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Saint Peter Damian

Saint Peter Damian
  • Century: 11th Century
  • Patronage: Insomnia, Headaches
  • Feast Day: February 21st

St. Peter Damian was born in Ravenna, and was orphaned early as a child.  His youth was spent in hardship and poverty, and this resulted in remarkable intellectual gifts.  His brother Damian was the Archpriest of Ravenna, and noticed his gifts.  He took him away to be educated, because of his great intellectual gifts.  Peter was so grateful, he added his brother’s name to his own, Peter Damian.  He made such progress in his studies of theology and canon law, studying in Ravenna, Faenza, and finally Parma, that at the age of twenty-five he was a famous teacher at Parma and Ravenna.  

In 1035, he deserted his secular work and calling, and entered the isolated hermitage of Fonte Avellana near Gubbio.  His fervor was remarkable both as a novice and as a monk, but his self-mortification in penance in extreme, led to his health being affected.  On his recovery, he was appointed to lecture to his fellow monks.  At the request of heads of neighboring monasteries, he lectured to their members for two or three years.  In 1042, he wrote the life of St. Romuald for the monks of Pietrapertosa.  When he returned to his hermitage, he was appointed Economus of the house by the Prior, who designated he would be his successor.  He became Prior in 1043, and remained there until his death at Fonte Avellana.  

As a promoter for monastic and clerical reform, he introduced a more severe discipline, including the practice of flagellation, (the methodically self-beating or whipping as discipline) which under his Rule quickly became a model for other foundations.  There was much opposition outside his own circle to such extreme forms of penitence, but Peter’s persistent advocacy ensured its acceptance, to such and extent that he was obliged later to moderate the imprudent zeal of some of his own hermits.  Another innovation he introduced was that of a daily nap after lunch to make up for the fatigue of the night office.  During his tenure as Prior, a Cloister was built, and silver chalices and processional cross were introduced.  

Although he lived in the seclusion of the Cloister, Peter Damian closely watched the fortunes of the Church, and with his friend Hildebrand, the future Pope Gregory VII, he worked hard for reforms.  When Pope Benedict IX resigned the pontificate into the hands of the Archpriest John Gratian – Pope Gregory VI in 1045, Peter wrote to the new Pope urging him to deal with the scandals of the Church in Italy, singling out the wicked Bishops of Pesaro and Fano.  Peter was present in Rome when Clement II crowned Henry III, and also attended a synod held at the Lateran in 1047, in which decrees were passed against “simony”, the act of paying for Sacraments.   He was appointed as a Cardinal under Pope Leo IX, and in 1823 he was declared a Doctor of the Church.  He became known as a great predecessor of St. Francis of Assisi.  

Practical Take Away 

St. Peter Damian was born in Ravenna, and was orphaned early in his childhood.  His brother Damian was the Archpriest of Ravenna, and noticed the extreme intellectual gifts of Peter.  He decided to send him off to be educated.  Peter was so grateful; he took his brother’s name, Peter Damian.  He was so intellectual, that at the age of twenty-five he was teaching others.  He withdrew to the life of a hermit, and worked on reform.  He brought many reforms to the monastic life, and was a good friend of Pope Gregory VII, and was installed as a Cardinal. He was a great predecessor to St. Francis of Assisi, and was declared a Doctor of the Church.