Saint Conrad of Piacenza: Lay Penitent Hermit

Saint Conrad of Piacenza: Lay Penitent Hermit

On February 19, Franciscans celebrate the memory of Saint Conrad of Piacenza (c. 1290–1351), a lay penitent hermit known for his life of contemplative prayer.

A hunting incident changes Conrad's life

Conrad was born into the noble family of the Confalonieri in the town of Calendasco, Italy, a few miles from the commune of Piacenza. He married a noblewoman named Ephrosyne when they were quite young. One day he and his wife, with other companions, were out hunting; Conrad had his servants set fire to some brushwood to flush out game which had taken refuge there. Unfortunately, with heavy winds, the flames spread, destroying some villages, fields, and forests. Meanwhile, Conrad and his party had returned home. A peasant in the area was accused of being the one responsible and sentenced to death. As the man was being led to execution, Conrad came forward and admitted his guilt.

St Conrad of Piacenza Calendasco Italy 700pxlsIn the town of Calendasco, Piacenza, Italy, Conrad was born in the castle that sits to the left of the church in this photo.

A dramatic reversal of fortune reveals the hand of God

Due to his noble status, Conrad’s life was spared, but the damages he was forced to pay consumed most of his resources. He and his wife saw in this dramatic reversal of fortune the hand of God, and they agreed in 1315 to separate and devote themselves to God’s service: his wife became a Poor Clare in Calendasco, and Conrad joined a lay Franciscan hermit community in the area.

St Conrad of Piacenza grotto 700pxlsIn this grotto Saint Conrad spent many years devoted to prayer.

The hermit gains a reputation for holiness

Over the years, Conrad gained a reputation for holiness, and the large number of visitors led him to embark on the life of a pilgrim. Around 1340, he settled in Sicily, where he became a solitary hermit in the valley of Noto. Here too his reputation spread and people flocked to his cell to be cured through his prayers. He died in 1351 and was buried in the cathedral in Noto, which became a popular shrine.

St Conrad of Piacenza Val di Noto Sicily 700pxlsA bucolic scene in the Val di Noto, Sicily

The saint invoked as patron of hernia sufferers

Conrad was beatified in 1515 and canonized in Piacenza in 1645. He is invoked as a patron of hernia sufferers, due to several healings that were attributed to him.

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Main image: This modern image of Saint Conrad was created for the 700th anniversary of his birth in 1990.