22 Oct Saint Wendelin of Trier, Abbot
Today is the feast day of Saint Wendelin (Wendel) of Trier. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Wendelin (Wendel) was born about 554. His father was Forchardo, the King of Scotland, his mother, Irelina, Queen.
His earliest biographies, two in Latin and two in German, did not appear until after 1417. Their narrative is the following: Wendelin was the son of a Scottish king; after a piously spent youth he secretly left his home on a pilgrimage to Rome.
Wendel began a search of all the Holy places that he could find. In 574 in entered Rome. Before leaving Rome, he met Pope Benedict I.
On his way back he settled as a hermit in Westricht in the Diocese of Trier. After an unknown period of time, Wendelin started getting the urge to go to the ancient city of Trier in order to pray at the many shrines. It was here that a fascinating legend developed. It seems that one day while Wendelin was roaming from shrine to shrine, he met a nobleman who was very worldly and a known robber. This extremely wealthy and godless man admonished Wendelin because he was begging for food. The nobleman said, “You are still a young man. You can earn your own food. If you are not hired by anyone, then come and take care of my cattle and earn your bread.” Wendelin felt that in taking this job and being paid for it, he would learn to hate worldly things even more. So he accepted the job and was put to work taking care of a herd of swine.
These restless creatures did not give him a minutes rest and thus left him with no time for his prayers. So he begged his master to relieve him from this task. The master, despite all his evil qualities, respected Wendelin's virtues of piety and simplicity and granted his wish. He put Wendelin to work caring for a herd of cows instead of the swine. Wendelin could now devote more time to his devotions and took care of this herd of cows for a considerable amount of time. An ironic twist to this story is that God so blessed this herd because of Wendelin's prayers and devotions, that the herd became so productive that again Wendelin found himself with no time for prayer. (This particular herd grew twice as fast as all of the nobleman's other herds.) So once again, Wendelin begged his master for relief. It was the custom in those days for the elder Patriarchies to be the ones to watch the sheep. Even though Wendelin was still a young man the master turned a flock of sheep over to his trusting care. Wendelin once more found himself with enough time for his one great love, prayer.
Wendelin did not always take his master's flock of sheep to the same pasture, but often drove the flock very far away to greener pastures. Also, he wished to be far removed from any other shepherd so he could totally concentrate on his prayers. But no matter how far away he took the flock, God always made sure that Wendelin was home on time.
God bestowed special blessings on the flock attended by Wendelin, preserving them from all diseases and making them doubly fruitful. These blessings however caused jealousy among the other shepherds and therefore through the underhanded workings of Satan set out to do him harm. They made fun of him and told the master many lies about him. But Wendelin realized that the Devil was behind all this evil and it served to make his faith stronger and his prayer more fervent.
When Wendelin was in the field with his flock, Wendelin always felt a great desire to be back at his selected hermitage in order to adore and revere his dear Jesus. He imagined that the hill where this little hut was reminded him of Mount Olives and so he would meditate on the agony that Jesus went through on the First Good Friday. God showed how pleased He was with Wendelin's devotion by working a miracle of transmigration; moving the entire flock and Wendelin through the air from the pasture to the hermitage and back again. This miracle happened very frequently and although none of the other shepherds ever saw it occur, there were many instances that caused confusion.
One time, Wendelin found that his flock was in a place where there was no water. His flock was thirsty and too tired to walk any distance. Therefore, Wendelin prayed to God for guidance and then with great confidence thrust his shepherd's crook into the ground and a spring of fresh water came forth. This spring was later encased in stone and can still be seen not far from the city of Saint Wendel in Germany. Every year on Rogation Monday, a procession winds its way from the city to the spring and the pastor blesses the water which is used daily by the people to avert sickness in both men and cattle. Beside this well is a little chapel and a hermitage. This is the spot where Wendelin thrust his staff into the ground and left it. The staff began to grow and developed into a birch tree. This tree stood there for many years and was called Saint Wendel Tree. It decayed not many years ago.
This is one of the outstanding incidents in Wendelin's life: Wendelin's master and a servant journeyed to the town of Strassburg on a business trip. On returning he traveled through the wilderness where Wendelin had taken his flock to graze. When they were still some distance away from the flock, the master said to his servant, “That shepherd resembles our Wendelin or else it is indeed he.”
The servant replied, “How could our Wendelin come here? It is too far from our home in Trier.” Going up to the shepherd, the nobleman found him to be Wendelin. The nobleman grew furious and cursed at Wendelin and said, among other things, “Wendelin, you scoundrel. Are you a fool or a lunatic that you drive my sheep such a long way away from home? Is there not enough pasture near Trier that you must go to this dreadful wilderness?”
Wendelin answered, “Dear master, be not angry. I find this pasture to be better for the flock than the one near Trier.”
“Shall I not be angry?” asked the nobleman. “I have invited many guests for supper and wanted to kill a sheep for this special occasion.”
Wendelin responded, “Be not angry on that account for I want to be home on time.”
“How can you be home before night when I can hardly get home on time riding on a horse?” The master then abruptly galloped off murmuring and complaining all the way about Wendelin. As the master entered his courtyard he was dumbfounded to see that Wendelin was already there and was putting the sheep into the stable for the night. He could hardly believe what he had just seen with his own eyes. He knew then that this was a great miracle and realized that Wendelin was indeed a holy man to be revered. The master fell to his knees and filled with both humility and contrition he begged, “Forgive me, dear Wendelin and forgive the words of accusation that I hurled against you. Tell me who you really are. I can see that you are a holy man and that God works great miracles in you and through you.
With that, Wendelin threw himself at his master's feet and said most humbly, “I beg of you master, rise to your feet and show me no honor, for I am not a holy man but a miserable being and a simple shepherd and farmhand servant.”
His master rose to his feet and said, “This I cannot believe, but I take you to be a great servant of God. Whoever you are, I will not any longer permit you to watch my herds. For I fear that God will punish me if I let His faithful servant watch my flock. Tell me what you want of me and I will fulfill your every wish.”
Wendelin replied, “This only do I ask of you master, that you change your godless life into a pious one so that the wrath of God may not come upon you unawares and cast you and your robbers into the depths of Hell.” Wendelin had so much to say to this nobleman and spoke so forcibly that this sinful man became very much frightened and wept over his sins and promised to amend his life. The master wanted to give Wendelin large sums of money in the form of alms, but Wendelin refused to take any money except what was due to him as wages. These wages he distributed among the poor and then in absolute poverty, he went his way into the wilderness.
In 590, Wendelin went to the Benedictine Monastery at Trier, only two hours away from his hermitage, and received the habit of a hermit and then returned to his beloved wilderness and began to live an extraordinarily severe life. His food was wild herbs, his drink cold water, his bed the hard ground. He prayed deep into the night and trekked through the cold and heat to Tholey, a hard two hour journey, for daily services. The devil tempted Wendelin furiously to give up this holy life and return to the Kingdom of Scotland. He whispered to him that his royal father was grieving and his mother was inconsolable over his secret departure and that they were desperately seeking him. They would surely die of grief. Wendelin keenly felt the pain of this temptation. He used prayer as a weapon against Satan and overcame with God's assistance. Satan did not vanish after this defeat but so filled Wendelin's mind with unchaste thoughts that the holy man knew of no other means to overcome these bad thoughts than to throw himself into a thornbush, twisting around until his body was one huge bleeding sore.
The devil once appeared to Wendelin as a dragon, ready to devour him. He was so frightened that he thought he was already in the dragon's mouth. He prayed so hard and made the sign of the cross and the devil eventually fled.
Almighty God wished to make His humble servant Wendelin known to the world and thus gave to him the power to work miracles. A contagious disease was spreading among the animals of a nearby village and the villagers begged Wendelin to leave his hermitage and go with them to pray over their cattle and flocks. Not being able to withstand the pleadings of these poor peasants, Wendelin went with them and prayed over the sick animals and upon blessing them they all became well instantly. Through this miracle, Wendelin's name became known throughout the whole of Westerich and people from all over came seeking his help and guidance.
The Abbot of the monastery at Tholey died about this time and the monks could not agree in the election of another Abbot. They earnestly invoked the Holy Spirit for guidance and counsel. Then they heard a heavenly voice calling out, “Choose Wendelin for your Abbot.” Following this holy sign, they went as a whole to the hermitage and named Wendelin their new Abbot and begged him on bended knees to be their father and superior. The humble man refused to accept this honor and burden, saying that he was quite unfit for such a position and that the shepherd's crook fit his hands better than the miter.
The monks told Wendelin that God had manifested His will to them in this choice and if he were a real servant of God he would not resist God's Holy will. Upon hearing this, Wendelin obeyed God by humbly accepting this office and sent a letter to Archbishop Severinus of Trier asking him to confirm the election. Severinus had heard many good reports about Wendelin and the Pope also recommended Wendelin to him. So the Archbishop happily came to Tholey to consecrate him as the Abbot of the monastery. These two saints became very close friends and remained so until the end of their lives. (It is certain that Wendelin, the great servant of God, ruled his monastery in a holy spirit, although there is nothing written about his ruling or his cloistered life. Either the humble monks did not write about it or the writings were destroyed when the monastery was later plundered.)
In the year 617, Wendelin became very sick and knew that death was near. He sent word to the Archbishop Severinus who came at once to assist him and be with him in his hour of need. He administered the last sacraments to his dying friend. At this time, Wendelin revealed to Severinus his secret: that he was the Crown Prince of Scotland, that he had left his country for the love of God and to serve his God in humility and poverty by means of penance and prayer. After Wendelin's death, Severinus said to the monks, “Do you know what noble prelate you had for your Abbot?” They were so overwhelmed at this revelation that they knelt before the body of Wendelin and kissed his hands and feet. (It is most probable that the archbishop stayed for the funeral.) Wendelin was buried in the monastery before the high altar.
The next day after the burial of Wendelin was extremely frightening to the monks for when they entered the church they found the coffin standing on top of the altar. They buried it once more with extreme reverence! They again found it untombed the next day. When this happened for the third time they realized that Wendelin did not wish to be buried here. They placed the coffin on a wagon which was to be pulled by two young oxen who had never been yoked before. They permitted the oxen to go without any guidance. The monks followed in procession. The oxen went straight to the hermitage that Wendelin had loved so much. Here they stopped an no amount of urging could make them budge.
Therefore the monks felt this was to be the resting place that their revered Abbot had chosen for himself. They buried him here and this became the site of many future miracles. The body of Wendelin was later lifted out of its burial place and elevated above the earth into a stone grave. At the side of the stone are hewn the pictures of the twelve apostles and other beautiful garlands and can still be seen today. Many pilgrims made offerings to beautify this hermitage and thus was built a stone chapel with two altars. The grave of Saint Wendelin is now found in the middle of the chapel surrounded by an iron gate.
In this chapel the people could hear mass and found it to be a more suitable place to practice their devotion to their saint. Pilgrims came in groups. Many more miracles were wrought and many offerings were made. Houses were built and finally a village sprung up so that the pilgrims could find quarters for the night and the sick could be taken care of by professionals. (It shall be told here that Archbishop Severinus sent a delegate to Scotland to tell the reigning King, Wendelin's brother, of all that had happened.)
Word spread through Scotland of the life of Wendelin and thus many Scots journeyed to visit the tomb of their newly discovered hero. They made many sacrificial offerings and asked his blessings on their country and on themselves.
The small town of St. Wendel grew up nearby. The saint’s intercession was powerful in times of pestilence and contagious diseases among cattle. When in 1320 a pestilence was checked through the intercession of the saint, Archbishop Baldwin of Trier had the chapel rebuilt. Baldwin’s successor, Boemund II, built the present beautiful Gothic church, dedicated in 1360 and to which the saint’s relics were transferred; since 1506 they have rested in a stone sarcophagus. Wendelin is the patron saint of country people and herdsmen and is still venerated in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. He is represented in art as a youth, or as a bearded man, with a shepherd’s bag and a book in one hand and a shepherd’s crook in the other; about him feed lambs, cattle, and swine, while a crown and a shield are placed at his feet. St. Wendelin is not mentioned in the Roman Martyrology, but his feast is observed in the Diocese of Trier on 22 October.
Image: St. Wendelin by Martin Schaffner – Staatsgalerie – Stuttgart – Germany 2017 (3)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff