It was at the hermitage (eremo) in Rosia that was discovered the "hidden talent" of Augustine of Tarano. From there he eventually went on to become an Augustinian Prior General and to be proposed for declaration as a saint. There are sufficient written records to allow what happened to be taken as fact, and not just as legend.
He was given the birth name of Matthew. He was probably born at Tarano (near Rieti and not far north of Rome, Italy), although one document about him during his life suggested he was born in Taormina, Sicily. He studied civil and church law at the University of Bologna, where he then became a professor of law, and then the supreme judge of the court of King Manfred of Sicily, and papal penitentiary. When the king was killed in the Battle of Benevento in 1266, Matthew was wounded, and left for dead on the battlefield.
He made a vow that if he recovered he would begin a new life. He apparently then joined the Order of Saint Augustine under the name of Agostino Novello ("Augustine the new"). Not revealing all of his educational background, he wish to serve within the Order of Saint Augustine as a lay brother involved him in manual work. Within the Order he moved from Sicily to the Augustinian hermitage (eremo) of Santa Lucia at Rosia in the Augustinian Province of Siena. (Rosia photo gallery click here.)While stationed at Rosia, the community was having a conflict with the Bishop of Siena about jurisdiction over some property. Augustine wrote the Augustinian version of the case, and one of the lawyers of the bishop requested to meet the person who had written it. It so happened that this lawyer had studied with Augustine at Bolonga and worked with him the service of the king in Sicily.
The man immediately recognised his former associate. Although Augustine asked him not to do so, the secretary told everyone about his "find." The Prior General of the day, Clement of Osimo O.S.A., heard of this. He commanded Augustine to become a priest, and brought him to Rome to work on the Augustinian Constitutions. He then introduced him to Pope Nicholas IV (a Franciscan who was Pope from 1288 – 1292). The Pope put him to work for twelve years in the Vatican Curia.
The former service of Augustine in Sicily was of value, for the Pope sought a settlement of the issue of civil authority in Sicily. In May 1289 the Pope crowned King Charles II of Naples and Sicily. Augustine was then elected Augustinian Prior General in 1298. Despite his attempt to refuse this high office, he was ordered by the Pope to accept it. He resigned as soon as he could at the following General Chapter in 1300. He yearned for the life of peaceful prayer that he had earlier obtained at the Augustinian eremo at Rosia. This time he then selected to the hermitage of San Leonardo al Lago near Lecceto and lived there for the last ten years of his life. There he ministered to the people of the surrounding villages as well as in nearby Siena. In Siena he played an important role in the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, which was located opposite the cathedral (duomo). It began as a hospice for pilgrims in the tenth century, and served as a hospital until very recent times. It is now slowly being made into a museum.
Augustine of Tarano also composed a set of guidelines for the hospital community. He died on 19th May in 1309 or 1310. Because his reputation for prayer, charity and miracles was know far and wide, the Bishop of Siena insisted that his body be placed in a casket and kept in the Augustinian church in Siena, rather than buried there or at San Leonardo al Lago. His casket and related works of art remained in the Church of Saint Augustine in Siena for many centuries. The casket containing the body of Augustine of Tarano was later taken to Sicily, where he had worked for the king before becoming a member of the Order of Saint Augustine. His tomb is now located at Termini Imerese in Sicily. Along with that of Clement of Osimo, the Prior General who had called him out from his anonymity at Rosia, his cultus (official process to sainthood) was declared in 1761.
Augustine of Tarano (Agostino Novello) O.S.A. is still considered a "local saint" in the Siena area. His story is an example of that form of popular religious spirit that grew up in the towns of Tuscany in the late 13th and the early 14th centuries. The people sometimes found the official saints of the church too remote from their life experience in the Middle Ages. These saints did not entirely satisfy the religious fervour that developed in those years. The people felt that they needed more tangible examples of holiness, more closely connected to daily reality, rather like St Francis of Assisi had been.
As a result, some of the better known citizens, whose charitable and religious deeds were known to all (and in many cases miracles were attributed to them) were honoured as if they were saints. Not officially canonized, these were "popular saints" rather than "official saints." It was also a matter of civic pride that a city or town have its "own" saints and devotional practices to saints of the area. Saints were not regarded as always being the product and the spiritual capital of other cities and villages. After his death in 1309, the worship of this saintly man spread so quickly that the local members of the Order of Saint Augustine tried to have him nominated as the patron saint of Siena. This did not in fact happen. Even so, he was certainly the object of great veneration. Evidence of this is the impressive burial monument that was built for him.
In the Church of Saint Augustine in Siena there was a wooden sarcophagus in which the Augustine of Tarano was buried, and an altar consecrated to him. A painted altarpiece (backdrop) was commissioned by the best painter available, Simóne Martini (1280/1285 – 1344). Appropriate to its environment, the altarpiece is a colourful and simple form of devotional painting. It is presumed that the altarpiece was in place for the celebrations in honour of the Augustine of Tarano O.S.A. held there in 1324. The Commune of Siena allotted a huge sum of money to the celebrations.
Image (above): The altarpiece of Augustine of Tarano (Agostino Novello) O.S.A. is a colourful and simple form of devotional painting. In the picture at the top of the left-hand panel (picture 1), a child is attacked by a wolf. In the picture at the bottom of the left-hand panel (picture 2), a child falls off a balcony. This gives a view of the narrow streets of Siena. In the picture at the top of the right-hand panel (picture 3), a knight has fallen down a ravine. This is a depiction of the countryside immediately outside Siena, with the towers of faraway castles standing out amidst the bare hills. In the picture at the bottom of the right-hand panel (picture 4), a child falls out of a cradle. This incident is also known as the Paganelli Miracle.The altarpiece was originally part of Augustine's monument in the Church of Saint Augustine in Siena, but is now in the Pinacoteca (public gallery of art) in Siena. It is the work of Simóne Martini, most probably painted in 1324. To modern observers, the iconography in the painting is clear but not necessarily easily understood.
The central panel of the painting (above) encloses the figure of Augustine of Tarano. He is shown with the halo of a saint even though he was not officially canonized by the Church. His holiness is further indicated by the artistic device of showing an angel near his right ear. (There is no reference in early biographies of any tradition of angels conversing with him.) The face of Augustine is that of a young man. The red book in his hand is possibly the historic Constitutions that he composed for the Order of Saint Augustine.
The wooded landscape, the old hermits in the round medallions and the conversation with the angel are all references to the life of prayer that he led in the hermitage (eremo) of San Leonardo al Lago. In contrast, the miracles on both side panels are shown taking place in a very realistically painted city and countryside of Siena. This is a reminder of the pastoral duties that Augustine of Tarano performed in that city. The miraculous powers of the Blessed Agostino are fully displayed in the scenes depicted at the sides of the central area. The victims of the terrible accidents are for the most part children. The scenes are organized. Each of them has two sections: firstly the accident, and secondly the miracle. This is then followed by a thanksgiving prayer. The architectural settings of the scenes depict an overall view of Siena.
Blessed Augustine. This is the same Augustine of Tarano mentioned above. From the Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01224c.htm AN4378