Anthelm of Chignin was born into a noble family of Savoy, France, in 1107. He was first provost of Geneva Cathedral and canon of Belley Cathedral. Nevertheless, by the grace of God, he refused to find his joy in these exterior possessions and human glory. He had a brother who was Procurator at the Charterhouse of Portes. Conversations with his brother when he visited him and with the Prior convinced him of the excellence of Christian abnegation in the monastic life. He entered the charterhouse of Portes in 1136 or 1137 and soon surpassed the other monks there in the monastic virtues.
This came to the ear of the superior of the Grande Chartreuse, Guigo, who asked the Prior of Portes to send Anthelm to the Mother house, where an avalanche had killed seven of the monks a short time earlier. So it was at the Grande Chartreuse that Anthelm made profession.
Under Guigo’s successor, Hugh, Anthelm was made Procurator. He humbly accepted this charge, although he did not feel any attraction to it, and fulfilled his office with much profit for the House without overlooking his own spiritual needs.
In 1139, when a new Prior was needed, the community, by a unanimous vote, elected Anthelm. As Prior, he rebuilt the Mother house at a site less susceptible to avalanches. But his principal endeavor was the spiritual progress of the community which soon experienced his firmness, tenderness, wisdom and humility. He visited his monks with frequency in their cells and the gentleness of his words filled their hearts with peace. The sick, both in body and soul, had the particular interest of his fatherly care.
He had a special gift in providing a remedy for temptations and in animating those who were discouraged. As regards those who were proficient in the spiritual life, he judged them worthy of all honours. He showed to them all the proofs of perfect esteem even going as far as to give them the right of way as they passed by and to stand up in their presence.
It was during his priorate that the wish was expressed by the Priors of the other Charterhouses for a more stable and more structured organization of the Order in the form of an annual General Chapter. Anthelm was open to this and welcomed the first General Chapter at the Grande Chartreuse in 1140. After the foundation by Saint Bruno (1084) and the Consuetudines written by Guigo (1121-1128), this first General Chapter was like a ‘third starting point’ for the Carthusian Order.
Humble as he was, he repeatedly asked to be dismissed as Prior. After twelve years, in 1151, he finally obtained this. But as the Prior of Portes had died at that time, the monks of Portes asked Basil, Anthelm’s successor as superior of the Mother house, to send them the latter as their new Prior. Anthelm had to accept this.
During his priorate storms destroying the harvest in the region of Portes caused a scarcity of food. Anthelm distributed generously wheat and vegetables from the monastery storage rooms to the farmers. He also came to the financial aid of other monasteries.
Two years later the diocese of Belley, in which Portes is located, needed a new Bishop. The people there strongly wanted Anthelm to become the Bishop. He refused, but to no avail. Pope Alexander III ordered him to accept and ordained Anthelm in 1163.
As Bishop he offered great services to the Church. Within the first year of his consecration he launched a reform of the clergy. He defended the rights of the Church against the powerful. He tried in vain to mediate between St Thomas Becket and King Henry II of England. A bitter conflict with Humbert, count of Savoy, ended with Humbert asking the holy Bishop’s forgiveness, which the latter granted him with great benignity.
He kept up the same monastic fervor as before. Every year he would withdraw for a few days at the Grande Chartreuse, where he had a cell like the other monks. Recommending charity and concord to his priests, Saint Anthelm died on June 26, 1178. Because of the many miracles at his tomb he was soon venerated. Today he is the patron Saint of the diocese of Belley, where the cathedral preciously keeps his relics. His feast is kept both by the Carthusians and the diocese of Belley on June 26.
Let us pray:
Lord our God, You love peace and unity.
By the prayers of Saint Anthelm may we seek always
Your kingdom and together praise You.
We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.