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John was born in Florence, Italy, around the year 993. As a member of a noble family, he enjoyed every advantage as a youth.
When his older brother Hugh was murdered, however, he became grief stricken and vowed to avenge him. On Good Friday John saw his brother’s murderer and drew his sword to kill him. The man must have been struck by John’s earnestness or was wracked by guilt and fell to his knees, begging for mercy.
The man’s submission had a profound effect on the bloodthirsty John. He suddenly had had a vision of Christ on the cross and realized that even Christ forgave His enemies. John wisely chose not to take the bloody path he set out for and spared the man’s life.
This epiphany of John led him to go to a monastery and ask to join. He shaved all his hair as a sign of his sincerity and renunciation of frivolousness of his previous life. The abbot was at first reluctant to admit the young man for fear of invoking the wrath of his influential family, but he finally accepted the new member of his order. John lived in the monastery for a few years before moving on to find a more solitary and strict life.
John became disenchanted with his first order and tried others, finding that they too were subject to the same corruption found commonly in the church at the time. For this reason, he undertook founding his own order which followed a stricter version of the Benedictine rule. He chose an area east of Florence called Vallombrosa to build a humble monastery with a few other like-minded men and they devoted themselves to contemplation, prayer and care of the poor and sick.
John became famous for his humility, holiness, and wisdom. He was so humble that he refused any offers of leadership and never received holy orders of any kind. Despite his distain for the limelight, John was often consulted by popes. He died at the age of 80, in 1073, and was canonized in 1193.
The Vallombrosan Benedictines still can be found today in the regions of Tuscany and Lombardy.