St Alice oil on Prayer Cloth
The St Alice oil on prayer cloth is dedicated to the 13th century Cistercian nun
Alice of Schaerbeek, was a Cistercian laysister who is venerated as the patron saint of the blind and paralyzed. Her feast day is June 15.
Oil dedicated to St Alice was born at Schaerbeek, near Brussels. A frail child, at the age of seven, she was sent to be boarded and educated at the Cistercian La Cambray Abbey. There she remained for the rest of her life.
Alice was a very pretty girl. Also, she showed a high intelligence and a great love for God. She became a laysister at the abbey. However, at some 20 years of age (c. 1240), she contracted leprosy. She had to be isolated in a small hut. The disease caused her intense suffering. She offered it up for the salvation of sinners and the souls in purgatory.
Eventually she became paralyzed and afflicted with blindness. Her greatest consolation came from reception of the Holy Eucharist. She was not allowed to drink from the chalice because of the presumed danger of contamination. However, it is said that the Lord appeared to her with assurance that He was in both the consecrated bread and the wine. She died in 1250, at the age of 30.
The little we know about Alice’s life comes from a Latin biography, composed c. 1260-1275. Authorship of the work is unknown. Scholars have typically believed that the author was a chaplain at La Cambray Abbey. However, Martinus Cawley suggests that Arnulf II of Ghistelles, abbot of Villers Abbey, is its likely author. Alice’s biography was also translated into Middle Dutch, as witnessed by one extant manuscript.
Response to Alice’s life
Alice’s biography has been upheld as a model of Cistercian spirituality. Writing in 1954, Trappist monk Thomas Merton, called the text “a practical and concise treatise of Cistercian asceticism. Nevertheless, Alice of Schaerbeek was not particularly well known. Chyrsogone Waddell, reflecting on his entry into the Cistercian life in the 1950s, remarked on her obscurity, with Alice being mostly unknown even in devout Cistercian communities of the time.
In recent years, Alice has become more well known in medieval scholarship as a member of the so-called “Holy Women of Liege”. This situates Alice, and her spirituality, in terms of the beguine movement. This was an innovation in medieval women’s piety that saw women taking up an active religious life outside of monastic enclosure.
Tradition of oils
The tradition of anointing with sacred oil is very old indeed. It is used in sacraments and also as a devotional practice. The sick person applies the oil and blesses themselves. As they do so, they are asked to pray to whomever the oil is dedicated to. The Irish blessings oils do not have miraculous power. It is God who has the power to heal. Applying the oil while praying are important ways for us to express our faith in God’s power. Moreover, by doing so we place our trust in God.