Gregory was the brilliant and energetic son of a wealthy
Roman patrician. At 33 he was already mayor of Rome, but soon gave up all worldly ambition and joined the Benedictines whom the invading Lombards had driven from Monte Cassino to Rome. From 579 to 586 he acted as Papal legate in Constantinople, and upon his return was elected Abbot of his monastery on the Coelian Hill. Three years later there occurred a disastrous inundation that destroyed the Papal granaries, caused a dreadful pestilence, and decimated the population. It even carried off the Pope; and a very reluctant Gregory, who had been the Pope’s chief adviser for some years, was unanimously elected to succeed him in 590—the first case of a monk becoming Pope.
One of Pope Gregory’s first acts was to call the Roman people to converge in seven great penitential processions upon the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, to implore God’s pardon and the cessation of the plague. Legend has it that the Archangel Michael then appeared above Hadrian’s tomb and sheathed his sword, thus indicating the end of the dreaded disease.
Gregory ruled for only 14 years, but his work was of such far-reaching consequence that he is considered the most notable Pope of the first 1000 years. Living with monastic frugality, he continued to wear his coarse monk’s habit on all but formal occasions. He combated simony, incontinence, heresy, and injustice, and promoted a wider interest in the Church’s liturgy and sacred music (“Gregorian Chant”).
Gregory is venerated as the patron of singers, scholars, and teachers.
Reflection: “No sacrifice can be more acceptable to God than labor with genuine zeal for the saving of souls” (St Gregory).