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St. Wolfgang

(October 31)

In the year 955, a horde of heathen barbarians, the Magyars from the Ural Mountains on the borders of Europe and Asia, swept over the great plains, entered Germany, and plundering and burning as they went, advanced right up to the gates of Augsburg. They besieged the city, and would have taken it had it not been for the leadership and courage of Ulrich, who inspired the people to hold out until the Emperor Otto, with his army, could come to their aid. At the great battle of the Lechfeld, near Augsburg, the Emperor finally defeated them and drove them back to the part of Europe we now call Hungary. Here they settled, and as long as they remained heathen they were a constant danger to Christian Germany.

Ulrich and the Emperor determined that missionaries must be sent to preach the Gospel to them, and the man they chose for this dangerous task was Wolfgang, a young Benedictine monk who was already famous as a teacher. Ever since he was a small boy Wolfgang had wanted to learn as much as he could. He had visited the great monasteries, which were the schools and universities of those days, to attend lectures by teachers form Italy and France; and now he was grown up what he wanted most of all was himself to teach others. He had not thought of being sent to preach the Gospel simply to warlike barbarians who had never heard of Christ. Nevertheless, as soon as St. Ulrich, who had ordained him a priest, told him what was wanted he did not hesitate, but left the abbey where he was happy teaching and went as a missionary to the Magyars.

He was so successful that within a year or two many other missionaries, including a bishop had to be sent to help him, and he himself was recalled to Germany and made Bishop of Ratisbon. Here, at last, he was able to have a special school, and among his pupils was Henry, the young Duke of Bavaria who was later to become Emperor and ruler of Germany.

One day, when Wolfgang was visiting some of the abbeys under his charge to see that everything was in good order, he came to the edge of a great forest. Suddenly he thought that perhaps it was God's will that he should end his days as a hermit, living alone, saying his prayers, far away from other men. His work seemed done. He had learnt and taught; he had converted the heathen, and seen that all things were properly ordered in his diocese; he had advised the Emperor when, as a Prince of the Empire, it had been his duty to do so. Now he would go into the forest and be alone with God until death. Taking with him only an ax with which he could cut down a tree to make himself a little hut, he went into the deserted forest and found a thicket by a stream, where he knelt down and prayed. Then he threw his ax as far as he could, and where it fell he regarded as the place where God intended him to build his cell.

How long he lived there the story does not tell; but one day a hunter discovered him and, finding out who he was and knowing how worried every one was at his mysterious disappearance, persuaded him to return to Ratisbon and take up his work again. In later days a small town, which was named St. Wolfgang, sprang up where his cell had been, and here people could still, even now see the ax which always appears in paintings of the saint.

Wolfgang died in the year 994 when he was traveling down the Danube to visit some monasteries in the south of Germany, and his body was taken to be buried in the great Abbey of St. Emmerman where much of his work had been done.

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