Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Peter, Archbishop of Tarentaise

Saint Peter of TarentaiseArticle

[Now called Monstiers, in Savoy] He was a native of Dauphiné. A strong inclination to learning, assisted by a good genius and a happy memory, carried him very successfully through his studies. At twenty years of age he took the Cistercian habit at Bonnevaux, a monastery that had been lately filled by a colony sent by Saint Bernard from Clairvaux. They employed a great part of the day in hewing wood, and tilling the ground in the forest, in perpetual silence and interior prayer. They ate but once a day, and their fare was herbs or roots, mostly turnips of a coarse sort. Four hours in the twenty-four was the usual allowance for sleep; so that, rising at midnight, they continued in the church till it was morning, and returned no more to rest: which was the primitive custom of that Order. Peter practised the greatest austerities with fervour and alacrity: he was most exactly obedient, obliging to all, humble and modest. His pious parents, after the birth of four children, lived in perpetual continency, and the practice of rigorous abstinence, prayed much, and gave large alms: their house they seemed to turn into an hospital, so great was the number of poor and strangers they constantly entertained, whom they furnished with good beds, whilst they themselves often lay on straw. The father and his two other sons at length followed Peter to Bonnevaux, and the mother and daughter embraced the same Order in a neighbouring nunnery. The year after Peter had taken the monastic habit, his example was followed by Amedeus, nearly related to the Emperor Conrad III and sixteen other persons of worth and distinction. Amedeus, indeed, having there made his solemn profession with the rest, by the advice of persons of great virtue and discretion, spent some time at Cluni, the better to superintend his son’s education, in the school established there for the education of youth: but he returned after some time to Bonnevaux; and made it his request, at his readmission, that he might be enjoined the lowest offices in the house. To this the abbot, for his greater advancement in humility and penance, consented. The Earl of Albion, his uncle, coming one day to see him, found him in a sweat, cleaning the monks’ dirty shoes, and, at the same time, so attentive to his prayers, as not to perceive him. The earl, remembering in what state he had seen him in the world, was so struck and so much edified at this spectacle, that he ever after retained the deep impression which it made on his mind, and published it at court. Amedeus built four monasteries of his Order: among which was that of Tamies, or Stomedium, in the desert mountains of the diocess of Tarentaise, of which he procured his intimate friend Saint Peter, not then quite thirty years of age, to be appointed the first abbot, in 1128. Amedeus worked himself with his spade and mattock in building some of these monasteries, and died at Bonnevaux, in the odour of sanctity, in 1140. His son Amedeus, for whose education in piety he had always the greatest concern, after having spent part of his youth in the court of his kinsman, the emperor, became a Cistercian monk under Saint Bernard, at Clairvaux, and died bishop of Lausanne.

The monastery of Tamies seemed a house of terrestrial angels; so constantly were its inhabitants occupied in the employment of angels, paying to God an uninterrupted homage of praise, adoration, and love. Saint Peter, by the help of Amedeus III, count of Savoy, founded in it an hospital to receive all the poor sick persons of the country, and all strangers; and would be himself its servant to attend them. In 1142, the Count of Savoy procured his election to the archbishopric of Tarentaise, and he was compelled by Saint Bernard and the general chapter of his Order, though much against his own inclinations, to accept of that charge. Indeed that diocess stood extremely in need of such an apostolic pastor, having been usurped by a powerful ambitious wolf, named Idrael, whose deposition left it in the most desolate condition. The parish churches and tithes were sacrilegiously held by laymen; and the clergy, who ought to have stemmed the torrent of iniquity, contributed but too often to promote irregularity by their own wicked example. The sight of these evils drew tears from the eyes of the saint, with which he night and day implored the divine mercy upon the souls intrusted to his care. He directed all his fasts, his prayers, and labours, for the good of his flock: being persuaded that the sanctification of the people committed to his charge was an essential condition for securing his own salvation. He altered nothing in the simplicity of a monastic life, and looked on the episcopal character as a laborious employment rather than a dignity. His clothes were plain, and his food coarse; for he ate nothing but brown bread, herbs, and pulse, of which the poor had always their share. He made the constant visitation of his diocess his employ; he every where exhorted and instructed his whole charge with unwearied zeal and invincible patience, and besides he provided the several parishes of his diocess with able and virtuous pastors. When he came to his bishopric, he found the chapter of his cathedral full of irregularities, and the service of God performed in a very careless manner; but he soon made that church a pattern of good order and devotion. He recovered the tithes and other revenues of the church that had been usurped by certain powerful laymen; made many excellent foundations for the education of youth, and the relief of the poor; repaired several churches, and restored every where devotion and the decent service of God. The author of his life, who was the constant companion of his labours, and the witness of the greater part of his actions after he was made bishop, assures us he wrought many miracles in several places, chiefly in curing the sick, and multiplying provisions for the poor in times of great distress; so that he was regarded as a new Thaumaturgus. The confusion his humility suffered from the honours he received, joined to his love of solitude, made him resolve to retire from the world; and accordingly, in 1155, after he had borne the weight of the episcopal character thirteen years, having settled his diocess in good order, he disappeared on a sudden; and made his way to a retired monastery of Cistercians in Germany, where he was not known. In the mean time, his family and diocess mourned for the loss of their tender father. Strict inquiry was made in all the neighbouring provinces, especially in the monasteries, but in vain; till, after some time, divine providence discovered him by the following accident: A young man, who had been brought up under his care, came to the monastery in which he lay concealed, and upon observing the monks as they were going out of the church to their work, he knew his bishop, and made him known to the whole community. The religious no sooner understood who he was, but they all fell at his feet, begged his blessing, and expressed much concern for not having known him before. The saint was inconsolable at being discovered, and was meditating a new escape, but he was so carefully watched, that it was not in his power; so that he was forced to go back to his diocess, where he was received with the greatest demonstrations of joy. He applied himself to his functions with greater vigour than ever. The poor were always the object of his peculiar care. He was twice discovered to have given away, with the hazard of his own life, in extreme cold weather in winter, the waistcoat which he had on his back. For three months before the harvest he distributed general alms among all the inhabitants of the mountains, provisions being always very scarce there at that season. He founded hospitals on the Alps, for the entertainment of poor travellers; because, before that time, many perished for the want of such a succour. To preserve in his heart the spirit of devotion and penance, he continued to practise, as much as possible, all the austerities and other rules of his Order, only commuting manual labour for the spiritual functions of his charge. By his conversation with the God of peace, he imbibed an eminent spirit of that virtue, and learned, by humility and charity, to be truly the man of peace; having also a singular talent for extinguishing the most implacable and inveterate enmities. He often reconciled sovereign princes, when they were at variance, and prevented several bloody wars. The Emperor Frederic I set up Octavian, a schismatical pope, under the name of Victor, against Alexander III. Saint Peter was almost the only subject of the empire who had the courage openly to oppose his unjust attempt, and he boldly defended the cause of justice in presence of the tyrant, and in many councils. The emperor, who banished others that spoke in favour of that cause, stood in awe of his sanctity: and Peter, by his mild counsels, frequently softened his fierceness, and checked the boisterous sallies of his fury, whilst, like a roaring lion, he spread terror on every side. The saint preached in Alsace, Burgundy, Lorrain, and in many parts of Italy; and confounded the obstinate by numberless miraculous cures of the sick, performed by the imposition of his hands and prayer. He was ordered by the pope to go into France and Normandy, to endeavour a reconciliation between the kings of England and France, who had made peace in 1169, but quarrelled again the next year. Though then very old, he preached wherever he went. Lewis VII. sent certain gentlemen of his court to meet him at a great distance, and received him with the greatest marks of honour and respect; but honours and crowds were of all things the most troublesome to the saint. The man of God restored the use of sight to one blind in the presence of the Count of Flanders, and many other noblemen, who were at that time with the King of France: who being also himself an eye-witness, examined carefully all the circumstances, and declared the miracle to be evident and incontestable. The saint went from Paris to Chaumont, on the confines of Normandy, where Henry II. king of England, met him: and when he arrived in sight of the holy man, alighted from his horse, and coming up fell at his feet. The people stole the cloak or hood of Saint Peter, and were going to cut it in pieces to divide the scraps, being persuaded that they would perform miracles; but the king took the whole cloak for himself, saying: “I have myself seen miraculous cures performed by his girdle, which I already possess.” In his presence the saint restored the use of speech to a girl who was dumb. On Ash-Wednesday, in 1171, Saint Peter being at the Cistercian Abbey of Mortemer, in the diocess of Roüen, the King of England came thither with his whole court, and received ashes from his hands. The archbishop prevailed on the two kings to put an end to their differences by a treaty of peace, and to procure councils to be assembled in their dominions, in which Alexander’s title should be solemnly recognised. The holy man hereupon returned to his church, but was some time after sent again by the pope to the King of England, to endeavour to compose the difference between him and his son: but his journey had not the desired effect. He fell sick on his return, and died the death of the just, at Bellevaux, a monastery of his Order, in the diocess of Besançon, in 1174, being seventy-three years old. He was canonized by Pope Celestine III in 1191. See his life, written nine years after his death by Geoffrey, some time his companion, and afterward abbot of Hautecombe, by the order of Pope Lucius III.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Peter, Archbishop of Tarentaise”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 5 May 2013. Web. 21 April 2014. <>