Bl. Amadeus IX

(1435-1472)

It is a bit surprising for a saint to be the grandson of an anti-pope.

Blessed Amadeus IX of Savoy was indeed such. His grandfather, Duke Amadeus VIII of Savoy, though a pious layman in his way, had been ambitious enough to accept election in 1439 by the schismatic Council of Basel as a rival of Pope Eugene IV. Taking the papal name Felix V, the Duke held out against the true pope until 1449. Only then did he repent and receive forgiveness.

Amadeus IX does not seem to have been influenced by the waywardness of his grandparent. Born in 1435, he was betrothed to Yolande of France while yet an infant–a practice often engaged in by European monarchs to guarantee peace between countries. He and Yolande actually married only in 1451. It was a happy marriage, although most of the princely couple’s six children died early.

The young nobleman’s first assignment was the governorship of the province of Brescia. This remote district favored a quiet life, which suited him to a “T”. When his father Duke Louis I died, however, he fell heir to the whole dukedom and had to assume the more complicated role of governing the extensive Alpine and subalpine lands of his family, located in the present France, western Switzerland and northwestern Italy.

Duke Amadeus proved to be an excellent ruler. A wise administrator, he was able to discharge his ducal debts. He dealt courteously with the family of his chief national enemies, the Sforza dukes of Milan, and was able to bring to an end the war between Savoy and Milan by giving his sister in marriage to Duke Galeazzo Sforza. At home, Amadeus’ brothers rebelled against him several times, but he forgave them each time and made excuses for them. The young Duke’s gentleness was rooted in his personal virtues and piety. He was regular at his prayers and at frequenting the sacraments. He lived austerely, although he might easily have excused himself from fasting on the basis of poor health. Horrified by blasphemy, he would not tolerate profanity among those who served him. Nor would he tolerate political graft of any sort, or the oppression of the poor.

In fact, Amadeus was almost scrupulous about helping the needy. He simply could not refuse alms to anybody who asked.

If his purse happened to be empty, he would give away some of his clothing or whatever else was within reach. Once, it is said, when he was out of cash, he broke up a jeweled ceremonial collar and distributed as alms its precious pieces.

On another occasion an ambassador proudly told Amadeus of all the fine hunting dogs that his monarch possessed. The Duke replied by pointing to a terrace filled with tables at which the hungry were being fed. “These,” he said, “are my packs and my hunting dogs. It is with the help of these poor people that I chase after virtue and hunt for the kingdom of heaven.” The ambassador commented that some of that crowd were probably fakers or lazy. Amadeus replied, “I would not judge them so harshly. God might judge me likewise and withhold His blessing!”

Unfortunately, Duke Amadeus was a lifelong victim of epilepsy. Around 1470, his seizures became so incapacitating that he entrusted the rule of the duchy to his wife, Duchess Yolande. But his subjects became discontented and started a revolution, imprisoning the Duke. Only the intervention of King Louis XI of France, his brother-in-law, secured his release. By that time Amadeus knew that his own death was near. Gathering his sons and nobles to his bedside, he urged them, “Be just; love the poor and the Lord will give peace to your lands.”

Duke Amadeus IX of Savoy died on March 30, 1472, aged only 37. He had heeded Jesus’ assurance that a rich man could win heaven despite his wealth, and that he who served Christ’s least brothers served Christ himself.

The Church deemed the Duke a deserving man of wealth. Pope Innocent XI, in 1677, proclaimed this generous layman “blessed.”

–Father Robert F. McNamara

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