St. Mary of Oignies
HER parents, who were wealthy inhabitants of Nivelle, in Brabant, gave her a virtuous education, and married her young to a gentleman remarkable for his piety. He imitated her in her long devotions and watchings, and in the extraordinary austerities which she practised. This fervent couple by mutual agreement devoted themselves to serve the lepers in a quarter of Nivelle called Villembroke. By this abject life, they exposed themselves to the railleries and contempt of their worldly friends; but human respects were no temptation to our sincere lovers of the disgrace of the cross, who learned by humiliations to die more perfectly to themselves; assiduous meditation on the sufferings of Christ was their favourite exercise, and was to Mary a source of continual tears; which, as she said to Cardinal Vitry, far from exhausting her were her refreshment. Black dry bread with a few herbs, made up the slender refection which she allowed herself only once a day. When she spun or worked, she had the psalter always open before her, the more easily to prevent distractions, by frequently casting her eyes on it; for she seemed in all her employments never to cease praising God in her heart. She made every year two pilgrimages to our Lady’s church at Oignies, two miles from the place of her abode, and her devotion to the mother of God was most tender and remarkable. The pious cardinal who has written her life testifies that in her prayer she was favoured with frequent raptures and extraordinary heavenly visits; and that her conversation, which was ordinarily on God, inflamed and comforted exceedingly all who spoke to her. I know, says the same learned and pious author, that many will laugh at what I relate, but those who have received of God the like favours, will believe and understand me. A certain person of eminent piety who came from a great distance to see her, received such comfort, and such a flame was kindled in his breast by her words, that he ever after continued to feel the effects in his soul, and found the bitterness which he suffered from his earthly pilgrimage exceedingly alleviated. Another who rallied his companions for turning out of their way to visit the servant of God, and refused to go with them, being weary of waiting for them out of doors, at last went in to hasten them out; but was suddenly so struck at the sight of the saint’s countenance, and on hearing her words full of unction and ardour, that his heart was that moment entirely changed: he melted into tears, and after staying a long time to hear her heavenly discourses, could scarcely be drawn from her company. 1
The saint on several occasions showed that she had received from God the spirit of prophecy, and was endued with an eminent gift of spiritual knowledge and counsel. These graces she obtained and preserved by her profound humility, by which she sincerely regarded herself as the outcast of the world, and unworthy to enjoy in any respect the rank of other creatures, and with confusion both thought and styled herself entirely ignorant in the paths of virtue. She was most watchful over her heart that nothing might enter it but Jesus Christ and what belonged to his love. I never heard her let fall one word, says our author, that savoured of the spirit of this world, and she seasoned almost every sentence she spoke with the adorable name of Jesus. She and her devout and most affectionate husband gave all their worldly possessions for the relief of the poor, when they first devoted themselves to serve the lepers at Villembroke. A few years before her death she left Villembroke, where visitants from Nivellu sometimes broke into her solitude; and settled near the church at Oignies, in a house belonging to a person of eminent virtue. She there sighed continually in a holy impatience to go to God, and repeated almost without intermission rapturous aspirations of divine love, and wonderful praises of God, the Trinity in Unity, and Unity in Trinity; passing from the Trinity to the sacred humanity of Christ, and intermixing frequent Alleluias. She approached most frequently the holy eucharist, in receiving which her countenance, through the ardour of love which inflamed her breast, seemed to dart forth rays of light. In her last sickness she was visited by the Archbishop of Toulouse, by the widow of the Duke of Louvain, who was then a devout Cistercian nun, and many other persons of distinction, who were all much edified by her saint-like deportment; she calmly resigned her soul into the hands of her Creator in 1213, being thirty-three, others say thirty-six years old. Her relics are placed in a silver shrine behind the altar at Oignies, which is a monastery of regular canons in the diocess of Namur. See her Life, written by the devout cardinal, James of Vitry, once a canon regular in that monastery, afterwards bishop of Acon in Palestine, and lastly of Tusculum. He died at Rome in 1244, and has left us a history of the East, from the time of Mahomet, and some other works. Her name is inserted in the calendars of several churches in Flanders, and her relics enshrined in several places; in some she has been honoured with an office. See Papebroke, t. 4, Junij, p. 631.
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VI: June.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866.