Bernardo Tolomei was born in Siena, Italy in 1272, as “Giovanni,” but later used the name Bernardo out of veneration for Saint Bernardo of Clairvaux, an 11th century French Cistercian abbot. He was knighted in 1291 and was a member of the Confraternity of the Disciplinati di Santa Maria della Notte that was dedicated to aiding the sick at a local hospital.
On April 1, 1319, Tolomei, along with two of his friends from the same Confraternity, established the Congregation of the Blessed Virgin of Monte Oliveto. For three election terms he declined requests to be the monastery’s abbot, but when his refusals were no longer accepted by his Olivetan brothers, he became the fourth abbot to the monastery and was re-elected to the position 27 consecutive years.
In 1348, Tolomei left Monte Oliveto for the monastery of San Benedetto a Porta Tufi in Siena to administer aid to plague victims in the city. On August 20, he and 82 of his fellow Olivetan monks, fell victim to the plague. They were buried in a mass grave that has never been found.
His feast day is celebrated on August 20.
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