Pope declares ‘blessed’ a medieval Frenchman who started hospitals

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Guy de Montpellier
Guy de Montpellier. Wikimedia Commons

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Although a normal beatification process was not followed, Pope Francis has declared as “blessed” Guy de Montpellier, a 12th-century French knight and founder of the Hospitaller Order of the Holy Spirit.

“By Our Apostolic authority, We inscribe in the catalogue of the blesseds Guy de Montpellier,” and decree that his feast day will be celebrated Feb. 7 by the religious orders and institutes of the Holy Spirit in Sassia, the pope wrote in a document dated May 18, the vigil of Pentecost.

Document “Fide Incensus”

The document, titled “Fide Incensus,” (“Inflamed by Faith”), Pope Francis said that Blessed Guy, “wishing to fulfill as faithfully as possible the ideal of mercy proclaimed by Jesus, outlined a very broad purpose for his work, which aimed to embrace people in their entirety, soul and body, and extended to the youngest and the oldest.”

“The ideal of helping everyone took shape in a particularly tangible way in the care for abandoned babies and unwanted children,” the pope said, noting that “one of the first foundling wheels was built in the Hospital of the Holy Spirit in Sassia (in Rome), where babies could be left anonymously under the care of Guy’s community.”

A slot for leaving alms for poor patients is seen next to a medieval foundling wheel, where people could leave abandoned newborns, at an entrance to Rome’s Hospital of the Holy Spirit in Sassia in this photo from May 20, 2024. (CNS photo/Cindy Wooden)

The wheel, now behind an iron grate, is still visible next to one of the entrances of the hospital, which is just a few blocks from St. Peter’s Square. The hospital, originally built in the eighth century, is considered one of the oldest continually operating hospitals in Europe. Pope Innocent III entrusted it to Blessed Guy in 1204, and today it is part of the Italian national health system.

Guy de Montpellier’s inspirational example

“The example of Guy de Montpellier, an absolutely unique man in his humble spiritual life, obedience and service to the poor, has always attracted and inspired,” Pope Francis wrote. “We believe, therefore, that the moment has come in which he should be presented in a special way to the Church of God, to whom he continues to speak through his faith and works of mercy.”

The pope also said requests for the beatification of Guy de Montpellier were “requests constantly forwarded by Cardinals, Bishops, Religious, and above all by Orders, Congregations and Institutes inspired by Guy’s Rule and life, as well as by lay people who have approached the Holy See.”

Blessed Guy is believed to have been born in Montpellier, France, in 1160, and he founded his first hospital there. He died in Rome in 1208.

Occasionally popes will use a procedure known as an “equipollent” or “equivalent” canonization or beatification to testify to a person’s holiness and authorize formal liturgical celebrations on that person’s feast day. The candidate’s life and writings and fame of holiness are still studied before the declaration is made, but unlike a regular sainthood process there is no verification of martyrdom or of a miracle granted through the candidate’s intercession.

Cindy Wooden

Cindy Wooden is a journalist with Catholic News Service.