Monastic Saints – Saint Adelaide – 16 December

Monastic Saints – Saint Adelaide – 16 December

[This is a series on saints from the Benedictine family (Benedictines, Cistercians—“the Benedictine order and its branches,” to attempt a translation of Peter Lechner’s “Benedictiner-Ordens und seiner Verzweigungen” in the subtitle of his martyrology).  There used to be a commemoration of all saints of the Benedictine family on 13 November.  But even in the days when the liturgical calendar was much more heavily festooned with saints’ feastdays, I suspect there were many monastic saints who had been lost to memory.  This series tries to introduce or re-introduce us to at least a few in this monastic cloud of witnesses.]

[Image: St. Adelaide – stained-glass window at Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church, Hamburg, New York.  Photo by Rose Santuci-Sofranko .]

[The following account is adapted primarily from this source.  St. Adelaide deserves mention among monastic saints because she put her wealth and influence to work founding monasteries, one of which, Selz Abbey, provided her a place of prayer in her final days.  One has to get through swashbuckling in her life story before the dust settles enough to focus on St. Adelaide the supporter of monasticism in tenth-century Europe.  But from the too-brief summaries I have found of her complex life, it seems Adelaide lived as what we would now call a Benedictine oblate, even when—especially when—she had to maneuver in and around court intrigues and escape from imprisonment.]

Daughter of Rudolph II, King of Burgundy, St. Adelaide was born in 931 and at age 15 married Lothaire II, King of Italy. Later their daughter became Queen of France.  At 18, Adelaide became a widow when Lothaire was likely poisoned by his political competitor Berengarius of Ivrea. The latter soon proclaimed himself King of Italy and proposed to unite Adelaide in marriage with his son. The widow refused and Berengarius confiscated her estates and held her prisoner in near-solitary confinement in the Castle of Garda, on the lake of that name.

She was rescued, as noted in T. J. Campbell’s entry in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, “by a priest named Martin, who dug a subterraneous passage, by which she escaped, and remained concealed in the woods, her rescuer supporting her, meantime, by the fish he caught in the lake. Soon, however, the Duke of Canossa, Alberto Uzzo, who had been advised of the rescue, arrived and carried her off to his castle. While this was going on the Italian nobles, weary of Berengarius, had invited Otho [Otto I] to invade Italy.  He met with little resistance, and betook himself to Canossa where he met Adelaide, and married her on Christmas day, 951, at Pavia.  This marriage gave Otho no new rights over Italy, but the enthusiasm of the people for Adelaide, whose career had been so romantic, appealed to them and made Otho’s work of subjugating the peninsula easy.”

One year later, in 952, Otto I was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome. The eldest son of this marriage, Otto II, succeeded his father as Emperor. At first, influenced by his jealous wife Theophano, Otto II revolted against his mother. Fearing for her life, she fled to Burgundy. There she came to know St. Odilon of Cluny and became famous for her charities to many French monasteries.

Later, after her son repented, she returned to Germany where she continued her saintly life. She sent a splendid imperial mantle worn by her son to be placed in the grave of St. Martin. She wrote these instructions to the one charged with the mission:

“When you will reach the tomb of the glorious St. Martin, say these words: ‘Bishop of God, receive these humble gifts from Adelaide, servant of the servants of God, sinner by nature and Empress by the grace of God. Receive this mantle of Otto, her eldest son. You, who had the glory to cover Our Lord with your mantle in the person of a poor man, pray for him.’”

After Theophano died, Adelaide became the regent of her grandson, Otto III. She used her position to help the poor, evangelize, and build and restore monasteries and churches. When she felt her end was near, she asked to be taken to Selz Abbey in Alsace, one of the monasteries she had established through her patronage. She was laid to rest next to the tomb of Otto the Great, her second husband.  She was canonized by Pope Urban II in 1097.

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