St. Benezet, or Little Bennet, Patron of AvignonHE kept his mother’s sheep in the country, being devoted to the practices of piety beyond his age; when, moved by charity to save the lives of many poor persons, who were frequently drowned in passing the Rhone, and being inspired by God, he undertook to build a bridge over that rapid river at Avignon. He obtained the approbation of the bishop, proved his mission by miracles, and began the work in 1177, which he directed during seven years. He died when the difficulty of the undertaking was over, in 1184. This is attested by public monuments drawn up at that time, and still preserved at Avignon, where the story is in everybody’s mouth.
His body was buried upon the bridge itself, which was not completely finished till four years after his decease, the structure whereof was attended with miracles, from the first laying the foundations till it was completed in 1188. Other miracles, wrought after this at his tomb, induced the city to build a chapel upon the bridge, in which his body lay near five hundred years: but, in 1669, a great part of the bridge falling down, through the impetuosity of the waters, the coffin was taken up, and being opened, in 1670, in presence of the grand vicar, during the vacancy of the archiepiscopal see, it was found entire, without the least sign of corruption; even the bowels were perfectly sound, and the colour of the eyes lively and sprightly, though, through the dampness of the situation, the iron bars about it were much damaged with rust. The body was found in the same condition by the archbishop of Avignon, in 1674, when, accompanied by the bishop of Orange, and a great concourse of nobility, he performed the translation of it, with great pomp, into the church of the Celestines, (a house of royal foundation,) who had obtained of Lewis XIV. the honour of being intrusted with the custody of his relics, till such time as the bridge and chapel should be rebuilt. See the description of this pompous translation in the Bollandists, April, t. 2, p. 958, 959; and Papebroke’s remarks on his life, p. 255. 1
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