Barontius and Desiderius, Hermits of Pistoia

March 25 is the Feast of Barontius and Desiderius, Hermits of Pistoia.

Barontius (Barontus) (French: Baronce, Italian: Baronto, Baronzio) and Desiderius (French: Dizier, Italian: Desiderio) are two 8th century Hermits who are venerated as saints by the Catholic Church. They were Hermits near Pistoia, in Italy.
“Barontius had been a Frankish nobleman of Berry who had, with his son, been a monk at Saint-Pierre de Longoret (Longoreto, Longoretum, Lonrey) (diocese of Bourges), now the monastery of Saint-Cyran-du-Jambot. Barontius was a former member of the court of Theuderic II.

According to the text known as Visio Baronti Monachi Longoretensis, a 4700-word long text dated 25 March 678 or 679 purportedly written by Barontius himself, Barontius received a vision of heaven and hell around 678. Barontius, described by one scholar as “a middle-aged former public servant with three marriages and far too many mistresses on his conscience,” claims that he fell into a coma and had a vision that he was flying through the air above the Bourges region as demons clawed and kicked at him.
Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest heavens; from Gustave Doré’s illustrations to the Divine Comedy.

Accompanied by the archangel Raphael, Barontius journeys through the four levels of heaven, although he continues to be tormented by the demons, who want to pull him down to hell. Barontius meets people he has known, including fellow monks from Longoreto. Raphael asks another angel to bring Saint Peter to them, so that Peter can judge Barontius.
The demons bring their evidence against Barontius, going “over all the sins that [Barontius] had committed from infancy onwards, including those which [he] had totally forgetten.” However, the demons get so annoying that Peter whacks them with his keys, sending them away. Peter then decides to send Barontius back to earth via hell, where Barontius sees all of the souls in torment before returning to earth. When he recovers, he is asked to tell of his vision.
medieval hell
Medieval illustration of Hell in the Hortus deliciarum manuscript of Herrad of Landsberg (about 1180)

This vision led to Barontius’ decision to become a hermit in Italy, and he established himself near Pistoia with Desiderius, also a former monk. They lived an austere life, and were joined by disciples. They died around 725 AD. Their names appear in the Martyrologium Romanum.”

Barontius was a former public servant who lived a dissolute life in the Frankish court. In the year 678, he found the pressures of secular life untenable, and he sought to take refuge as a monk, but the nearby monastery of St. Peter was short of the funds that would be needed to support another monk. He took it upon himself to earn his keep by having visions and then publicizing them. The resulting book became a sensational bestseller amongst the Franks, selling 67 copies in the first year and recouping more than enough profit to endow his place at the monastery.’

Barontius wrote:
‘I fell asleep one night under a haywain with a head full of mead, and before long I was roused by a crew of demons, wearing red-and-blue jockey silks and carrying riding crops. They fitted me in a saddle and bade me to fly above Bourges.’
Hell Mouth. Beatus of Liébana, 8th century (Rylands Beatus, 12th century, John Rylands Library, University of Manchester).

Some modern scholars see this as a veiled reference to Barontius’ participation in the nascent horse-racing scene in kingdom of Burgundy. The red-and-blue silks may have represented the colors of the house of Turmeric, a rival of Barontius’ who is said to have racked up at least 200 solidii of credit against him.

‘The demons clawed at me without end, but I was lucky to meet the Archangel Raphael, who accompanied me to heaven, where I would meet several monks of St. Peter’s monastery. They summoned the saint himself to hear evidence against me, and the demons struggled to unfurl the scroll owing to its length.’
medieval hell 2
The punishment of the wicked in hell. Detail from a painting by Georgios Klontzas depicting the Second Coming (late 16th century)

Barontius naturally paid homage to the monastery that would take him in, and scholars see the archangel’s presence as a nod to his friend and sponsor Rufus (later Saint) Desiderius. There follows a long account of Barontius’ tour of his past iniquities, not least among them his relationships with mistresses. There is no question about these chapters’ grounding in fact, as Turmeric’s footmen would have seen fit to blackmail him by displaying knowledge of his affairs.

Barontius’ elaborate penance proved to be a brilliant strategem: by confessing his misdeeds, he took away much of his accusers’ power and brought himself much sympathy. There did, however, remain the issue of the debt, and the only place that would have been beyond the thugs’ reach was the monastery. The fame and the money from his story was more than enough to bring Barontius to safety, and he lived out the rest of his life in quiet contemplation.

“The Vision of Barontus (Visio Baronti Monachi Longoretensis) is an eighth–century Latin prose vision of heaven and hell approximately 4700 words long. The vision itself is dated 25 March 678 or 679, and the author claims to be the visionary in what is one of the more fascinating and dramatic visions of the otherworld.

Barontus, a monk in the monastery of St. Peter at Longoreto (Saint–Cyran near Bourges), who has repented of his past life and joined a monastery, falls ill. His fellow monks keep watch over him while his soul has left his body. When he finally recovers, he is asked to tell of his vision, which he then proceeds to do, explaining how he was immediately beset by devils who wanted to take him to hell, but he was protected by the angel Raphael who brought him on a journey through heaven where he might be judged before the devils made off with him.
“Saint Raphael the Archangel “ by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682),a Spanish Baroque painter.

Barontus and Raphael visit four levels of heaven, and Barontus repeatedly meets there people he has known, especially monks from his monastery, while the devils keep up a constant tug-of-war for Barontus. Finally Raphael sends another angel to bring St. Peter to them. Peter arrives and asks the devils what charges they have against this soul, and they charge Barontus with having three wives. Barontus admits to the charge, but the devils had by now become so annoying to everyone that Peter whacks them with his keys and sends them scurrying. He then decides to send Barontus back to earth via hell, so that Barontus can consider reforming his life.

Needing a guide, Frannoaldo is chosen on the condition that Barontus take particular care of this soul’s tomb near the door of their church. They leave heaven with Barontus warned to give a certain sum to the poor and to protect himself with the phrase “Gloria a te, O Dio.” In hell he sees sinners of every kind, all joined together suffering. Although the terrain of hell is not carefully described, the souls that Barontus meets who are suffering in hell are mentioned. Finally Barontus returns to his cell where he speaks with his fellow monks.
The vision closes with a statement by the author, allegedly Barontus, attesting to the veracity of this vision.”

see further: Ytizhan Hen “The Structure and Aims of the Visio Baronti” in J Theol Studies (1996) 47 (2): 477-497; John J. Contreni “Building Mansions in Heaven”: The “Visio Baronti”, Archangel Raphael, and a Carolingian King” in Speculum Vol. 78, No. 3 (Jul., 2003), pp. 673-706; and Isabel Moreira “The Vision of the Monk Barontus” in Isabel Moreira “Dreams, Visions, and Spiritual Authority in Merovingian Gaul” [Cornell University Press, 2000].
dreams visions


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