The First of March is a special day for many reasons.
Traditionally it is the first day of Spring and, I am pleased to say, the freezing cold weather does indeed appear to be on the wain. This past week has seen the snowdrops out in force:
In Wales, the First day of March is the Feast Day of Dewi Sant, known in English as Saint David. Saint David is the Patron Saint of Wales.
Meanwhile. . .
. . . Here in Germany, the First of March is the feast day of another Saint: St Suitbertus, sometimes called Swidbert, or Swithbert, or even Switbert. In this post I am going to stick with the latinized version: Suitbertus.
Suitbertus is one of the Patron Saints of Germany (there are a few). Interestingly he, like me, was born in England, and moved to Germany for work; but while my work is in the field of education, Suitbertus' work was all about the care of souls because he was an early missionary.
They say that he came from an aristocratic family in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria and pious legend tells us that prior to his birth, a star let his parents know that their child was destined to be a great missionary. This is why he is usually portrayed with a star in his hand:
This image comes from the following website: http://www.solingeninternet.de/sihgw/images/missionardesbergischen_stsuitbert.jpg.
It was accessed on 1 March 2013
Born in about 650, Suitbertus was a man of action. A Benedictine monk; he trained as a priest and spent some time studying in Ireland after which he returned to England; ready, willing, and able, to be a missionary to Northern Europe. This work is sometimes known as the 'German mission'.
The mastermind behind the German mission was a chap named Egbert of Ripon. He was an Anglo-Saxon priest based in Ireland where Suitbertus had studied and who was busy organising a group of missionaries to head deep into non-Christian territory. Suitbertus was eager to take part and returning to England he met up with another chap named Willibrord.
Willibrod was in charge of the Mission. He and his companions however were not your ordinary everyday, prayerful choir-monks. They were aristocratic, highly educated, devil-may-care individuals ready for adventure and who were more than equal to the task at hand. They could speak with any local ruler as with an equal, and arriving in Frisia they set to work. They knew it was dangerous and that in all likelihood a horrible death could be their lot but still they persevered.
Frisia was the coastal region of what is now Germany and the Netherlands. The people there were considered to be quite ferocious and I am surprised that Willibrord and his group made any headway at all. An earlier mission led by St. Wigbert had failed, utterly destroyed by the fearful Frisian leader, Ratbod.
Ratbod was not a man to brook any opposition and he looked upon Christianity with some suspicion because his enemies, the West Franks, were themselves Christians. He decided that he was having none of it and swept down, massacred the Frisian converts and drove the missionaries away. Willibrord however had an ally in his work because Pepin of Heristal the Frankish leader, had recently conquered the southern part of Frisia from Ratbod and in the area safe under Pepin's rule the missionaries (including Suitbertus) were able to flourish, meeting with great success.
But Suitbertus wanted to do more. His eye was fixed firmly on the east.
With Willibrord's blessing he left briefly for England, and was consecrated Bishop. He then returned, and having spent some time with his old friends, headed east with a small group of followers. He had a fair amount of success until invading Saxons undid it all. The people he worked with were Eastern Franks. They were no match for the Saxon hordes who suddenly swept down upon them. Most of the converts were massacred and Suidebertus himself taken prisoner. Undergoing long periods of torture meant to break his spirit, he eventually managed to escape and make his way back to the land of the West Franks. His health broken by his incarceration and periods of intense physical abuse, he was no longer able to be a part of the missions and Pepin gave him an island on the Rhine, well within Frankish territory, where he could live in peace. The island was originally known as the Rhinhusen, then Suitbertuswerth, and eventually Kaiserswerth.
Suitbertus died 1 March 713on his island, aged about sixty-three.
By 804 he had been canonised by the Church and his remains moved to a shrine in the monastery church.
That church was burnt down some time later while Ratbod was conquering Frankish territory. It was rebuilt after he had been soundly beaten, then destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed, rebuilt, remodelled, renovated, etc etc until we have the church as it stands today:
Before WWII the Basilica of Kaiserswerth looked like this:
In 1945 it looked like this:
Hit by a bomb during the closing stages of the war it was the only significant damage suffered by the village. The bombing left the interior looking like this:
Today the Basilica looks like this:
Times change everything.
St Suidbertus no longer resides within his golden shrine. That sits on the High Altar, behind bullet-proof, shatter-proof glass so that it cannot be stolen.
The Saint himself resides in here:
Down in the crypt, but following tradition, every so many years his sacred relics are brought out, placed back in his shrine, and paraded around the village to ensure good luck and his blessings:
So why am I telling you about all this?
Well, this week marks the 1,300th anniversary of St Suidbertus' death; his promotion to Heaven. And despite the fact that we are officially 'enjoying our greyest ever winter on record, Kaiserswerth is in a festive mood:
There was a pontifical Mass today within the Basilica, attended by the Archbishop of Koln, and various other Church and Political Dignitaries. Everybody wanted a little blessing from our Saint.
So, in honour of St Suitbertus, AGA and I went for a short Suitbertus inspired stroll around the village.
Snowdrops and Robins led the way, past the old house on the corner of our avenue which marks one of the old towers when we had a protective wall around us; and then down the alleyway leading to An St. Swidbert. This road is the way 'in' to Kaiserswerth and is guarded by a statue of the good man himself:
His star sits snuggly within his crosier.
a few houses down and there is the rather exclusive Suitbertus archdiocesan Gymnasium (Senior School)the old Capuchin Monastery which is now part of the school. Its chapel is now the school's chapel and as the door was open, we popped inside for a look:
And there, on the side wall is a nice portrait of St Suitbertus and his star:
Continuing our 'rounds' we stopped to see how high the river was:
Then we moved on to the Basilica where Holy Mass had just finished. We stopped at the main door which isn't often used these days and has been partially blocked:
Here is the interior showing the main altar:
It was a lot more ornate prior to the bombing but I like the airiness and the simplicity of it all as it now is. The banner of St Suitbertus is on display and numerous votive candles have been lit today in his honour.
I hope you liked this little 'exposé' on our local Saint.
We ended our St Suidbertus day with a slice of newly made pear tart:
Well, that's all for this post. Until next time . . .