Saint Romuald was born in Ravenna around 952. The son of Count Sergio degli Onesti, he is the scion of an illustrious local family. St Pier Damiani, who wrote his biography a few years later, tells us how little interest he had in family affairs, and for this he was blamed by his father. In certain attitudes of the saint, the author already grasps the premises of his story. For example, he tells of when, during a hunting trip, the enchanting and uncontaminated places of the forest kindled in him the desire to be able to retire there in solitude. St Pier Damiani then sets out the event that determined the turning point in the saint’s life. Despite himself, in fact, Saint Romualdo witnesses a murder: his father, Count Sergio degli Onesti, kills a relative in a duel to settle a dispute. For the mere fact of not having prevented that tragic encounter, the saint feels deeply guilty, and therefore withdraws in penance to the monastery of Sant’Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna.
During this period of deep prostration, St Romuald often conversed with a monk, who urged him to take the monastic habit. But he did not make up his mind, not even after witnessing the apparition of Saint Apollinaris wandering around the church, as told by Saint Pier Damiani. It was only some time later, while he was in prayer, that his heart was inflamed by divine love, and with impetus he decided to become a monk. He remained in the Classe monastery for three years.
He then spent a period in the Venetian lagoon, and then in Catalonia, before returning to Ravenna. He will leave his hometown again to turn south, to Montecassino and then to Rome. During this period St Romuald gathered a group of disciples around him, including some dignitaries from the imperial court of Otto III. Bruno of Querfurt was to be one of these. Of noble lineage, he was to be one of the best known German missionaries to the Slavic peoples. He became a follower of St Romuald and reached Ravenna together with the saint and other disciples. The group of hermits settled at Pereo, north of the city, for some time. Then St Romuald will leave Italy for Istria, to return a few years later.
According to St Pier Damiani’s Vita Romualdi, this will be the saint’s most prolific phase, the time when his activity as a reformer of hermit life will reach its peak. These are years in which many seek shelter from the noise of the world, retreating to the countryside and especially to the Apennines. For most of these it will be the first experience of an ascetic life, prompted by the fame and authority of the saint. St Romuald will give them a rule.
The foundation of the hermitage of Camaldoli is the last act of the saint’s work. It took place around 1023. St Pier Damiani does not mention it in the Vita Romualdi, as at his time it was still a modest community of little importance. It was only later, in 1080, that Rudolf, the fourth prior of the hermitage, recounted the details of the foundation in his Consuetudines.
St Romuald eventually retired to the hermitage of Valdicastro, in the Marche region, where he would end his life. He was buried there around 1027. His tomb soon became the destination of crowds of believers and pilgrims. His remains remained in Valdicastro until 1480, when they were stolen by a couple of monks from the monastery of Sant’Apollinare in Classe. Stopped near Iesi, the saint’s remains were recovered and transferred to the Camaldolese church of San Biagio in Fabriano, today the Church of Saints Biagio and Romualdo, where they can still be found today.