Blessed Herman, Confessor

Blessed Herman, Confessor

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September 25

Today is the feast day of Blessed Herman.  Ora pro nobis.

“Loving mother of the Redeemer,

gate of heaven, star of the sea,

assist your people who have fallen yet strive to rise again,

To the wonderment of nature you bore your Creator,

yet remained a virgin after as before,

You who received Gabriel’s joyful greeting,

have pity on us poor sinners.”—Blessed Herman (7)

Blessed Herman (Hermann Contractus, Herimanus Augiensis, Hermann von Reichenau) was born 18 February, 1013, at Altshausen (Swabia). He was the son of Count Wolverad II von Altshausen. Being a cripple (born with a cleft palate, cerebral palsy, and spina bifida) from birth (hence the surname Contractus) he was powerless to move without assistance, and it was only by the greatest effort that he was able to read and write; but he was so highly gifted intellectually, that when he was but seven years of age his parents confided him to the learned Abbot Berno, on the island of Reichenau. (1)

His great love and sincere devotion for the “Mother of the afflicted ” secured him peace of soul and even lightened his bodily sufferings. We are told however, that he continued to pray to his beloved Mother for restoration to health and strength, if it should be pleasing to God. Pious legend informs us that when he had prayed thus for some months, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and offered him the choice between two gifts; namely, health or wisdom. Henry, without hesitating a moment, chose the gift of wisdom. He made a wise selection, for notwithstanding his bodily infirmities he became one of the most learned men of his time. Under the poor form of a deformed body there dwelt a noble soul, a clear and richly gifted intellect, and a humble and charitable heart. (4)

Herman spent his entire life in the monastery Reichenau as a teacher, researcher and musician. Herman was bound to a carrying chair and was completely dependent on his servants. He could only write with difficulty, and one may assume that he has dictated a large part of his works. And even that might have been difficult, as his biographer writes that he could only speak with difficulty and was barely understandable. But if we are allowed to believe Berthold, his charisma, his cheerfulness, and his modesty of intelligence were so impressive that everyone had to love him. (2)

Theology

A good student of theology, he could also produce works of spiritual depth. For a readership of nuns he wrote a discourse “On the Eight Principal Vices.” It was cast in poetry, and he handled the versification particularly well. He also knew how to give serious matters a light touch. The treatise for nuns was witty, and he even began his world chronicle with a touch of self-depreciation: “Hermann, the rubbish of Christ’s little ones, lagging behind the learners of philosophy more slowly than a donkey or a slug … ” (5)

Music

Herman was not just a music theoretician but, with that, he took on a special position – he himself created melodies – and he may be considered one of the first known composers  of Gregorian chants. In contrast to the strict Gregorian chant, his songs show an almost romantic melody. His “Salve Regina”  is clearly the work of a master. (2)

Astronomy

Herman gave instructions on how to measure the circumference of the earth at a time when there was not even clarity about the spherical shape of the earth. One of Henry's inventions was the pillar sundial , which he called the horologium viatorum. (2)

His iron will overcame all obstacles, and it was not long before his brilliant attainments made him a shining light in the most diversified branches of learning, including, besides theology, mathematics, astronomy, music, the Latin, Greek, and Arabic tongues. Students soon flocked to him from all parts, attracted not only by the fame of his scholarship, but also by his monastic virtue and his lovable personality. We are indebted to him chiefly for a chronicle of the most important events from the birth of Christ to his day. It is the earliest of the medieval universal chronicles now extant, and was compiled from numerous sources, being a monument to his great industry as well as to his extraordinary erudition and strict regard for accuracy. While it is not improbable that this work was based on a previous state chronicle of Swabia, since lost (called “Chronicum Universale Suevicum”, or “Epitome Sangallensis”), it has nevertheless a significance entirely its own. But the full measure of his genius appears from the objectivity and clearness with which he wrote the history of his own time, the materials of which were accessible to him only by means of verbal tradition. (1)

In later life he became blind, and had to give up his academic writing. (3)

He died on the island of Reichenau, Lake Constance, 21 September, 1054. He was beautified in 1863 bny Pius IX (3)

The “Salve, Regina” Receives and Addition

In the year 1146 Saint Bernard, the illustrious doctor of the Church and abbot of Clairvaux, was travelling through Germany and by the power of his eloquence was rousing the people of that country to the necessity of entering upon another crusade, a spirited one, in order to wrest from the iron grasp of the heathens those places in Palestine that had been sanctified by the footsteps, and moistened with the blood, of our holy Redeemer. Passing from Switzerland, by way of Strasbourg, Saint Bernard sailed down the river Rhine and landed at Spire, on Christmas eve, 1146. In a grand procession, Composed of the civic societies and trades unions, with their banners waving in the air, and holding lighted tapers in their hands, followed in turn by the clergy with their bishop clad in pontifical robes, Saint Bernard was com ducted, amid every sign of respect from the multitudes who lined the streets of the city, to the majestic cathedral. Here, amid the chant of the choristers and the joyful pealing of the bells, the great preacher of the holy wars was met by the Emperor Conrad and all the royal princes of the court, who tendered to their illustrious guest the welcome of their realm. It was a scene of great magnificence as the saint crossed the threshold of the sacred edifice. Thousands had to remain outside the building, for the saint’s great reputation for sanctity and the fame of the wondrous miracles that he had wrought, as well as his renowned eloquence, had drawn vast crowds from far and near, eager to get a glimpse of his venerable person. As the solemn procession, preceded by the cross and other standards, marched slowly up the grand aisle of the cathedral, a choir of a thousand voices chanted the hymn, “Salve, Regina,” or “Hail, holy Queen.” The lofty vaults of the sacred edifice spanning many altars ablaze with a thousand lights, the soldierly form of the emperor, the venerable mien of the holy bishops, the long files of white-robed priests, the vast crowds of admiring people, the inspiring strains of the music, and all this but the expression of truly Catholic hearts, over-powered the soul of Saint Bernard with emotions of intense gratitude to God and His blessed Mother. The altar Was reached as the singers’ voices repeated the last words of the “Salve, Regina.” A profound silence ensued as the words, “Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exilium ostende” – that is, “Show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” died away. In a moment of inspiration, and overwhelmed with the loftiest sentiments of piety towards the Blessed Virgin, the great Saint Bernard, in thrilling tones, exclaimed spontaneously, “O clemens, O pia, O dukis Virgo Maria!” that is, “O element, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!”

From that moment the “Salve, Regina” continued to have a new ending. The love-breathing words of Saint Bernard, the honey-tongued doctor, as holy Church styles him, were universally adopted, and added, with a will by all, to the “Salve, Regina” originally composed by Blessed Herman the Cripple. They form a beautiful and fitting ending to a beautiful apostrophe to the Mother of God. In the cathedral at Spire, every day, from that time till our day, the “Salve, Regina” is sung solemnly in memory of the events so sacred which led to the inspired composition of its present ending and in memory of the saint who uttered the beautiful words. (4)

Image: Veringenstadt: Sgrafitto Hermann der Lahme – Hermanus Contractus *18.Juli 1013 – † 24. September 1054. Aus dem Geschlecht der Grafen Altshausen-Veringen (6)

  1. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07266a.htm
  2. https://web.archive.org/web/20040828152939/http://flaez.ch/hermannus/
  3. https://catholicsaints.info/blessed-herman-the-cripple/
  4. https://catholicsaints.info/the-salve-regina-or-hail-holy-queen-by-father-b-rohner-osb/
  5. https://www.kateriirondequoit.org/resources/saints-alive/harvey-hyacintha/bl-hermann-the-disabled/
  6. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Veringenstadt_Hermanus_Contractus.jpg
  7. https://aleteia.org/daily-prayer/monday-september-25/

 

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