Nilus (3)


ST., Jun., an Italian monastic, sometimes called St. Nilus of Grotta Ferrata, was a Greek by birth, and came from the vicinity of Tarentum. He flourished near the close of the 10th century. He was engaged in secular pursuits when the loss of his wife turned his thoughts to God, and he became a Greek monk of the Order of St. Basil. He was soon made the superior of his community on account of his worth and learning. The chances of war drove him to the west of Italy, and he fled to the convent of Monte Cassino at Capua, which was of the Benedictine order. He was received with great kindness, and a small convent assigned to him and his followers by the abbot. At this time Capua was governed by Aloare, who was the widow of the prince of Capua, and reigned in the name and right of her two sons. This wicked mother had influenced her children to murder their cousin, who was a powerful and worthy nobleman. Now she was seized with the agony of remorse, and sought St. Nilus to confess her crime, and entreated absolution at his hands. He refused this, except upon condition that she should give up one of her sons to the family of the murdered man, to be dealt with as they saw fit. This she would not consent to do. Then St. Nilus pronounced her unforgiven, and told her that what she would not give, Heaven would soon exact of her. She offered him large sums of money, and begged him to pray for her; but he threw down her money in scorn and left her. Not long after this the younger son killed the elder in a church, and for this double crime of fratricide and sacrilege he was put to death by command of Hugh Capet. Nilus afterwards went to Rome, and lived in a convent on the Aventine, where large numbers of sick people visited him, he working many and great miracles. Among others, his cure of an epileptic boy forms a subject for art. Crescentius was consul at this time, and John XVI, who was a Greek like St. Nilus, was pope. Then Otho III came to Rome and made a new pope, with the title of Gregory V. He put out the eyes of pope John, and laid siege to the castle of St. Angelo, to which Crescentius had retired. After a short siege the castle was given up on honorable terms; but not heeding these Otho ordered that Crescentius should be thrown headlong from the walls, and Stephania, his wife, given up to the outrages of the soldiers. So great was the influence of Nilus in Rome at this time that the emperor and the new pope endeavored to conciliate him, but he fearlessly rebuked them, and declared that the time would soon come when they should both seek mercy without finding it. He then left Rome. and went first to a cell near Gaeta, but soon after to a cave near Frascati, called the Crypta, or Grotta Ferrata. Pope Gregory died a miserable death soon after. Otho went on a pilgrimage to Monte Galgano. When returning he visited Nilus, and on his knees besought his prayers. He offered to erect a convent and endow it with lands, but this Nilus refused; and when Otho demanded what boon he could grant him, the saint stretched out his hand, and replied, "I ask of thee but this: that thou wouldst make reparation of thy crimes before God, and save thine own soul!" Soon after Otho returned to Rome he was obliged to fly from the fury of the people, and was poisoned by Stephania, the widow of Crescentius. When St. Nilus died, Sept. 26, A.D. 1002, he desired his brethren to bury him immediately, and to keel secret the place where they laid him. This they did but his disciple, Bartolomeo, built the convent which Nilus had not wished to do, and received the gifts he had refused. The magnificent convent and church of San Basilio of Grotta Ferrata was built, and St. Nilus is regarded as its founder. 'Their rule is that of St. Basil and their mass is recited in Greek, but they wear the Benedictine habit as a dependency of Monte Cassino. The finest Greek library in all Italy was here, and is now in the Vatican, and Julius II changed the convent to a fortress. In 1610, Domenichino was employed by cardinal Odoardo Farnese to decorate the chapel of-St. Nilus, which he did with paintings from the life of the saint.

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