11 October 2012

11 October - Saint Gomer

At Lier, in Belgium, the departure from this life of St. Gummarus, confessor.

Well, golll-eee!

I’ll bet you thought ‘Gomer’ was one of those silly Southern names found only in Deliverance country.  ‘T’aint so.  Saint Gomer (Gummer, Gummarus, Gomar, Gommaire) lived in Brabant (now Antwerp in modern Belgium) in the 8th century, and unlike his namesake, was a highly intelligent and trusted court official.

[Speaking of Southern names, there is also a Saint Elvis, and no, he didn’t live in Graceland, nor is there any record of saintly pelvic gyrations]

Gomer was born around 717, the scion of a wealthy and noble family related to Pepin the Short, Mayor of the Palace of Neustrasia.  His education was that of a future knight and courtier rather than that of a future cleric, but a thorough grounding in the practice of piety kept him from succumbing to more worldly amusements.  As a young man, he was called to Pepin’s court, where his humility and dutiful conduct raised him in the estimation of his superiors.

According to Alban Butler’s Lives of the Saints:  “The saint preserved there his innocence: from a spirit of religion he was punctual and faithful in every duty of his station, and an enemy to vanity, ambition, and dissimulation, (which is almost the soul of a court life,) also to pleasure, luxury and passion: he was rigorous in his fasts and other mortifications, exact and fervent in all his exercises of devotion, and most beneficent and liberal in works of mercy.  It was his study, as much as possible, never to give the least trouble or do the least prejudice to any one, and to serve and do good, as much as lay in his power to all men.”

[Gomer probably wasn’t as dull as that sounds]

“Pepin, though tainted with ambition, was a lover of uprightness and virtue: and being acquainted with the probity and piety of Gummar, raised him to the highest posts in his court.”   And here began Gomer’s troubles.  Among the many honors was “a match between him and a lady of great birth and fortune named Gwinmary, in Latin Grimnaria” [Grim for short; Lady Grim to her servants].  And grim their married life certainly was, for “Gwinmary was most extravagant and perverse in her humour; haughty, whimsical, and altogether ungovernable.”

Maybe she was bipolar.  Maybe she was a shrew.  Maybe she had anger management issues.  On the other hand, maybe not.  It can’t be too easy being married to a saint.  She might have been a party-girl, while he, as “an enemy to pleasure, luxury, and passion”, preferred his fasts and exercises of devotion, and expected his wife to join him.  She might have been pushing for his further advancement (and her own – wives have their own hierarchy), while he, as “an enemy to vanity, ambition, and dissimulation”, preferred to leave the courtier’s life behind and retire to his own modest estates many miles distant from court.  Instead of gaiety and brilliance and a high position as the wife of one of the top men, she is reduced to the quiet life of a minor castle chatelaine.  Maybe she felt cheated.

According to the story, she made his life miserable, while he endeavored “by all means which Christian prudence and charity could suggest, to inspire his wife with sentiments agreeable to reason and religion.”

Whatever means he used, they didn’t work.  She was not so inspired by the time he was called to join Pepin (now King of France) in putting down rebellions and enlarging the kingdom.  During his eight-year absence, she took out her frustrations on her husband’s vassals and dependents, few of which escaped her unjust oppressions, and “threw all things into the utmost disorder and confusion.”

As a just man, Gomer made recompense for his wife’s actions where he could.

Eight years of separation hadn’t mitigated her issues, whatever they were.  Life went on as before, and I’m sure Gomer often thought longingly of happy days battling Lombards, Saxons, and Aquitainians.  To get away from the constant harangue, he built what might be considered one of the first Man Caves – a little chapel called Nivesdonck, where he could practice his devotions in peace.

For a time it seemed that his patience and virtue had converted his wife, but it didn’t last “and her furious passions, which were only smothered for a time, not healed, broke out again with greater rage than ever.”  In his late 50’s, Gomer embraced a solitary penitential life (with his wife’s permission) and lived for the next nine years in a little cell attached to his chapel.  His perseverance seems finally to have overcome his wife’s contumacious behavior (either that or she was no longer subject to PMS), and she ended her days as “a remarkable penitent.”  He died in 774; there is no mention of when she departed this earthly sphere.

As you might guess, he is a patron of unhappy and difficult marriages, and of marital separations.

His legend relates that on one of his travels, he cut down a tree to serve as a pillow (saints have odd ideas of comfort), which made the owner of the tree very unhappy (saints also have odd ideas of ownership).  Gomer replanted the tree and reattached the trimmed branches, and the tree’s owner was happy again.  This is said to be the reason he is the patron of woodcutters (hopefully of woodcutters who don’t cut down other people’s trees).

His magnificent shrine at Lier claimed miraculous cures for sufferers from hernia, and many have flocked there to invoke his aid.

“As God does everything for his elect, and the government of the universe is subordinate to the predestination of his saints, so this affair, which seemed unhappy in the eyes of the world was directed by Him to perfect the virtue of His servant, and exalt him to the glory of the saints.”

Gomer certainly put it on the paten.

Artwork: Holy Card of Saint Gommaar, swiped from Wikipedia. You can see the replaced tree in the background; the spring of water at the saint's feet was miraculously provided for the estate fieldworkers when Lady Grim refused them any liquid refreshment after their labors.