Hermit; b. Houthem, Limburg, Netherlands, c. 1100;d. Houthem, c. 1177. Like most young nobles of his class he was trained in chivalry and knighted, but after the tragic accidental death of his wife, he disposed of his estates and set out as a poor pilgrim for Rome. Pope eugene iii listened to his story of repentance and approved of his plan to spend seven years in the Holy Land caring for the poor and sick. On his return he sought the permission of the new pope, adrian iv, to allow him to return to his native town and there continue his life of reparation and good works. At Houthen, in a premonstratensian habit, he lived as an anchorite in a huge hollow oak tree. His life of mortification and prayer aroused suspicion, and on the rumor that he had gold hidden in his cell some of his critics with episcopal approval razed the oak. Only after his death did his neighbors begin to recognize his virtues, and c. 1200 Goswin IV of Heinsberg-Valkenburg was instrumental in the establishment of a church and hospital at Houthem dedicated to Gerlach. The Premonstratensians claim the saint as one of their own, although at best he could only have been a member of the Third Order by wearing the habit. Pope pius ix approved his feast for the Dioceses of Cologne, Liège, and Roermond.
Feast: Jan. 5.
Bibliography: Acta Sanctorum Jan 1:304–321. g. cripio, Vita sancti Gerlaci is summarized in j. le paige, Bibliotheca Praemonstratensis ordinis (Paris 1633) 496. f. wesselman, Der hl. Gerlach von Houthem (Steyl 1897). f. a. houck, The Life of Saint Gerlach (London 1900). c. damen, Publications de la Société historique dans le Limbourg (Limburg 1956–57) 92; 93:49–113. Bibliotheca hagiographica latina antiquae et mediae aetatis 3449.
[l. l. rummel]