Born in Florence, Italy, around the year 993, John was born into a noble family, and led a predictably frivolous life as a youth, being concerned only with the pursuit of vain amusements and romantic intrigues.
However, when he was still a young man, his elder brother Hugh was murdered, and John was so overtaken with grief that he vowed to avenge him. His only desire was to find the murderer and kill him.
One day – it was Good Friday – as he was riding through the town, John spotted his brother’s murderer and drew his sword to kill him. The man fell to his knees and begged for mercy. At this instant John had a vision of Christ on the Cross, and powerfully moved by the example of the love of Christ who forgave His enemies, and he did the same.
After this encounter, he went straight to a monastery and begged to join. As a sign of his earnest desire, he shaved off all his hair. The abbot, who had been reluctant to admit John because he feared the displeasure of his influential father, agreed and John lived in the monastery for a few years before moving on to find a more solitary and strict life.
Discovering that many of the orders that he had looked into joining were tainted with the corruption that was rampant in the Church at the time, he decided that God was calling him to found something new.
On a plot of land east of Florence called Vallombrosa, together with men who were equally committed to a more austere and stricter following of the Rule of St. Benedict, he founded a humble monastery devoted to contemplation and prayer and care of the poor and sick.
Renowned for his humility, holiness of life, and his wisdom – he refused any office of privilege, and declined to receive holy orders of any kind – he was often consulted by popes.
John died at the age of 80, in 1073, and was canonized in 1193.