Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/John of Fécamp

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(Also known as JEANNELIN on account of his diminutive stature).

Ascetic writer, b. near Ravenna about the beginning of the eleventh century; d. at Fécamp, Normandy, 22 February, 1079. He studied at Dijon under his compatriot William, Abbot of St. Benignus, whom he had accompanied to France. Under this skilled master John acquired an extensive acquaintance with all the sciences, making a special study of medicine, of which he is reckoned by Bernier among the cleverest exponents trained in the monastic schools of the Middle Ages. When William was commissioned to reform the Abbey of Fécamp and to establish there a colony of Benedictine monks, John again accompanied him and discharged under him the office of prior until 1028. In this year, worn out by his labours in the service of the Church, and seeking a more tranquil refuge for his old age, William appointed John his successor as abbot and retired to Italy. Taking his master for his model, John succeeded in winning an almost equal renown, and, if his authority was exercised with an defending the privileges of his house against every attack. In 1052, on the elevation of Helinard to the archiepiscopal See of Lyons, John was invited to succeed him as Abbot of Dijon. At first he retained also the abbacy of Fécamp, but, finding himself unable to carry the double burden, he resigned this office in 1056. Towards the close of his life he undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, desiring to see before his death the sanctified places towards which his thoughts had so often turned during his meditations. Seized and thrown into prison by the Turks, it was only in 1076 that he could return to France. He then retired to Fécamp.

As Abbot of St. Benignus John had been brought into close relations with Emperor Henry III-after 1038 also King of Burgundy-and with his spouse, Agnes of Poitiers. After Henry's death his widow placed herself entirely under the spiritual guidance of the abbot, and for her John composed a series of ascetical works. These were entitled the "Liber precum variarum", "De divina contemplatio Christique amore", "De superna Hierusalem," "De institutione viduae," "De vita et moribus virginum", "De eleemosynarum dispensatione" (P.L., CXLVII, 147 sqq., 445 sqq.). A good indication of John's value as a writer is afforded by the fact that the "De divina contemplatione" was for a long time regarded as a work of St. Augustine, although it is now certain that it was composed either wholly or partly by John. Some letters dealing with incidents in the life of the cloisters are also collected in P.L. loc. cit., 153 sq.

Hist. lit. de la France, VIII. 48 sqq; Gallia Christ., XI, 206; STREBER in Kirchenlex., s. v. Johannes von Fécamp; Nouvelle biographie generale, XXVI, 531 sqq.

THOMAS KENNEDY