The Peculiar Life Of The Chained Recluse, Saint Hospicius

 

Hospicius was an obscure holy man who spent his final years in the vicinity of Nice, France. His age and land of origin are unknown, but details of his later life and saintly deeds were recorded by Hospicius’ contemporary, Bishop Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), who wrote the influential History of the Franks. By the time Bishop Gregory took notice of Hospicius, the latter clergyman had become a complete recluse, living in a walled-off tower in Nice. The tower apparently had no entrances or exits except windows, through which supplies and supplicants could reach the holy man.

Hospicius was an ascetic in both dress and diet. For sustenance, he reportedly lived off only bread, boiled roots, dates and water. As for his clothing, he allegedly wore an uncomfortable combination of metal chains wrapped around his body, over which was worn an additionally aggravating hair shirt. It is uncertain exactly when Hospicius adopted this punishing diet and wardrobe, but once he did commit himself to such an excruciating existence, he reportedly did not relent until he was on his deathbed.

With his spiritual mind and monkish appearance, Hospicius gained a great reputation for saintly acts and holy power. People seeking divine remedies to their problem would wander to the recluse’s tower, hoping that Hospicius could perform a miracle through a window of his walled-off abode. According to the list presented by Gregory of Tours, Hospicius was credited with exorcising multiple demons from various people, as well as healing one man who had been blind since birth and curing another who had been struck deaf and dumb by a terrible fever. In another lauded episode from the saint’s life, Lombard raiders reportedly found Hospicius’ tower and, as there were no doors, they climbed up the structure and broke through the roof or a window. Upon glimpsing at the chained-up, emaciated man in a hair-shirt, the Lombards first assumed that he was a prisoner. Yet, when Hospicius began preaching to them and healing their ailments, the raiders quickly deduced the saint’s occupation. The raiders were reportedly so impressed by the holy man, that they left him in peace, and a few of the Lombards even converted from their Arian Christian beliefs to Hospicius’ own Roman Catholicism.

The death of Hospicius came around the year 581. His lifestyle of self-punishment, with the minimalist diet, as well as the daily wardrobe of chains and a hair shirt, had a devastating effect on the saint’s body. Due to years of constant chaffing, irritation and sores caused by the chain, Hospicius’ body was said to have been visibly “alive with worms” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, VI. 6). As the day of the sickly saint’s death was approaching, Hospicius reportedly had a precise prophecy about his own demise, which convinced him to make arrangements so that his body would be discovered quickly after his time had come. Through his window, the recluse signaled a messenger and sent the person off to inform Bishop Austadius of Nice to arrive at the tower with a crowbar (to break into the structure) after three days, for at that time Hospicius would be dead. On the day of his death, Hospicius was said to have finally removed his chain and died while laying peacefully on a bench. As instructed, the bishop soon broke into the tower, recovered the body, and gave the saint an honorable burial.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (15th-century painting of Simeon Stylites, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

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