Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo
Toledo, Spain, in the year 607.
Toledo, Spain, January 23rd, 667.
No process of canonization existed at the time of Saint Ildephonsus’ death, but some documents that are conserved witness to the veneration he received ever since the Arab occupation of Spain.
The biographical facts that are known about Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo come from two principal sources: the writings of the saint himself, and the “Beati Ildephonsi Elogium” (Elegy of Blessed Ildephonsus), written by Saint Julian of Toledo, his contemporary.
Saint Ildephonsus was born in Toledo, Spain around the year 607. His parents belonged to the Visigoth nobility. He received a rigorous education in Toledo, under the guidance of his uncle, Saint Eugenius III, and completed his studies in Seville with Saint Isidore.
From a very young age, Saint Ildephonsus felt an attraction to the monastic life. After having completed his studies of Philosophy and Humanities, he returned from Seville and entered the monastery of Agali, Toledo. Between the years 632-633, Saint Helladius, Bishop of Toledo, ordained him a deacon, and later on, around the year 650, he was elected abbot of the monastery.
In the year 657, upon the death of his uncle, Saint Eugenius III, who was at the time the bishop of Toledo, Saint Ildephonsus was named as his successor. The saint did not wish to accept the appointment, but he was obliged to take up the position two years later. As bishop, he wrote his work “De virginitate perpetua Sanctae Mariae adversus tres infideles,” in which he opposes the heresies against the virginity of Mary. He was well known for his love of the Blessed Virgin, who in turn rewarded his efforts to defend her honor by bestowing on him a chasuble, as we will see in the section on Mary.
Saint Julian, in his Elegy, gives us some idea of the personality and of the virtues of Saint Ildephonsus:
"He was, indeed, renowned for his perseverance in the fear of God, distinguished for his religion, full of compunction, serious in character, praiseworthy for his honesty, of an extraordinary patience, reliable confidant of any secret, distinguished for his wisdom, illustrious for his talent in the dissertation, noted for the majesty of his eloquence, rich for the great fluency of his words and considered as a person noteworthy for the elevated level of his eloquence, to such an extent that, when his profuse discourse was extensively occupied by some controversy, it seemed that surely this was not a man who spoke so adequately, but rather God through a man."
He died on January 23rd, 667, and was buried in the Church of Saint Leocadia, in Toledo. Later on, when the Christians of Toledo fled to the north of Spain during the Arabic invasion, they brought his remains to Zamora, where they are now preserved.
Although it is difficult to find explicit references about the relation of this saint with the Eucharist, we know that Saint Ildephonsus had a great love of the liturgy. The redaction of many liturgical texts for the Holy Mass of the Spanish-Mozarabe Liturgy is attributed to him.
Through his writings and sermons we also know that the saint recommended daily communion, basing this on the petition of the Our Father that Jesus himself has given to us, “give us this day our daily bread.” Since this was unusual in his time, it helps us to understand his love of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Saint Ildephonsus was one of the great defenders of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. She herself repaid his love for her with a great miracle.
On the eve of December 18th, of the year 665 (feast day of the “Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary”), the saint set out for the church with other priests and faithful to honor Mary. All of a sudden, they saw a great light coming from the church, and most of them fled in fear. Saint Ildephonsus and two deacons entered the chapel and approached the altar. On the episcopal see, they saw the Virgin Mary seated, and beckoning the saint to come closer. Saint Ildephonsus obeyed, and the Most Blessed Virgin spoke these words to him, “You are my chaplain and faithful notary. Receive from me this chasuble, which my Son sends you from His treasury.” When she had said this, she placed the chasuble on him, and asked him to visit her during the festivities celebrated in her honor.
According to the documents that are conserved in the archives of the Cathedral of Toledo, in the XVI century, four bishops acknowledged the chasuble, which was found in some chests of the Cathedral of Oviedo. Sebastian Sarmiento, a Jesuit who was present in this acknowledgement, described the chasuble in these terms:
"A fine silk material of celestial blue color in the form of a Portuguese cloak, large enough to cover the tallest man in Spain, without texture or seam, so delicate and thin that even the breath of their respiration filled it as a sail is filled with a strong wind."
This miracle is documented in the “Acta Sanctorum” and in “The Descent of the Most Holy Virgin and of her Apparition.” The Church of Toledo celebrates this miracle every year on December 17th.
From the book of the Perpetual Virginity of Holy Mary, by Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo:
“Those of you who do not accept that Mary is ever-virgin; those who do not want to recognize my Creator as her Son, and her as Mother of my Creator; if you do not glorify this God as her Son, neither do you glorify my Lord as God. Those of you who do not proclaim blessed she whom the Holy Sprit has ordered to be called such by all nations; those who do not honor the Mother of the Lord, saying that you are honoring God her Son, do not glorify my Lord as God. I, however, precisely because I am servant of her Son, desire that She be my Lady; to be under the reign of her Son, I want to serve Her; to prove that I am servant of God, I procure the testimony of His Mother’s possession of me; to be a servant of the One who eternally engenders her Son, I desire to faithfully serve her, she who has engendered him as man.
For the service of the Slave is at the service of the Lord; what is given to the Mother is given back to the Son; what the one who nourishes receives is given to the nourished, and the honor that the servant renders to the Queen is also given to the King.
That is why I rejoice in my Lady, I sing my joy to the Mother of the Lord, I exult in the Servant of her Son, who has been made the Mother of my Creator and I delight in her in whom the Word was made flesh.
Thanks to the Blessed Virgin, I trust in the death of this Son of God and hope that my salvation and my joy come always and unabatedly from God, now, from now on and always and in all ages, for ever and ever.”
The remains of Saint Ildephonsus are conserved in the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Ildephonsus, in Zamora, Spain. The Christians took the saint’s relics to the north of Spain when they fled from Toledo during the invasion of the Arabs.
In Toledo, Spain you can visit the Basilica of Saint Leocadia, where he was buried after his death, and the Cathedral whose See he occupied and which is the location of the stone on which the Virgin Mary rested her feet when she appeared to Saint Ildephonsus to bestow on him the chasuble, in the so-called Chapel of the Descent.
By the saint:
We know that Saint Ildephonsus wrote several books, but only a few of them have been conserved. He also composed liturgical texts that still are used in the liturgy of the Spanish-Mozarabic Rite.
The surviving works of Saint Ildephonsus are:
- “De virginitate Sanctae Mariae contra tres infidels,” a treatise in which the Perpetual Virginity of Mary is defended by refuting three heresies of that period. In this book, one perceives his great love for the Most Blessed Virgin, whom he constantly proclaims as Mother of all humanity.
- “Liber de cognitione baptismi unus,” about baptism; the doctrine of this sacrament is explained with great eloquence and simplicity.
- “De progressu spiritualis deserti,” about the progress of the spiritual desert. It is considered to be a continuation of the previous treatise.
- “De viris illustribus,” a book that gathers the biographical sketches of illustrious men.
- Two letters written to Quirico of Barcelona.
From other authors:
- “Beati Ildephonsi Elogium” (Elegy of the blessed Ildephonsus), by Saint Julian of Toledo, contemporary of Saint Ildephonsus.
- In the book “Miracles of Our Lady,” by Gonzalo de Berceo (XIII century), the author dedicates the first poem, “The Chasuble of Saint Ildephonsus,” to the miracle of the imposition of the chasuble.