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Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin
January 4, 2002 Issue

He fled in the middle of night

Life as the ruler of Venice proved less appealing than the life of a hermit


By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

Peter Orseolo

Who: Civic leader and, later, a monk and then a hermit

Where: Venice and France

When: 927 to 987

Feast: Jan. 10

The road to sainthood can take some unusual turns that may puzzle observers in later years. The life of St. Peter Orseolo provides an example.

Peter was born into a distinguished family in Venice only decades after the famed canal city on the Adriatic Sea became a commercial and trading center.

When he was 20, Peter was named commander of the Venetian navy and led the fight against the Dalmatian pirates who were disrupting commerce in the Adriatic.

In 976, a civil uprising resulted in the murder of the city's ruler, Peter Candiani IV, and a fire that destroyed much of Venice.

Following the disturbance, Peter was chosen doge (pronounced dohj), the title of the rulers of Venice from 697 to 1797. (Long after Peter's death, St. Peter Damian alleged that Peter Orseolo was at least partially to blame for the murder of his predecessor, but modern scholars say it can't be proved.)

Over the next two years as doge, he restored order and directed the rebuilding of the city, while serving with great energy and tact. Then, on the night of Sept. 1, 978, Peter Orseolo resigned and secretly entered the Benedictine abbey at Cuxa, France, along its border with Spain.

Not only did Peter leave Venice and his position as its ruler, he also left behind his wife of 32 years and their only child, a son who also would become one of Venice's great doges. Peter's departure was so secret that even his wife and son went for a long time without knowing where he was.

As puzzling as his actions may seem, Peter and his wife had lived as brother and sister after the birth of their son. Plus Peter had said as early as 968 that he wanted to become a monk.

In the abbey, he was known for his life of prayer and for his ascetical practices of denying himself physical comforts.

But eventually, St. Romuald -- who may have helped convince Peter to join the abbey at Cuxa to atone for the murder of Peter Candiani -- persuaded Peter to become a hermit.

St. Peter Orseolo lived the rest of his life in a hermitage near the abbey.

After his death, many miracles were reported at his tomb. The local bishop named him a saint 40 years after Peter's death.


(Sources: Butler's Lives of the Saints, Dictionary of Saints, Lives of the Saints, 365 Saints and World Book Encyclopedia.)

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