26 Mar Saint Ludger, Bishop
Today is the feast day of Saint Ludger. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Ludger was born in Friesland (the Netherlands) about the year 743. His father was a nobleman of the first rank. When he was eleven years of age, he saw the English missionary St Boniface and this made such an impression on him that he became a disciple of St Gregory of Utrecht (friend of St Boniface). Saint Gregory educated him in his monastery of Utrecht, and gave him the clerical tonsure. He later wrote a Life of St Gregory. He then went to England to study under Alcuin at York for some years (767-771). While there he developed a friendship with Alcuin which lasted through life and was ordained a deacon.
In 773 he returned home, and when Saint Gregory died in 776, his successor, Alberic, compelled Saint Ludger to receive the priesthood.
The new bishop employed him for several years in preaching the Word of God in Friesland, where he converted great numbers, founded several monasteries, and built many churches. The pagan Saxons then entered and ravaged the country, and drove out the missionaries. Saint Ludger traveled to Rome to consult Pope Adrian II as to what course he should take, and what he thought God required of him. He then retired for three and a half years to Monte Cassino to study Saint Benedict's Rule; there he wore the habit of the Order and conformed to its practices during his stay, but made no religious vows.
In 787, Charlemagne overcame the Saxons, conquering Friesland and the coast of the Germanic Ocean as far as Denmark. In 793 (Hist. Jahrb., I, 282) Charlemagne wished to make Ludger Bishop of Trier, but he declined the honour, while declaring himself willing to undertake the evangelizing of the Saxons.
Saint Ludger was sent by the Emperor to evangelize the pagans of five districts; thus he returned into East Friesland, where he brought the Saxons to the Faith, with the province of Westphalia. He founded the monastery of Werden, twenty-nine miles from Cologne. In 802, Hildebald, Archbishop of Cologne, in spite of his strenuous resistance, ordained him Bishop of Munster. He joined to his diocese five cantons of Friesland which he had converted, and founded the monastery of Helmstad in the duchy of Brunswick.
On Passion Sunday, 809, Ludger heard Mass at Coesfeld early in the morning and preached, then went to Billerbeck, where at nine o'clock he again preached, and said his last Mass. That evening he expired peacefully amidst his faithful followers. A dispute arose between Munster and Werden for the possession of his body. His brother Hildegrim being appealed to, after consultation with the emperor, decided in favour of Werden, and here the relics have rested for eleven centuries. Portions have been brought to Munster and Billerbeck. From 22 June to 4 July, 1909, the Diocese of Munster celebrated the eleventh centenary. “Bishop Hermann Dingelstad, the present successor of the apostle, celebrated the Jubilee, uniting it with the golden jubilee of his own priesthood. A most touching scene was witnessed when thousands of men, who had come from far and near, after a stirring sermon of the orator-bishop of Treves, Mgr Felix Korum, renewed their baptismal vows at the same well from which St. Ludgerus had baptized their forefathers. A Benedictine abbot and eleven bishops, among them the archbishop of the saint's Frisian home, Utrecht, and Cardinal Fischer of Cologne, took part in the sacred celebrations” (“America”, I, 381).
Saint Ludger is variously depicted as a bishop reciting his breviary, or as a bishop holding a cathedral (as above), or a bishop with a swan on either side.
Image: Illustration from an illuminated manuscript showing Saint Liudger (Ludger, Lüdiger) (5)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff