Monsieur Myriel, the Bishop of Digne, is the early focus of Les Misérables’s opening chapters. Bishop Myriel was born to a wealthy aristocratic family, living much of his young life as a charming man about town without serious convictions. By adulthood, however, Myriel becomes enlightened to the plight of his fellow man and dedicates his life to attempting to remedy the injustices of living. This commitment to serving others leads him to religion, priesthood, and, after a meeting with Napoleon purely by chance, his role as a bishop. 

After moving to Digne as the appointed bishop, Myriel establishes a reputation of pure goodness, dependability, and selflessness. His first act, upon seeing the elaborate estate given to him as Bishop of Digne, is to offer all of his land, housing, and wealth to the nearby hospital which lacks proper resources and support. This charitable approach to life garners the Bishop the nickname “Bienvenu,” which translates to “Welcome.”

Myriel’s charity and outlook enable him to influence much of the novel’s plot. Myriel offers shelter to the novel’s protagonist, Jean Valjean, after Valjean escapes prison and is rejected by all other establishments. While in the Bishop’s home, Valjean steals expensive silverware—one of the only extravagances the Bishop has allowed his household in the midst of an otherwise simply life—before fleeing the estate. When police catch Valjean and return him to the Bishop’s home, Myriel claims that he gave Valjean the items, plus a set of silver candlesticks, and that no arrest is necessary. In exchange for saving him from another imprisonment, the Bishop prompts Valjean to become a good man, serving as the catalyst for Valjean’s mission in life hereafter.