Il Libro d’Oro – Beato Torello da Poppi

In that time in which the portion of Tuscany called Casentino was not yet subject to the Florentines, but was ruled by its own counts, in the lands of Poppi, an important place in that valley through which runs the river Arno, and not far from its source, a son was born to a certain good man named Paolo, to whom he gave the name of Torello, and whom, when a suitable age, he not only taught to fear God, and to lead a Christian life, but sent to school, that he might learn the first principles of letters – which he soon did – and to avoid evil companions and imitate the good. The young Torello, being accustomed to this life, and his father dying, for some time proceeded from good to better.

But that not pleasing our common enemy, who always goes about seeking whom he may devour, he so tempted Torello – God permitting it, for future and greater good – that he abandoned a virtuous life, and gave himself to the pursuit of the pleasures of the world; so that instead of being praised for his blameless and religious life, he was censured by all, and had become the very opposite of what he had at first been.

But the blessed Lord – who had never abandoned him, though He had left him to wander, in order to permit him to become a true mirror of penitence – called him to himself in this manner; as he was one day wandering and seeking amusement with his idle companions, a cock that was on a perch outside a window suddenly fell, and alighted on his shoulder, and crowed three times, and then flew back to the perch. Torello, calling to mind how the Apostle Peter had in a similar manner been made to gee his guilt, awaked from his sleep of vice and sin in a state of wonder and fear; and thinking that this could have happened only by divine Providence, and to show him that he was in the power of the devil, left his companions instantly, and in penitence and tears sought the Abbot of Poppi, of the order of Vallombrosa; and commending himself to his prayers, threw himself at his feet, humbly begging for the robe of a mendicant friar, since he desired to serve God in the humblest manner. The abbot wondered much, knowing by common report Torello to be a youth of most incorrect life, to see him thus kneeling in contrition before him, and endeavoured, together with the monks, to persuade him to take their habit of Saint John Gualberto. But at last, seeing he had no heart for it, and remained constant to his first request, he at last granted it; and he became a poor brother, and almost a desert hermit, for having received the benediction of the abbot, without communicating with either his family or friends, he left that country and took his way toward the most desert and savage places of the mountains, wandering among them for eight days, and passing the night wherever it chanced to overtake him. But having at last come to a great rock, near a place called Avellanato, he remained there, adopting it for a cell eight days more, weeping for his sins, praying, and imploring God to pardon him; living all this time on three small loaves, which he had brought with him, and on wild herbs like the animals; and being much pleased with the place, he determined to make a cell under that great rock, and there spend all the days of this life, serving God with fasts, vigils, discipline, and prayers, and bitterly lamenting his past sins and evil life.

Having taken this resolution, he went to his own country to put his affairs in order; and all his relatives and friends came about him, praying him with much earnestness, if he sought to serve God, to leave this life of a wild beast and join some order, living like other monks. But all was of no avail; and selling all his goods, he gave the price to the poor, reserving to himself only a small sum of money to build a cell. And he returned to his solitude with a mason, who made for him a miserable cell under that same rock; and he bought near it enough land for a small garden, and there established himself, practising the most severe austerities.

Having now spoken of the penitence and life of the Beato Torello, we must make mention of the great gifts and grace which he received from God during his life, and which were often granted to him in behalf of those who commended themselves to him in faith and devotion.

A poor woman of Poppi, who had only one son, three years old, going to the spring to wash her clothes, took him with her; and he having strayed from her a little way while she was washing, a savage wolf seized him and carried him away, and the poor woman’s shrieks could be heard almost at Poppi, while she could do nothing but commend the child to God. While the wolf was escaping with his prey between his teeth, he came, as it pleased God – who thus began to make known the reward of his service – to the cell of the Beato Torello; who, when he saw this, instantly ordered the wolf, in God’s name, to lay the child on the ground, safe and sound; which command the wolf no sooner heard than he came to him immediately, and laid the child at his feet. And after he had, with evident humility, received the directions of the holy father, that neither he, nor any of the wolves his companions, should do any harm to any person of that country, he departed, and returned to the forest; and the servant of God took the half-dead child into his cell, where he made a prayer to the Lord, and he was immediately healed of the wounds the wolf’s teeth had made in his throat. And when his mother came seeking him with great lamentation and sorrow, he graciously restored him to her alive and well, but with the command that while he lived she should never reveal this miracle.

Carlo, Count of Poppi, being very fond of the Beato Torello, sent him by his steward, one evening in Carnival, a basket full of provisions, praying the good father to accept it for love of him. The steward also carried him many other gifts, which some good ladies, knowing where he was going, took the opportunity to send by his hand.

Having arrived at the cell, he presented them all to the padre, who thanked him much, and returned him the empty baskets; when he took occasion to enquire, how he, being alone, could possibly eat so much in one evening. And Torello, seeing that the steward thought him a great eater, answered: “I am not alone, as you suppose; my companion will come from the woods before long, who has a great appetite, and he will help me.” And the steward, hearing this, hid himself in the wood not far from the hermitage, to see who this could be who the padre said had such a fine appetite. He had not waited long when he saw a great wolf go straight to the door of the saint’s cell, who opened it for him, and fed him until he had devoured everything that the steward had brought; and he then began to caress the saint, as a faithful and affectionate dog would his master; and this he continued to do until Torello gave him permission to go, and reminded him that neither he, nor any of his companions, should do any harm to the people of that place until they were at such a distance as to be out of hearing of the bell of the monastery, which the wolf promised to do and obey, by bowing his head. The servant, having seen and heard this, returned home, and related it to the count and the others, to their great amazement.

There was a lady of Bologna, named Vittoriana, who made a pilgrimage to the holy place in Vernia, where the glorious Saint Francis received the stigmata; and there her two children fell ill with a violent and dangerous fever; and being, in consequence, much distressed and afflicted, she consulted with some ladies from Poppi, whose devotion had also brought them to the same place, who advised her to take her children, as soon as possible, to the blessed Torello, and commend them to him, that by means of his prayers God would restore their health. And going to him, she commended them to him with faith and tears and hope beyond the power of words to describe. And truly it was not in vain; for the holy man, who was most pitiful, kneeled down and prayed to the Lord for her and her children as only the true servants of God pray; and having so done, he took some water from the spring of which he usually drank and gave it to the children, and they were entirely cured and delivered from that fever. And what is more, the water of that fountain is to this day called the fountain of Saint Torello, and is a sovereign remedy against every kind of fever to those who drink of it, as experience has testified and still testifies.

But at last, in the year of our salvation twelve hundred and eighty-two, the saint having reached the eightieth year of his life, and spent them all in the service of God – many of his good works being unknown – an angel brought him this message: “Rejoice, Torello, for the time is come when thou shalt receive the crown of glory thou hast so long desired, and the reward in paradise of ail thy labour in the service of God; for thirty days from this time, on the sixteenth of March, thou shalt be delivered from the prison of this world.”

The blessed Torello, having heard this, continued all his devout exercises until the end, which approaching, he went to the abbot and confessed his sins for the last time, and received the holy communion from his hands; and they embraced each other, and he returned to his hermitage. And he took leave of one of his disciples, named Pietro, and exhorted him to persevere in God’s service; and having with many affectionate prayers recommended his country and the people of it to the blessing of God, praying especially that it should not be ravaged by wolves, he departed in peace.

And all the people of the parishes around, hearing of his death, hastened to the hermitage; and all desiring that his holy body should repose in their church, a great controversy arose, and much scandal would have ensued, had not the Abbot of Poppi passed into the midst of them and convinced them it was the will of God it should be laid in his monastery; to which they all finally agreed. And a wonderful and miraculous event occurred; for while they were all standing around the holy body, a wolf came in with a little pig in his mouth, and passing through them without fear, placed it at the foot of the bier, and went away.

- from Il Libro d’Oro: Those Whose Names are Written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, originally in Latin by Messer Torrelo of Casentino, Canonico of Fiesole, translated to Italian by Don Silvano, translated to English by Mrs Francis Alexander