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Labre, Benedict Joseph, St.


The "beggar of Rome" and promoter of the forty hours devotion; b. Amettes, France, March 25, 1748;d. Rome, Italy, April 16, 1783. He was the eldest of 15 children of a village shopkeeper. At the age of 12 he was sent to study with his uncle, the parish priest of Érin, at whose home he became so interested in Scripture and the saints that he tended to neglect more practical studies. After they had both selflessly devoted themselves to the care of the sick during a local epidemic, his uncle died of cholera, and Benedict's ambition then became entrance into an austere religious order. At the age of 18 he set out on foot for La Trappe, but was told upon arriving that he was too young. Although he was later several times accepted by the Carthusians and the Cistercians, his eccentricities and poor health prevented his becoming an apt subject for community life.

In 1770, Benedict started on a pilgrimage to Rome, walking all the way and living on alms. His last letter to his parents mentioned his intention of joining an order in Italy, but he apparently abandoned this plan in favor of a different and unusual vocation: to live the evangelical counsels as a wanderer in the midst of the world. For the next six years his life was one of continual pilgrimages to all the principle shrines of Europe. He visited Loreto, Assisi, Bari, Einsiedeln, Aix, Compostela, and others. He made himself homeless, traveled everywhere on foot, normally slept on the bare ground, and had no possessions except a ragged cloak and a few books. Living on alms, he frequently shared what he received with other beggars. He took no care of his body, and this neglect became a source of mortification and, to Benedict's delight, induced contempt. In the course of his journeys, he often spent hours before some wayside shrine or days in a remote church absorbed in prayer. Hardships, inclement weather, and calumnies were borne with equanimity and joy.

After 1776, Benedict settled in Rome. His nights were spent in the ruins of the Colosseum and his days in various churches. He particularly loved Forty Hours and sought out churches where the devotion was being observed. His increasing ill health finally forced him to take lodging in a poor house. Early in 1783 he fell ill and peacefully died during Holy Week. He was immediately popularly proclaimed a saint, and devotion to the "beggar of Rome" and the "saint of the Forty Hours" spread rapidly throughout the entire Church. He was canonized in 1883 by leo xiii.

Feast: April 16.

Bibliography: j. mantenay, St. Benoît Labre (Paris 1908). l. bracaloni, Il Santo della strada: Benedetto Giuseppe Labre (Rome 1946). f. gaquÈre, Le saint pauvre de Jésus-Christ, Benoît-Joseph Labre (new ed. Avignon 1954). a. butler, The Lives of the Saints, rev. ed. h. thurston and d. attwater, 4 v. (New York 1956) 2:106108. a. beilliard, Amettes-en-Artois, Saint BenoîtJoseph Labre: itinéraire (Amettes 1973). j. richard, Le vagabond de Dieu: saint Benoît Labre (Paris 1976). a. dhÔtel, Saint Benoît Joseph Labre (Paris 1983). p. doyÈre, Benoît Labre, ermite pèlerin (Paris 1983). Centre d'histoire religieuse de Lille, Benoît Labre: errance et sainteté, histoire d'un culte, ed. y. m. hilaire (Paris 1984). g. villarubias, Amettes, sanctuaire et village d'Artois (Amettes, France 1985).

[w. e. langley]

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