His family was that of the lords of Mercteur, 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 labored to subdue his carnal appetites by 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 that 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 endeavors of Saint Odilo, and Blessed 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 afterwards, 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. While 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, while employed in the visitation of his monasteries, 1 January 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 sackcloth 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 Cluniacensis by Dom Marrier, and in Andrew Duchesne, fol. Paris, 1614. See likewise certain epistles of Saint Odilo, ib., and fourteen Sermons on the festivals of our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, etc., in Bibl. Patr. Lugdun. an. 1677, T. 17, p. 653.
1. Glaber, monk of Cluni, in his history which he dedicated to Saint Odilo, l. 4, c. 5, l. 5, c. 1.
2. Mab. Annal. l. 57, n. 45. Solignac, Hist. de Pologne, t. 1.
3. Ceillier demonstrates, (T. 20, p. 258,) against Basnage, (observ. in vit. Adelaid. T. 3, le t. Canis, p. 71,) that the life of St. Alice the empress is the work of St. Odilo, no less than the life of St. Mayeul. We have four letters, some poems, and several sermons of this saint in the library of Cluni, (p. 370,) and in that of the Fathers, (T. 17, p. 653.) Two other sermons hear his name in Martenne (Anned. T. 5.)
- Lives of the Saints, by Father Alban Butler