This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

March 4 -- Feast of Blessed Umberto III of Savoy

Humbert Humbert is the creepy stepfather narrating Nabokov's Lolita.  He has a thing for young girls -- nymphets, he calls them. 

Umberto III
Humbert III had an opposite problem.  He had a monastic vocation.  Christopher Cope's The Lost Kingdom of Burgundy days that he "was disconsolate at being a prince and preferred the seclusion of the monastery."  Unfortunately for him, he was the only son of Amadeus, Duke of Savoy.  When Amadeus died, the thirteen-year-old Umberto was plunked on the throne, like it or not, shut up and put your crown back on, Your Grace.

The primary responsibility of any landed nobleman in the feudal age was to have a son, of course.  This would mean that inheritance was clear and no wars for succession would be fought.  There's nothing wrong with young Faidiva of Toulouse, Your Grace.  Now do your duty and get into bed.  Sadly, poor Faidiva died young.  Eighteen-year-old Umberto, having done his best, entered a Carthusian monastery.

Not so fast, your Grace.  Blood will run through the streets of Cambrai if you don't come back and get married again.  Here's lovely Gertrude of Flanders.  I know you two will hit it off.  Oh my, it's getting late.  Off to bed with the two of you.  

Savoy Coat of Arms he carried
They didn't 'hit it off.'  In fact, Umberto divorced her and locked her up.  Bishop Robert kindly let her out and sent her back to her brother, the Count of Flanders, but still there was no heir.

Your Grace, we know you haven't had much joy in marriage.  No, we're not suggesting anything.  We just think it is worth trying again.  Third times a charm, they say.  And take a look at Clementia of Zahringen!  She's the divorced wife of Henry the Lion of Saxony.  Now, now.  You're divorced yourself, you know.  And besides, she's got a track record.  A son and two daughters by Henry.  Not another word about it, Your Grace.  Now get busy. 

Clementia made a valiant effort, bearing two daughters before her death.  Despondent over the loss of another wife, Henry thought about withdrawing to a monastery in grief but wiser heads prevailed.

Carthusian Coats of Arms he would have preferred
The way of all flesh, Your Grace.  Speaking of which, you yourself are not getting any younger, you know.  You turned forty this year, sir, and we still don't have an heir.  Have you met Beatrice of Viennois?  Yes, she's thirty-eight, but there's plenty of child-bearing time left.  Well, not plenty, but enough.  If Your Grace gets the lead out. 

Tommaso of Savoy was born in 1178.  Saint Anthelm himself had blessed Umberto three times to help bring young Thomas (named for Thomas a Becket) into the world.  Tommaso was about ten when Umberto, having founded the Monastery of Sant'Antonio di Ranverso, died.

When I read about Humbert's divorce and imprisonment of his ex-wife, I wondered how this guy got beatified.  But on reflection, he plainly had a divine vocation, and he sacrificed that for the sake of temporal responsibilities.  It might seem to be the opposite of Jesus' advice to the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-27, but perhaps it is not.  Maybe the act of sacrifice, whether one is giving up the riches of the palace or the austerity of the monastery, is what stores up treasure in the Kingdom of Heaven.

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