St. Salvius

Sixth Century

St. Salvius became bishop of Albi, France, in 574. Little has come down to us about his life and work, but there is an interesting account of his “double death.”

Salvius was himself a native of Albi. A bright man of high social station, he studied law and even became a magistrate. By disposition, however, he was a lover of peace and prayer. Therefore he at length gave up his legal career and became a hermit.

Disciples eventually flocked to join him in the religious life. He consented, and they opened a monastery with him as abbot. Nonetheless, Salvius preserved in his solitude to a certain extent by living in a hermitage outside the abbey proper.

One day he developed a raging fever. His brethren found out about it and tried to give him medical attention, but they finally concluded that he was dead. Actually, he recovered, but he always believed thereafter that he had indeed died, for he had seen a vision of heaven.

No more is related of this experience, but it doubtless had a great impact on his spiritual life, which became even more intense. He continued his monastic austerities, and increased his acts of charity. When gifts were given to him, he handed them over at once to the poor. A local noble captured a number of prisoners, Salvius promptly ransomed them all. Later on, Chilperic, King of Soissons, ventured to publish a theological treatise that contained errors, St. Salvius and his friend St. Gregory of Tours worked on Chilperic until they persuaded him of the incorrectness of his views.

In 584, a grave epidemic struck Bishop Salvius’s people. He threw all caution to the winds and visited the sick, day and night, to give them spiritual counsel and comfort. He died later on that same year, either as a victim of the plague itself or his own charity. When he sensed that his “second death” was impending, he ordered his coffin,. Then he changed his clothing and waited for the call. It came on September 10, 584.

The experience of his “first death,” as he fully believed it to be, might have been a mystical grace. More likely it was one of those rather frequent “after-life” experiences that psychologists are seriously studying today. In 1977, for instance, K. Osis and E. Haraldsson published a book, At the Hour of Death, based on the accounts of the “heavenly visions” of hundreds of gravely ill persons, Christian and non-Christian. Almost always their “out-of-body” experiences, whether followed by death or recovery, were serene and attractive. Thus, a Philadelphia woman had found herself in a place of shining beauty. “If heaven is like that,” she said, “then I’m ready.” A simple miner said to his nurse, “I see God.” At first he was frightened. Then he became calm and radiant. He said God had told him it was not yet his time to go.

Psychologists do not permit themselves to judge these experiences theologically, but they admit that the visions comfort and console the recipient. St. Salvius certainly profited by his.

--Father Robert F. McNamara