Monday, August 7, 2017
Born in Trapani, Sicily, during the 13th century, Albert was distinguished for his dedication to preaching and by his reputation for working miracles.In 1280 and 1289, he was in Trapani and afterwards in Messina. In 1296 he was appointed Provincial of the Carmelite Province of Sicily. He was known especially for his great desire to lead a holy life and for prayer. He died in Messina, probably in 1307. He was the first saint whose cult spread throughout the Order and, as a result, he is considered its patron and protector or "father", a title he shared with the other saint of his time, Angelus of Sicily. In the 16th century it was decided that every Carmelite church should have an altar dedicated to him. Among the many with a devotion to this saint were Saint Teresa of Jesus and Saint Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi.
St. Albert of Sicily (of Trapani, degli Abati)
by Louis Saggi, O.Carm - Roseann Ruocco
The birthplace of St. Albert is the city of Trapani in Sicily. A Life of the saint, composed in the second half of the XIV century, has come down to us in many copies or revisions of the XV century. According to a base common to the various redactions, the biographical data can be reduced to the following.
Albert was born (after twenty-six years of sterile marriage) of Benedict degli Abati and Joan Palizi, both of whom promised to consecrate him to the Lord. While the boy was still of a tender age, his father thought of arranging an honourable marriage for him; but his mother was able to make her husband keep their vow. After Albert had joined the Carmelites of Trapani, he spent his period of formation growing in virtue and was ordained a priest. His superiors sent him to Messina, which he freed from the famine caused by a siege: some ships loaded with provisions miraculously passed through the besiegers.
Albert was a famous preacher in various places en the island, and for a certain time provincial superior of the Carmelites of Sicily. He died at Messina on August 7 in an undetermined year, probably in 1307 (as J. B. Lezana, O.Carm., with others, suggests). Heaven itself, it is narrated, wished to decide the controversy that arose between the clergy and the people about the kind of Mass to be celebrated on that occasion: two angels appeared and intoned the Os justi (The mouth of the just man), the introit of the Mass of Confessors.
The presence of Albert in the convent of Trapani on August 8, 1280, April 4 and October 8, 1289, is attested by several parchments of the same convent, now in the Fardelliana library of the same city. Here is also found a parchment in the date of May 10, 1296, from which his office as provincial superior is ascertained.
Albert was among the first Carmelite saints venerated by the Order, of which he was later considered a patron and protector. Already in 1346 there was a chapel dedicated to him, in the convent of Palermo. At various General Chapters, beginning with that of 1375, his papal canonization was proposed. In the Chapter of 1411 it was said that his proper office was ready.
In 1457 Pope Callixtus III, by verbal consent (vivae vocis oraculo), permitted his cult, which was consequently confirmed by Sixtus IV with a bull of May 31, 1476. In 1524 it was ordered that his image be found on the seal of the General Chapter; moreover, the General of the Order, Nicholas Audet, wanted an altar dedicated to him in every Carmelite church. Even earlier, the Chapter of 1420 had ordered that his image with a halo should be found in all the convents of the Order.
With this intense and extended cult, his abundant iconography is easily understood. The most typical iconographic attribute of this saint is a crucifix between two lilies, as he appears in one of his most famous representations: the polychrome sculpture of Alfonse Cano in the Carmelite convent of Seville (XVII century). At other times the saint is represented with the Child Jesus in his arms, while he drives away the devil with his foot. He is, in fact, invoked for exorcisms of the possessed, as also against earthquakes and for the cure of the sick. The healing of some sick on the part of the saint is represented in the Sforza Book of Hours cf the British Museum.
In a German xylograph of the XV century St. Albert and St. Angelus flank a group including Our Lady, St. Anne and the Child Jesus; the same arrangement is taken up by Filippo Lippi in a painting of the Trivulzio collection, where the theme is enriched by figures of angels. Albert is also represented with a lily in his hand: in the panel of a polyptych, of the Jarves collection (New Haven), attributed to a follower of Agnolo Gaddi; in the fresco of Thaddeus di Bartolo in the public palace of Siena; and in a picture of Jerome Muziano in the church of S. Martino ai Monti in Rome. In 1515 F. Francia represented Albert at the side of the Virgin in his Pietà dated 1515 and now found in the Pinacoteca of Turin.
In 1623 one of the gates of the city of Messina was dedicated to him. He is the patron of Trapani, of Erice, of Palermo and of Revere (Mantua). Saint Teresa of Jesus and St. Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi were especially devoted to him; the Bl. Baptist Spagnoli composed a sapphic ode in his honour. His relics are spread throughout Europe. They are necessary for the blessing of St. Albert’s water, much used, especially in the past, against fevers. The head of the Saint is in the Carmelite church of Trapani.
St. Albert appears frequently in the legends and popular traditions of Sicily. Agrigento vaunted a well, the water of which Albert had purified; Corleone, the receptacle in which he preserved absinthe; Petralia Soprana, a stone on which he rested. The first chapel erected to him was claimed to have been at Piazza Armerina.
In the last liturgical reform the rank of feast was granted for St. Albert to the Carmelites, and of memorial to the Discalced Carmelites.
[Adapted from “Saints of Carmel” 1972, pp.17-20]
Curious History of a Painting
At the International Center of St. Albert (CISA) in Rome, there is a painting of one of the most venerated of the Carmelite saints—St. Albert degli Abati (also known as "Albert of Trapani" after the city where he was born). Dying probably in 1307, the Saint was a distinguished preacher and was the first in the Order to have a devotion to in the Order, that considered him as "Father," a title shared with his contemporary saint, the martyr, Angelo of Sicily.
In the lower part of the painting there is a scroll with the Latin inscription "Studiorum mecenati divo Alberto theologiae bacconicae candidate tabulam inaugurarunt 1704." It tells of the dedication by the students in the studium generale of Traspontina to their patron. The origin of the picture is connected to an odd bit of history.
In the course of the second half of the 17th century, the curriculum for the Order's students was rather haphazard in both content, in the requirements for enrolling in courses, in the organization of the houses of the students in such things as the orarium, length of the school day, and length of vacations.
The sections of the 1625 Constitutions dealing with norms for the students and their curriculum were modified by subsequent General Chapters and above all by the Prior General, Giovanni Feijó de Villalobos. In 1692 he issued a series of quite demanding decrees regulating studies within the Order. The program of Feijó, reflecting the Spanish customs, were seen as unrealistic for the rest of the Order, especially Italy. There were a number of protests.
When, in April 1700, the next Prior General, Carlo Filiberto Barbieri, insisted the students be in conformity with the rules, the students of the studium generale in Traspontina (Rome), which was at the time the most prestigious in the Order, took the matter to the Vatican Congregation in order to obtain a dispensation and to continue the assigning of grades as well as their days of school and periods of vacation has had been practiced for over 100 years at Traspontina. On September 9, 1701, they obtained a decree in their favor and confirmed by a letter of Clemente XI with the same date. The Prior General Barberi was in agreement with the decision as he had already announced his support of the students of Traspontina.
There were, however, some "zealots" (among whom was a member of the Order’s Curia), who were opposed to such a concession. At that point, there was a new appeal to the same Vatican Congregation and, by means not very clear, the "zealots" obtain a suspension of the papal letter. The students went on the offense and started a process at the Holy See against the "zealots" who called themselves "The Carmelite Religion" without ever revealing their true name.
The case was dealt with by the Congregation over several months, with some hearings and an examination of the motives of both sides, and of the drawbacks and observations identifies by defenders of both sides of the question. In the end, on November 10, 1702, the decision was handed down with nothing given in favor of the "zelots" and full agreement given to the students of Traspontina, confirming all that they had received from the Pope in his letter.
When the General Chapter of 1704, updated the part of the Constitutions dealing with studies, those sections put in by Villalobos in 1692 were simply done away with. The students celebrated the event which one more time confirmed their "rights" and offered to the Prior General the painting of St. Albert, by an unknown painter, as a sign of their respect.
Emanuele Boaga, O. Carm.
former General Archivist of the Order