The complaint has come to me from friends that I am overly preoccupied with J.R.R. Tolkien. True, I’ve made a few references to the English Catholic fiction writer, but not all that many. As proof that these friends are all wrong about my alleged obsession, I confess that I am presently reading Demons, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, whose nineteenth-century Imperial Russia is pretty far from Middle Earth in the Third Age.
That apologia aside, I do admit taking satisfaction in discovering that the gray (then white) wizard-hero of Tolkien’s, Galdalf by name, bears a name strikingly similar to that of a Franciscan Beatus, blessed Gandolph of Binasco. This Franciscan holy man was entirely unknown to me until Brother David, a friar friend of ours, informed me of him. Considering that Blessed Gandolph lived in the time of Saint Francis himself, and that the Poverello’s habit was gray, we may conclude that Blessed Galdolph himself wore gray and is therefore entitled to the title we’ve given him.
From the book, Poverello’s Round Table, by Sister M. Aquina Barth, O.S.F., comes the following very edifying account of his life:
Blessed Gandolph of Binasco
Confessor, First Order
This blessed man was born in the little town of Binasco in Lombardy, He renounced the vanities of the world in the flower of his youth in order to become a religious of the Order of St. Francis. This was in the lifetime of the holy Founder. He was remarkable for his deep humility, his great love of prayer, and his boundless zeal for the salvation of souls. His reputation for sanctity was widespread in Sicily. His life was one of continual penance and rigorous abstinence. Besides the fasts enjoined by the rule he fasted three days in the week on bread and water. His only tunic was a hair shirt. He spent whole nights in prayer and was often rapt in ecstasy. Such was his love of humility and his horror of the praise of men that, on learning that his brethren spoke in terms of admiration of his virtue, he determined to withdraw to a solitary place in order to escape the temptation to vanity.
Taking with him Brother Paschal, who shared his taste for solitude, they set out together for the wild and rugged mountains of Petralia. On their way they stopped at Polizzi. The people, hearing of their arrival, compelled Gandolph to stay and preach the Lenten course in that town. A few days later, Brother Paschal fell ill and lost his speech before he could make his confession. He remained in this sad condition for five days, during which time he frequently made signs to Gandolph with his eyes and hands, as if to implore his help. When he seemed to be at the point of death Gandolph, moved with compassion at his dear brother’s affliction, betook himself to prayer, begging God to make known to him what the dying man desired. He had scarcely ended his prayer, when the dying man recovered his speech and said: “I thank God and you, my father, because through your intercession I have been delivered from hell. Through negligence, I omitted to confess certain sins, for which the devil was about to lay hold of me, and he would have dragged me down to hell but for your charitable aid.” He then made a most contrite confession and died in great peace.
In his sermons Brother Gandolph spoke with such burning zeal as to inspire his hearers with true devotion, while at the same time he taught them the practice of virtue. One Wednesday in Holy Week in the year 1260, while he was preaching in the church at Polizzi, he told his hearers that this would be his last sermon. On his return to the hospital of St. Nicholas, where he lodged, he fell sick and prepared himself for death. On Holy Saturday he told those who were attending him that he would not see the next day dawn. And so it was. At the moment of his death, all the bells in Polizzi rang out of their own accord. His body diffused a marvelously sweet fragrance, which perfumed the whole house and lasted for a fortnight. The clergy and the people of Polizzi assisted at his funeral, and he was buried in the beloved solitude which he had chosen for himself.
Many miracles occurred after his death. When his body had been buried about sixty years, it was decided to remove it a more honorable resting place. The exact spot where he had been buried was not known, but God pointed it out to the workmen in a miraculous manner. The body was found whole and incorrupt, and was then exposed to public veneration. God again honored it with many miracles, which made the name of Blessed Gandolph famed throughout Sicily. Pope Leo XIII confirmed the devotion which has been paid to him from the beginning.