Happy Feast of St. Henry, patron saint of Benedictine Oblates!
Saint Henry II was born in 973 in the village of Hildesheim, Bavaria, German. (Note: Hildesheim is the same hometown as Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of Sant’ Anselmo formerly of Christ the King Priory. They also attended the same school!) Henry served as the Duke of Bavaria (995) and as the Holy Roman Emperor (972-1024), crowned by Pope Benedict VIII. As emperor, Henry, who had considered the priesthood, was devoutly religious. He shared his faith by rebuilding the many churches that had been destroyed, building monasteries, and supporting them with both money and land.
According to the Life of Saint Benedict, as told by Saint Gregory the Great, Oblates were received by Saint Benedict in Subiaco even before the monastery at Monte Cassino was founded. A monk during the 11th century wrote:
“There are a great many of the faithful, both poor and rich, who request confraternity with us. We give unto all of them participation in whatever good is done in our monastery, be it by prayer or almsgiving. Let us make special prayer for them, both while they live and after their death.”
According to historians, many people committed themselves to God and to follow the Rule of St. Benedict by uniting themselves to famous monasteries such as Cluny, Hirschau, Saint Blase, and others. St. Henry II was one such individual. Tradition states that Henry wanted to be a Benedictine and lived as an Oblate. Once when he was suffering from a severe illness in the monastery of Monte Cassino, St. Benedict cured him by a wonderful miracle (depicted on the side of his tomb, below.)
I was fortunate on my recent pilgrimage Germany to visit the first Cathedral of Bamberg, founded by Saint Henry in 1002. The Bamberg Cathedral (German: Bamberger Dom) was constructed by King (and later Emperor) Henry II (Henrich ) and consecrated on his 39th birthday, May 6, 1012. The Cathedral and town of Bamberg, Germany were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
The Cathedral holds the double tomb of Henry and his wife, Cunigunde, created by Tilman Riemenschneider in 1513. The slab cover portrays the imperial couple and the side panels depict scenes from their lives including Henry’s cure from kidney stones (pictured above), the weighing of his soul after his death, and Cunigunde at Henry’s side at his death.
Here Lie Two People: a poem about Saints Henry and Cunigunde
Here rest the benefactors,
Here they lie close together, as saints,
Here is the foundation of the diocese of Bamberg.
Their names are inscribed
In our history,
Their work is
Still felt today.
They are ahead of us,
We follow in their footsteps.
They have arrived,
We are still traveling.
The Cathedral also includes the Chapel of the Heads, dedicated in 1997, located beneath the northern spire of the west choir. The heads of Saints Henry and Cunigunde lie resting in a glass shrine.
St. Henry was more celebrated for his holiness and generosity than for his military and political career. Henry died in 1024 and his body was buried in the church of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul at Bamberg (pictured throughout). He was canonized in 1146 by Pope Eugene III. Henry showed such great love and veneration for the Order that he has been chosen the special patron of the Oblates.
Benedictine Oblates continue to commit themselves to seeking God by following the Rule of St. Benedict as their daily life permits. This includes making promises of stability, obedience, and the conversion of life. Oblates “connect to God all their encounters, their words and deeds, all events of their lives; thereby they want to honor Him, fulfill His will, and dedicate their whole lives to Him (Beil).”
St. John’s Abbey
Church of St. Henry, Excerpted from The Liturgical Year, Abbot Gueranger O.S.B.
Catholic News Agency
Study Guide for the Rule of St. Benedict, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB, Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale, CO, 2014.
Bamberger Dom Virtual tours and information
Bamberg Cathedral—Treasure of faith, A Meditative and Art-Historical Guide, Archdiocese of Bamberg