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The Alb of St. Bon, Bishop of Clermont

Hugh O'Reilly
In the days when Pepin ruled in France, the blessed Saint Bon was Bishop of Clermont in Auvergne (688-699). He ruled his Diocese with charity, was constant in all good works, had great compassion for the faults of others and yet was stern with himself. Beyond these virtues, he had a very loving devotion to our holy Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Assumption of Mary into Heaven

The Bishop contemplating the glorious Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven

Now it happened that on the vigil of the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, St. Bon stayed after the singing of Vespers alone in the choir of his Cathedral. Being moved by deep contemplation of the mystery of the Assumption to a very lively love, he rested many hours in prayer, offering his lauds and pleas at Our Lady's feet.

So, night came upon him, and still he stayed, uplifted by his devotion above remembrance of time. He ceased not his orison until the hour of midnight was come. Then he raised his head joyously, and cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Exaltata est Sancta Dei Genitrix" [the holy Mother of God be glorified] in honor of the feast.

And when he had so done, he was filled with wonder. For suddenly he saw a heavenly light so great that it dimmed the little lamp before the altar. In that glorious light he saw shining many Angels. Then they processed into the choir of the Cathedral along with those Saints who stand in Paradise, all the retinue of Our Lady and her Son.

He saw the blessed martyrs, St. Vincent and St. Lawrence, and the soldiers of Christ George and Alban. He saw, too, those holy and charitable Bishops who had gone before him, and also the stars of the Church of God, whose light he ever kept in mind - Jerome and Gregory, Ambrose and Augustine.

Then St. Bon was filled with fear and reverence, and falling to the ground he cried aloud, “Who am I, most sinful, that I should be here?"

But while he lay there full of awe, he heard the sound of exceedingly sweet chanting. Very slowly and reverently he raised up his head. Then he saw that company of virgins whose high service it is to attend on the Mother of God: Catherine of the Wheels, Lucy of the Eyes, with Agnes, Heavenly Cecilia and also Dorothy.

And in the midst of them was that sweet Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Angels. She was crowned with jewels and appareled royally, yet she walked with most gracious humbleness. So all this train came forth into the choir, and placed themselves orderly therein, and they sang their hymn unto the end.

And they stood in a bright light around the altar, but the light came not to the place where St. Bon was kneeling.

Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

The Bishop said Mass served by St. Vincent and St. Lawrence

Then he heard the Saints ask Our Lady whom she would have sing the Mass of her feast. And Our Lady answered them: "I will have my servant who kneels beyond the circle of light, and who offers me his love and tears, asking naught in return. For this reason, I have chosen him to offer for me the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass."

Then Bishop Saint Bon was greatly abashed and full of fear, for it seemed to him a great presumption that he, the meanest of God's servants, should minister before these glorious ones.

But as he kneeled in veneration, two Angels came, raised him and led him to the altar at the Virgin's bidding. There they vested him for the saying of the Mass. And the glorious deacons Vincent and Lawrence served him, and the altar was censed by Angels, and by Angels' hands the sacring-bell was rung.

Now when he stood thus before that altar, where every day he would offer the Holy Sacrifice for the Church and for his people whom he loved, courage came anew to the heart of St. Bon. Then it seemed to him no more matter for dread, but rather for thanksgiving, that he, though unworthy, was thus by divine mercy admitted to the Communion of the Saints. For, he knew that no man by his own power might attain to it.

And, all things being set in order, he sang the Mass of Our Lady right, clearly and well. And when he came to the words, "Assumpta est Maria in coelum: gaudent Angeli," all the Saints and Angels bowed before her and cried with a loud voice, “Alleluia!"

And when it came to the end of the Mass, the Most Holy Virgin kneeled amidst her saints, that she might receive the blessing of Bon her servant. Afterwards, she called him to her feet and spoke with him sweetly, and gave to him a reward for the service he had done: an alb, a very noble vestment that she had brought with her from Paradise.

Bishop receives alb from the Virgin Mary

Our Lady rewards the Bishop of Clermont for his service with a heavenly vestment

And she warned Saint Bon very straightly, saying : "See that you let no one else put upon himself this holy alb, which I give you as reward because you loved me with that love which casts out fear, and have well and truly sung the Mass of my feast. For I can in no wise offer this Mass in Paradise, where the Holy Sacrifice is made perfect, but only by the hands of my servants here on earth. And this that I have given you is of that stuff which the Virgins my hand- maidens weave for the vesting of the Saints. See, therefore, that you guard it closely.

“And look further, that none come to this church that is my sanctuary in the night hours when my mysteries are sung here. For none may gaze on this save the one to whom this heavenly vestment has been given.”

Then did the Virgin Mary and all her train go back to heaven. And St. Bon went to his house much comforted, for now he knew well that his poor love was pleasing to Our Lady, and that she looked favorably upon the imperfection of his prayers.

And he put away with exceeding care the vesture that she had given him, and by it he did much healing and brought many souls to God.

Soon after that marvelous night, St. Bon died and was surely gone to the joy of Heavenly Zion, and a new Bishop was made in his place. But he did not believe the wonders told of his holy predecessor, for he was a Prelate of worldly conversation and doubting mind.

And it vexed him greatly that he could not wear for the saying of the Mass the alb of St. Bon, which was guarded in the treasury of the Cathedral, for it was exceedingly fair. Further, he held it to be an ignorant and idle fantasy that the church should be sacred to the Angels in the night hours because of those words that St. Bon had received from Our Lady’s lips.

Therefore, on a certain night, this Bishop went alone into the choir of his Cathedral, and he took from the treasury the alb of St. Bon so that he might vest himself there, before the altar.

But before the heavenly vestment had touched his shoulders, his senses left him and he woke not until the dawn, and then he lay on his bed in his chamber that was inside the Bishop's house.

And the alb of St. Bon was found on the high altar, and a fair linen cloth was on it.

Then that Bishop was greatly astonished, and his heart was moved. He called his people together and told them what had happened so that all might know it was unlawful that any should witness the divine secrets which every night were celebrated at that altar, save only the one to whom Our Lady, in her mercy, had given the Heavenly Vesture.

Note: Saint Bon was much venerated in the south of France in the Middle Ages. The vestment with which the Virgin rewarded his piety was persevered in the treasury of the Cathedral of Clermont as late as the 12th century, when it was seen and handled by Herbert Losings, Bishop of Norwich.


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Adapted from Evelyn Underhill, The Miracles of Our Lady Saint Mary,
NY: EP Dutton & Co, 1906, pp. 19-25
Posted May 11, 2013

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