The priest who saw no need for a bed

St Joseph Oriol (March 23) sought obscurity and self-abnegation but ended up being celebrated throughout Barcelona

A statue of St Joseph, who lived on bread, water and the odd sardine

Joseph Oriol (1650-1712) was a priest in Barcelona who sought nothing for himself save obscurity, self-abnegation and self-sacrifice. In consequence he became celebrated throughout the city.

Joseph was born into a poor family of silk weavers in Barcelona. His father died when he was still an infant. He was fortunate, though, to acquire a loving stepfather, a shoemaker who ensured that the boy was well educated in the faith.

Joseph became a choirboy in the local church, where the clergy, observing that he spent hours in prayer, marked him down as a potential priest. They taught him to read and write, and financed further studies at the University of Barcelona.

After his ordination, Joseph became a tutor in order to support his mother, who had once more been widowed. The rich family for whom he worked were soon praising him as a saint. Joseph, however, knew that he was far from perfection. One day in 1677, as he was settling down to a fine dinner, he experienced a paralysis in the arm, which he interpreted as a divine warning.

Thenceforward he confined himself to bread and water, with the occasional sardine on feast days. And his clothes became so tatty that he was laughed at in the streets.

After his mother died in 1686 Joseph walked to Rome, where Pope Innocent XI appointed him to a benefice in Barcelona.

On his return he took up the cure, living in a room furnished only with a crucifix, a table, a bench and a few books. A bed was deemed superfluous as he slept only two or three hours a night.

To his parishioners Joseph radiated both gravity and happiness. He excelled as a spiritual director, proving particularly successful with children and soldiers – two very distinct categories who equally appreciated his courtesy and gentleness.

Every spare moment was spent in the confessional, where Joseph attracted some criticism for the severity of the penances which he prescribed. Indeed, his detractors reported him to the bishop, who forbade him to hear confessions.

Shortly afterwards, however, the prelate had the grace to die, so that Joseph returned to his duty. As the years passed, he won the deepest respect throughout Barcelona.

In 1698, seized with the dream of martyrdom, Joseph again set out for Rome, in the hope of being sent out on a foreign mission. He fell ill, however, at Marseille, where the Virgin Mary instructed him to return to Barcelona.

The townsfolk greeted his return with joy, for by this time he had gained a powerful reputation as a prophet and miracle worker. After he died, on March 23 1705, immense crowds turned out to pay him tribute.

Joseph Oriol was canonised in 1909.

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