St. Henry and St. Cunegund

(St. Henry's day: July 15; St. Cunegund's day: March 3)

Henry the young Duke of Bavaria who had been taught by St Wolfgang, became ruler of Germany in the year 1002, when he was thirty years old. He married the beautiful daughter of the Count o Luxembourg, Cunegund, and together husband and wife determined to give an example of Christian rulers of a Christian country.

It was now 250 years since St Boniface had died, and, though there were still some heathens against whom Henry had to fight, his main work was to carry on the pattern which had been set by Boniface and Charles Martel and continued by Ulrich, Wolfgang, and other great bishops working with Otto the Great. The churchmen and the kings had helped each other to make a Christian Church in a Christian State. Now Henry, himself was the head of the State, but brought up by St. Wolfgang, was to carry on the work of them all and to be the first of the Emperor-Saints.

There were times, however, when he became very tired of ruling and fighting, and wished that he could give it all up and become a simple monk. In every town he entered on all his journeys he we would first go to visit a Chapel dedicated to Our Lady. There he would say his prayers because he had a very special devotion to The Blessed Virgin Mary.

One time he was praying this way, when he made up his mind to give up everything and become a simple poor monk. His wife was willing to let him go and she too would enter a convent since they had no children. He went to an Abbot and told him that he would like to have nothing to do with the pomp and cares of his position and just wanted to be a monk. The Abbot told him that one of his first obligations as a monk would be to humbly obey every command that was given him. St. Henry said that he was eager to accept the Abbot as his superior and would happily obey whatever command he gave him. The Abbot then told Henry, "Carry out the duties that God gave you. He made you Emperor, and you show your obedience to Him by ruling wisely and doing His will in the state of life He called you to." So Henry went back to his castle and continued to reign.

Henry and Cunegund founded the monastery and cathedral of Bamberg and Pope Benedict came in person to the consecration. The cathedral was one of the most beautiful in Europe at that time. St Cunegund obtained for the city such privileges that by common report her silken threads were a better defense than walls.

There were many people who did not like the way the Emperor and his wife were living. They thought that the money that Henry and Cunegund spent building Churches could better be spent on the court and the courtiers. They began to make up stories about Cunegund to destroy her good name and reputation. As it is almost impossible to prove that you are not a terrible sinner, St Cunegund asked to be given a test by fire. In those days it was customary, instead of a trial, to have the accused person walk barefoot across red-hot ploughshares. If the person could do this without becoming harmed, it proved that he was innocent and that God was protecting him. St. Cunegund walked barefoot over the red-hot ploughshares unharmed, and she also carried one of them in her hand as she walked across the others.

After Henry died Cunegund became a nun, and spent the rest of her life doing good to all who needed it. Of all the nuns she was the most industrious. She was always quoting St. Paul: "those who do not work should not eat" She never wanted to be reminded that she was once the Empress, but always considered herself the least among the sisters.

Henry and Cunegund were buried side by side in their Cathedral of Bamberg, where they still lie in the tomb that was made for them, and where, from the sculptures of them, you can still see what they looked like. And in paintings of the saints you can easily recognize them because St Henry, wearing his Imperial crown and robes, holds in one hand the orb, representing the rulership to which he returned because of his obedience, and in the other a model of Bamberg Cathedral; and St Cunegund is shown walking on the ploughshares, holding another ploughshare in her hand.

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