Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume IV: April. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Albert, Recluse
HE was born at Espain, a village in the diocess of Tourney, in 1060. From his infancy he so earnestly applied himself to prayer, that he spent in that holy exercise the greater part of his time, being always careful in it to shun, as much as possible, the eyes of men. The earnestness with which he always attended all public devotions in his parish church, and listened to the sermons of his curate, is not to be expressed; much less the deep impressions which every instruction of piety made upon his tender heart. He was discovered to watch a great part of the night upon his knees, and when he was no longer able to support himself upright, to pray prostrate on the ground. When he could not pray in his chamber, without danger of being surprised by others, he retired into the stable or sheep-cot for many hours together. His commerce with God in his heart was uninterrupted while he was abroad in the fields with the cattle. He was no less private in his fasts; and at the time of meals he usually took an apple, or a morsel of bread, that he might tell his parents or the servants that he had eaten. Happening one day to hear a poor man at his fathers door sing a hymn on the virtues and death of St. Theobald, a hermit lately dead, he found himself vehemently inflamed with a desire of imitating his solitary penitential life; and without delay addressed himself to a priest of the monastery of Crepin or Crespin, named John, who lived a recluse in a separate cell, with the leave of his abbot. Being admitted by him as a companion, he soon surpassed his master in the exercise and spirit of virtue. Bread they seldom tasted; wild herbs were their ordinary food; they never saw any fire, nor ate anything that had been dressed by it. The church of Crepin, ever since its foundation by St. Landelin, in the seventh century, had been served by secular canons: in the eleventh it had passed into the hands of monks of the Order of St. Benedict: and under the first abbot, Rainer, St. Albert took the monastic habit. He still practised his former austerities, slept on the ground, and in the night recited the whole psalter privately before matins. He was chosen provost and cellerer; but the exterior occupations of those offices did not interrupt his tears, nor hinder the perpetual attention of his soul to God. After twenty-five years spent in this community, with a fervour which was always uniform and constant, he obtained leave of Lambert, the second abbot, to return to an eremitical life, in 1115. He then built himself a cell in the midst of a barren wilderness, contenting himself for his food with bread and herbs, and after the first three years with herbs alone. Many flocking to him for spiritual advice, Burchard, bishop of Cambray, his diocesan, promoted him to the priesthood, and erected for him a chapel in his cell, giving him power to hear confessions and administer the holy eucharist: which was confirmed to him by two popes, Paschal II. and Innocent II. He said every day two masses,1 one for the living, and a second for the dead. God crowned his long penance with a happy death about the year 1140, the eightieth of his age, on the 7th of April; on which he is honoured in the Belgic and Gallican Martyrologies. See his life, by Robert the archdeacon, his intimate friend, in Surius, Bollandus, &c.