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Bishop Bienvenu de Miollis in an undated painting (OSV News/Public Domain)

The real bishop behind Victor Hugo’s famous Les Misérables character may be on the path to sainthood, with France’s bishops voting to open the diocesan process for his beatification. Source: OSV News.

The French bishops, gathered in Lourdes earlier this month for their plenary assembly, voted in favour of opening the diocesan process for his beatification.

Bishop Bienvenu de Miollis (1753-1843) was the Bishop of Digne from 1805 to 1838 and an inspiration for Victor Hugo’s character Bishop Myriel in the novel Les Misérables, published in 1862.

The fictional Bishop Myriel took in the main character, Jean Valjean, who had just been released from a penal colony. The next day, Valjean was recaptured by the police for stealing Bishop Myriel’s silverware. But the prelate pretended it was a gift, and in doing so, he saved Valjean from re-arrest. This gesture of mercy marked the beginning of a profound transformation of Valjean, which continued throughout the book. 

“Many elements of the novel are based on real events,” Digne Bishop Emmanuel Gobilliard says. “The true story of Msgr. Miollis is quite similar to what Victor Hugo recounted.”

Ordained a priest in 1777, Bishop Miollis was bishop of Digne for 33 years, in the troubled times that followed the French Revolution and in the era of Emperor Napoleon. He was particularly concerned about catechising in rural areas and with educating the poorest.

“He was poor, wrote nothing, had no mystical experience, but he spent his time on the road, visiting the parishes of his diocese,” Bishop Gobilliard said. “The faithful of the diocese said he was a saint already at that time.”

Renowned for his kindness, Bishop de Miollis was very attentive to the poor and beggars, whom he gathered together at the Hospice of Charity, and lived very modestly himself. In 1806, Bishop de Miollis took in a freed convict, of Pierre Maurin, whom no one wanted to shelter, and looked for ways to help him regain his dignity — a story that inspired the author of Les Misérables.


The real bishop behind Les Misérables is on the path to sainthood (By Caroline de Sury, OSV News)