St. Theobald left his home in France to pursue holiness in solitude; years later, his parents heard stories of a famous and holy hermit in Italy, and were shocked to learn that he was their son.
He was born in 1017 to a noble family. As a child, he was captivated by the early saints who fled the city to seek a life of solitude and prayer in the desert—saints like John the Baptist, Paul the Hermit, and Anthony the Great. He wanted to follow them in their pursuit of perfection and holiness.
As he grew, he was given a military command commensurate with his noble rank, and was asked to lead soldiers into the field. He spoke with his commander and explained that he had made a vow to leave the world and live as a hermit. He spoke so eloquently and passionately that the was released.
Theobald and a friend named Walter left their home region and began living as wandering beggars. They built for themselves two small shelters in the forest and gave their lives to prayer and work, in the monastic tradition. For their labor, they went into the village and hired themselves out as field workers, hauled stones for masons, and cleaned stables. While they worked with their hands, their minds were absorbed in prayer. What little they earned they spent on coarse bread, which was their sustenance.
People began to take notice, and Theobald and Walter became well known for their practices and their holiness. The two friends wanted to escape notoriety and its danger of pride, so they went on pilgrimage. They walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain, then on to Rome.
They settled in Italy near Vicenza, and after two years there, Walter died. Theobald took it as a sign that he would soon die as well, so he gave himself even more to prayer and discipline. A number of followers gathered around him, and the local bishop ordained Theobald a priest so that they could celebrate the Sacraments together.
Stories of Theobald started to spread—people spoke of miracles and prophecies—and his parents learned that this famous hermit was their son. They traveled to Italy to visit him, and his mother resolved to stay with him; Theobald built her a small hermitage next to his. It was not long after that Theobald fell ill—he died on this date in 1066.
Theobald was canonized only seven years after his death. His relics rest in the reliquary chapel in the Basilica, and his image is used here with permission from Catholic.org.
St. Theobald, your were inspired by stories of saints who sought perfection in the desert--pray for us!