Monastic Saints – Saint Thorfinn of Hamar – 8 January
[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.]
[Featured Image: Ruins of Hamar Cathedral.]
[The following account is adapted from this source.]
Saint Thorfinn of Hamar (died 1285) was a Norwegian monk, priest, and Bishop of Hamar, who lived a quiet and dedicated life to the Lord. It was not until [fifty years after] the death of this holy man … that his sanctity was first recognized. During construction and renovation of the church in which he was buried at Ter Doest, Belgium, it became clear that the Lord held Saint Thorfinn in high esteem—his body exuded the scent of holiness.
The abbot felt drawn to discover more about Saint Thorfinn, of which there was little recorded in the monastery’s records. Speaking with the oldest remaining monk, Father Walter de Muda, the abbot learned that Thorfinn had been an exceptionally devoted brother—good, patient, generous, and firm in his confrontation of evil. In fact, Father Walter had written a poem about St. Thorfinn—written on fragile parchment—which had been placed in the tomb with Thorfinn.
The abbot searched for the poem, finding it in pristine condition in the tomb, not having suffered the ravages of time. Taking this as a sign that the Lord wished Thorfinn to be remembered and honored, Father Walter was asked to record all he could remember about the holy man who had lived his life quietly. The monks—and soon others who heard of this discovery—began praying at Thorfinn’s tomb, and numerous miracles began occurring at his intercession!
The details that Father Walter remembered were few, but comprise what we know about Saint Thorfinn today. Thorfinn had been born in Norway, and had possibly become a Cistercian monk at the abbey of Taurtra. Ordained a priest, records indicate that he served in the cathedral in that city for some time. During this time, Thorfinn was confronted with the choice that many had to make—allegiance to the king of Norway (King Eric) or to the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. Years before, Thorfinn had been witness to the important Norwegian Agreement of Tonsberg, in which King Magnus VI freed the Church from governmental control. However, upon ascending to the throne, King Eric of Norway rescinded the agreement, and exiled those who supported it. Thorfinn, now Bishop of Hamar, was among those who remained loyal to the Church, rather than the king.
Exiled, Saint Thorfinn traveled to Belgium, surviving a difficult journey and shipwreck. There, he went to live at the Cistercian abbey of Ter Doest in Flanders.
[Second Image: Ter Doest Abbey in modern-day Belgium, Built in St. Thorfinn’s Day]
While at the abbey, he impressed the monks with his inner fortitude and good character. Prior to his death, he divided his possessions among charitable groups. Saint Thorfinn died as quietly as he had lived, going in peace to rest with the Lord.
In our world today, we focus our attention on accomplishments and status. [While Thorfinn] did not attract much attention on earth, he did in Heaven, earning him the title of saint.