John Gualbert was born in 985 A.D. in Florence, Italy, the son of Florentine nobility. Though he was raised in piety John had no sooner entered adult life than he grew attached to worldly pleasures. After the murder of his brother, Hugh, John, a soldier, hunted down the murderer with the intent to kill him. When, on Good Friday, John encountered his adversary, he had a vision of Christ on the Cross which he taook as a sign to pardon the man and return to Christianity. In answer to the man's cries for mercy John replied "I cannot refuse what you ask in Christ's name. I grant you not only your life, but my friendship. Pray that God may forgive me my sin!"
John then went in haste to a nearby abbatial church where he fervently prayed for Our Lord to forgive his sins. At this, the figure of Our Lord on the crucifix bowed its head toward John as if to signify that his request was granted.
Following this experience John, against the wishes of his family, joined the Benedictine order at San Miniato del Monte monastery. When the abbot of this monastery passed away the monks implored John to replace him but John fled rather than accept this position. He settled at the monastery of Vallombrosa which he had founded and built by hand. He also founded, and helped to build, abbeys at San Salvi, Moscetta, Rozzuolo, Monte Salario, and Passignano.
Many miraculous accounts surround St. John Gualbert's life. In one instance, his prayers are said to have multiplied the provisions of the monks during a time of famine so that they had enough grain to give to all the poor who came to them.
John was away when his enemies plundered the abbey of San Salvi and beat the monks. Upon his return, John said "Now you are true monks. Oh how I envy your lot!"
John died at Passignano, Italy of natural causes in 1073. He was canonized in 1193 by Pope Celestine III. He is the patron saint of: forest workers; foresters; park services; and parks.