Raymund Palmerio of Piacenza


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A rare example of a lay saint of the 12th century, his story has points of resemblance with that of Rainier of Pisa. At the age of fifteen he went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land with his widowed mother. She died on the return journey and he returned alone, carrying a pilgrim's palm branch. He married and worked as a cobbler to support a family of five children, but they all died in the same year, and a sixth one was consecrated to God. His wife died also (perhaps there was some epidemic), and he decided to live as a pilgrim. Compostela, Vézelay, Pavia, and Rome were all visited by him; on his way to Jerusalem he had a vision of Christ who told him to return to Piacenza to look after the poor. This he did from 1178 for the rest of his life. He was given a large building which he developed into a hostel for the poor and the sick; he begged for food and medicines on their behalf and paraded in the streets with a cross, saying: ‘Help us, hardhearted and cruel Christians; we are dying of hunger while you are living in plenty’. He became the defender of the poor to judges, helping them in court and uttering threats if no mercy was shown. Children, orphans, pilgrims, and prisoners were also aided by him, and he founded a hostel for indigent women and reformed prostitutes. These enterprises were helped considerably by the local authorities. He was however notably less successful in politics when he tried to stop a war between Piacenza and Cremona.

Raymund died in 1200 and was buried in a chapel near the church of the Apostles in a splendid tomb provided by the city fathers. Cures were soon reported both at Piacenza and in other cities and a Life was written from personal knowledge by one of the canons. After a lull in his cult, Cistercian nuns cared for his shrine and in the late 16th century indulgences were granted for visiting it: in 1602 an office in his honour was approved. He deserves to be remembered as a pioneer of the social gospel. Feast: 27 July.

I. Bianchedi, Il pellegrino della Croce (1936); Bibl. SS., xi. 26–9; B.L.S., vii. 222–3. See also A. Vauchez, Sainthood in the later Middle Ages (1997) pp. 201–4.

Subjects: Christianity.

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