St. Bernard, the great Doctor of the Church, and, as he is called, the last of the Fathers, was famous for the holiness of his life and the splendor of his doctrine. In an especial way he excels all sacred writers by the sweetness and unction with which he treats of the grandeur and prerogatives of the glorious Mother of God. He was born at Fontaine, in Burgundy, in 1091, of pious and noble parents, who gave him a good Christian education. Thus, even from his youth, he led a virtuous life full of charitable works.
One year, on Christmas night, he was favored with a heavenly vision. The Divine Child appeared to him and deigned to instruct him in the glorious mystery of the Incarnation, which the Church celebrates at that time. From this vision there arose in him that tender devotion and ardent love for the Mother of God, which the Saint afterward transfused into the hearts of many, through the sermons he wrote in her honor. Our Lady failed not to correspond to this love of Bernard for her by showing a special predilection for her faithful servant. She granted him extraordinary favors. And so this devotion to the Queen of Heaven, which is the source of great fruit to souls, produced in the heart of St. Bernard this result: it made him realize that the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God. So, at the age of twenty-two, he left his father’s home and asked to be admitted into the Cistercian Order.
So great was his fervor in consecrating himself to God, that he persuaded many of his kinsmen and acquaintances to follow him in the religious life, which they did, although they had previously opposed his decision. In religion he showed himself a perfect example of every virtue. Being placed at the head of his monastery, he restored discipline and founded many abbeys in which the regular observance was kept up for a long time.
As St. Bernard was much given to the study of Holy Scripture and to meditating on the eternal truths, he acquired such treasure of knowledge, that he merited to be numbered among the most shining lights of the Church. The Roman Pontiffs many times entrusted him with important and delicate missions, such as pacifying cities and repressing vice and disorder, all of which the Saint carried out successfully with the help of Mary.
Illustration from Pictorial Lives of the Saints With Reflections for Every Day in the Year (New York: Benziger Bros., 1922). Text from Alexis M. Lepicier, The Fairest Flower of Paradise (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, Ltd., 1922).