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Walter of Pontoise, St.


Walter of Pontoise was b. Andainville, Picardy, c. 1025; d. Pontoise, Normandy, 1095 or 1099. Walter became a monk in the monastery at Rebais-en-Brie in the Diocese of Meaux. The lack of any knowledge of his early life together with his reputation for learning suggests he entered upon a monastic career at an early age. In 1069 he was appointed the first abbot of the newly founded monastery at Pontoise, known at first as St. Germain and later as St. Martins after Walter had built a chapel to his honor. He reportedly introduced the Rule of St. Benedict into the monastery. Although he was admired and loved by his monks and by the laity, his desire for a life of solitude is cleary evidenced by several attempts to escape from the responsibilities of his office. In 1072 he left the monastery and went secretly to cluny, then directed by the great hugh. His identity, however, was soon discovered and at the command of John of Bayeux, archbishop of Rouen, he returned to Pontoise. He left the monastery a second time and lived for a time anonymously on an island in the Loire near Tours. Again his identity was discovered and he was persuaded by his own monks to return to the monastery. His final attempt to be rid of his responsibilities was made during a visit to Rome when he unsuccessfully pleaded with Pope gregory vii to be allowed to resign and seek out a life of solitude and prayer. He returned to Pontoise on the pope's orders and remained there as abbot till his death. Two contemporary biographers stress his learning and the austerity of his life. He was involved in the controversy over clerical celibacy, and his efforts to encourage obedience to the gregorian reform brought him into conflict with court circles. A charming story is told of him in his early days as a novice in the monastery at Rebais. It seems that he took pity on an inmate of the monastic prison confined for some unnamed crime; he not only fed him but engineered his escape, for which Walter has been named, presumably without consultation with prison authorities, patron saint of prisoners.

Feast: April 8.

Bibliography: Acta Sanctorum (Paris 1863) 1:749764. i. hess, Studien u. Mitteilungen aus dem Benediktineru. dem Zisterzienserorden 20 297406, a critical ed. of first and older of two biographies in Acta Sanctorum. a. butler, The Lives of the Saints, rev. ed. h. thurston and d. attwater (New York 1956) 2:5354.

[h. mackinnon]

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