of Lyons in 1031. Having patiently suffered during five years the most painful diseases, he died of the cholic, at Souvigny, a priory in Bourbonnois, whilst employed in the visitation of his monasteries, January 1, 1049, being then eighty-seven years old, and having been fifty-six years abbot. He would be carried to the church, to assist at the divine office, even in his agony; and having received the viaticum and extreme-unction the day before, he expired on sack-cloth strewed with ashes on the ground. See his life, by his disciple Lotsald, as also, by Saint Peter Damian, who wrote it soon after the saint’s death, at the request of Saint Hugh of Cluni, his successor, in Bollandus, and Bibliotheca Cluniacensus by Dom Marrier, and in Andrew Duchesne, fol. Paris, 1614.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Odilo, or Olon, Sixth Abbot of Cluni”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 20 January 2013. Web. 10 July 2014. <>