Recently more and more people have come to know and to love the Orthodox saints of the West. We would like to introduce two such saints, Rupert of Salzburg and the nun Ermentrude, whose lives apparently have not previously appeared in English. ("Rupert" is the German spelling of "Hrodibert," rendered "Robert" in French and English.)
The former Roman provinces of Noricum and Pannonia had been strongholds of the early Church; for example, St Martin of Tours was a native of Burgenland. The barbarian invasions hit them with such violence that Christianity eventually almost disappeared. The reintroduction of the faith was due largely to Theodo I, Duke of Bavaria in the late 600s. Besides St Rupert there were other Frankish missionaries whom Theodo brought into his territory; of note is St Emmeramus who met a martyr's death when, to help a distressed princess, he pretended to be the father of her illegitimate child, thus permitting the father of her child to escape the vengeance of her tribe.
Although Rupert was a Frank, tradition also associates him with Ireland; certainly the old Roman city of Juvavia (Salzburg), which he re-founded as his headquarters, quickly became a centre of Irish missionary activity in Central Europe. The Austrian Church was pervaded with Celtic influence, and was even organized on Celtic lines under "abbot-bishops" in succession from Rupert. The most famous was St Virgil the Geometer, known in the world as Fergal O'Neill from Leinster. St Virgil is remembered today mostly as an astronomer who shocked his more intellectually staid contemporaries by speculating about the habitability of the Antipodes; he was also an outstanding Orthodox hierarch who evidently tolerated the use of the vernacular at baptismal services and launched in the regions of Carinthia and Slovenia one of the first attempts to evangelise the Slavs.
The Austrian Church did not long retain its free-spirited identity. Four years after St Virgil's passing, the Austro-Bavarian duchy was conquered by Charlemagne and rapidly integrated into the European mainstream. The abbot-bishops gradually changed from spiritual leaders into worldly potentates, Electors of the Western Empire. By a terrible irony, the inheritors of the mantle of St Virgil became the chief opponents and persecutors of Cyril and Methodius whom he had preceded. Nevertheless, although Austria and Bavaria have not been Orthodox for a thousand years, the saints of the Orthodox period still live in Christ, interceding for their countries and all humanity. May the reader of the following Lives be saved through the prayers of Saints Rupert and Ermentrude!
March 27th is the feast of St Rupert, a most holy and blessed man. This feast commemorates the day of his repose, which brings spiritual joy to devout minds and refreshes hearts throughout the entire year. As the Scriptures say, "The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance." He who passes into the angels' joy is made worthy of men's remembrance: as the Scriptures say, "A wise son is the glory of the father," and how great is his glory, who redeemed so many barbarian nations through the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus through the Gospel!
When Childebert the king of the Franks was in the second year of his reign, the Bishop of Worms was the Holy Confessor Rupert, who was born into the ranks of the Frankish nobility, but was far more noble in faith and piety. He was gentle and chaste, simple and prudent, devout in praise of God, full of the Holy Spirit. He was also circumspect in his decisions and righteous in his judgement. He possessed great spiritual discernment, and his good deeds formed his flock into true images of Christ, for he inspired them not only with his words, but by the example of his works. He often kept vigil, weakened himself with fasting, and adorned his works with compassion. He gave away his riches that the poor might not go hungry, believing himself to be one who should clothe the naked and help the destitute.
When the great fame of this most venerable man had spread to the ends of the world, powerful men, not only in that region but from other nations, poured in to hear his most holy teaching. Some with many sorrows came to receive consolation through his holy words, and other churchmen came to learn the purity of true Orthodoxy from him. Many were freed from the snares of the ancient enemy by his loving spiritual advice, and were able to set out on the path to salvation. But unbelievers, who were numerous in the vicinity of Worms, not understanding his holiness, exiled him from the city in a most shameful manner. They caused him terrible suffering and beat him with rods. At that time Theodo, the Duke of Bavaria, hearing about the miracles which this most holy man had performed and of his blessedness, desired to meet him. With firm resolve he dispatched his most trusted men to summon him to his court and to enquire of him how long might he consent to visit the regions of Bavaria, and could he instruct him in the way of life-giving faith? The blessed bishop, having received such a sincere and heartfelt request knew that it came from Divine dispensation and thanked the Merciful One, because "those who sat in the darkness and the shadow of death" longed to know the author of life, Jesus Christ.
As a result of this he sent his own priests, as if they were rays of faith, to return with the ambassadors of the Duke, and he himself after a short time undertook the journey to Bavaria. When the Duke heard the news that the blessed one was on his way he was overcome with great joy, and he and a large retinue hastened to meet St Rupert, overtaking the saint in the city of Regensburg. Although exhausted and hungry from his long journey, St Rupert, right away began to reveal to the Duke the mystery of the heavens and instructed him in the Orthodox faith. He convinced the Duke to renounce the worship of idols, and baptized him in the name of the Holy and Indivisible Trinity. The nobles and the simple people were also baptized with the noble duke, praising Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world, who considered them worthy to be called wondrously into His light from their darkness through His confessor, the most blessed Rupert. By his holy words their darkened hearts were enlightened and the souls of the unbaptized thirsted for the fountain of life.
When the saint had revealed Divine Truth by having baptized the Duke and his people, Theodo came to understand the mystery of saving baptism. He begged the holy Rupert to carry the light of Orthodoxy to others and the saint, fulfilling his desire, boarded a ship and sailed down the River Danube. Through the towns, villas, and forts, he declared the gospel of Christ in a great voice. To the ends of Noricum, into the lower parts of Pannonia, he brought the light of the teachings of Christ which illumines all. Having returned by land, he entered Lauriacum (torch on the River Enns), in whose water he baptized many, freeing them from the worship of idols. In the name of Jesus Christ he healed many who had been oppressed by various illnesses and passions. After he left Lauriacum he saw the spiritual darkness of the tribes in that region; he boldly undertook to smash images and to proclaim everywhere the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ as well as His most holy incarnation. He brought them to believe that He truly is both God and man, truly begotten of the Father before all ages. He taught them that Christ is the Word of God conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary for the salvation of mankind.
Having accepted the episcopacy after being entreated to do so by the Duke and his people, he went to the placid waters of Lake Wallersee, where a church had been built in honour of the chief apostle Peter. He moved from there to the Juvavian (Salzach) River, the site of the city of Juvavia, which had been erected in ancient, tumultuous times. At one time it had had great importance among Bavarian cities, but by the time St Rupert arrived it had become overgrown with trees and weeds and only a few people lived among the ruins. The servant of God considered this a suitable place for his episcopal cathedral, because being situated high in the mountains, it was far from the tumult and distractions of crowds. He went before the duke, and spoke to him with great enthusiasm about his plan to build a basilica there in honour of the blessed Peter, Chief of the Apostles. He was granted the vast sums needed to build the splendid church by the generosity of Theodo. When the church was finished he ordained priests, and commanded them to celebrate the daily offices in canonical order. The saint of God then wished to enlarge his holdings in the vicinity of the cathedral, so he petitioned the Duke for yet another donation, and with the funds donated to him he purchased the estate known as Piding for thousands of solidi, a great sum of money at the time. Thus, by the will of God and the bequests of kings, noblemen, and the faithful, the centre of spiritual life for the kingdom began to grow.
Here is an account of a wondrous event in the life of St Rupert. Some very reliable men came to the blessed hierarch and told him of an amazing phenomenon which had taken place when they had gone into an unnamed wilderness area now called Bongotobum (Pongau). Three or four times they had seen heavenly lights shining like bright lamps in the sky and they had also experienced a wonderful fragrance in the same place. The pious bishop sent the priest Domingus to Bongotobum because of the reports which he received concerning these lights. It was his desire that the priest would verify the authenticity of these wonders by erecting in that location a wooden cross which the holy one had made and blessed with his own hands. When Domingus arrived, he at once began the First Hour with the monks who had come with him. They saw a bright heavenly light which descended from the sky and lit up the entire region with the brightness of the sun. Domingus saw this vision on three nights in a row, and experienced the wondrous fragrance as well. He erected the blessed cross in that place, and it was miraculously transported to a spot above the dwelling of St Rupert, confirming the truthfulness of what had been reported to him! St Rupert took word of the miraculous occurrence to Theodo and then he himself went into the wilderness to the very spot, and seeing that it was suitable for habitation, began to cut down aged oaks and brought in building materials that he might build a church with dwellings for a monastic community..
At about the same time, Theodo fell into ill health, and felt the end of his life approaching. He called to his bedside his son Theodobert, appointing him the Duke of Noricum, admonishing him to be obedient to St Rupert and to aid him in his holy work as well as to firmly establish and support the Juvavian church with love, honour, and dignity. He also adjured him to protect and exalt it. When he had instructed his son in all good things and had given him his final testament, he ended his earthly life and fell asleep in the Lord. After the repose of his God-fearing father, Duke Theodobert along with his nobles remained followers of St Rupert because of his great sanctity. Having travelled to see the saint in his far hermitage, the duke honoured him with pious affection and went to pray in the church which the saint had built there. The duke donated three parcels of land in honour of St Maximilian and gave property on all sides of the forest, as well as an estate in the Alps. He gave gifts to support the monastery and the hieromonks whom the most blessed Rupert had ordained for the Service of God.
When this had been accomplished, the man of God saw that the most noble man of Bavaria had submitted himself to the yoke of Christ and had left worldly concerns to the lesser men of his kingdom. St Rupert then accompanied the duke back to his homeland and then returned with twelve of his closest spiritual children (among whom were Kuniald and St Gisilarius, both priests and both holy men). His niece, St Ermentrude, a virgin dedicated to Christ also accompanied them to the city of Juvavia. There in the main fortress of the city he built a monastery in honour of Our Lord Jesus Christ the Saviour and His Most Pure Mother, the Ever-Virgin Mary. He placed as abbess in that monastery St Ermentrude, that she might serve the King of Heaven. With the generous support of Duke Theodobert, who gave many gifts to the nuns, he established a monastery which had all its spiritual and physical needs well taken care of.
When all this had been accomplished, the blessed man became eager to complete the missionary efforts he had begun with the help of Christ. Accompanied by clergy and monastics, he resolved to visit his followers in the Norican kingdom. Having left the city of Juvavia he visited people on whom the light of faith had not yet shown, and he sowed the wheat of faith amid tares. The deception of the devil fled from the hearts of these barbarian tribes, and Rupert sowed in its place faith, love, mercy, and humility, for through these Christ, the giver and source of all good, is able to take up residence in the human heart. He travelled to all the ends of Bavaria, and converted the people to faith in Christ, and strengthened those who had remained steadily faithful. Having sent out several priests and men of God who brought the Divine Mysteries to the people, he became anxious to return to Juvavia. Because he had the gift from God of knowing the future, he knew that the day of his repose was at hand. He revealed this to his disciples, who were filled with sorrow and anguish. Because of this, there was much weeping and great mourning when he took leave of his newly enlightened Christian flock.
Filled with certainty and faith in Christ, St Rupert commended the city, the Norican people, and all who had been received into holy Orthodoxy to the Most High and All-Knowing God. He chose Vitale, a holy man whom the people themselves had accepted, as his successor. When the forty days of Great Lent had passed, Bishop Rupert became very ill and was exhausted by a high fever. When the most holy day of the Resurrection of Our Saviour Jesus dawned, he celebrated the solemn Liturgy, and was fortified for his final journey with the precious Body and Blood of Christ. He comforted his priests, monastics and flock with a beautiful sermon filled with much love. Then, surrounded by his weeping spiritual children he breathed his last and returned his most pure soul to God. A host of angels were sent by Christ and the saints in the heavens who bore his holy soul with melodious voices to eternal happiness. Thus the faithful servant of God rested in peace. He whose life was praiseworthy and blameless was in death equally blessed. Thus it is written: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." Shortly after his repose many miracles were attributed to him, for God was gracious through the relics of His saint and manifested His tender mercy. By the prayers of the friend of God, St Rupert, the faithful were comforted and the Church adorned through innumerable miracles. Indeed the Blessed God, One in three Persons, lives and reigns; to Him be all praise and glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.
The blessed and pious confessor of Christ, Rupert, was born of a noble and royal family of the Franks, but he was far more noble in faith and piety. He was a man prudent, gentle, and truthful in his conversation, just in his judgement, and circumspect in his counsels. He was also known for his charity, and outstanding in his moral purity and honesty. Indeed many flocked to his beautiful sermons and concise teaching, and they received the word of eternal salvation from him. When reports of his holy life and teaching grew far and wide, he was summoned to the court of the Duke of Bavaria, Theodo, who asked of the man of God many questions concerning holy Orthodoxy. He sent men of noble birth to the saint to request him to visit his province with his blessed teaching. To this the preacher of truth, stung by divine love, gave his assent. Having arranged his affairs, he consented to go to those who by his holy efforts would be added to the flock of Christ.
When the duke heard that the man of God had agreed to visit his kingdom, he was overwhelmed with great joy, and rushed with his attendants to meet the blessed saint and doctor with all honour and dignity. He caught up with him in the city of Regensburg. The blessed man began to teach the duke and those with him about Christ and to instruct them in the holy Orthodox faith. Thus, he converted the duke and many other noble men to the true faith and baptized them, sealing them with the gift of the Holy Spirit by chrismating them. In gratitude the duke allowed the holy man to choose a place pleasing to himself and to his followers, in order that he could build a church and establish a monastery and to have all things needed for the growth of the true faith in the duke's kingdom. The man of God, having accepted the duke's appeal for further missionary work sailed down the Danube valley until he came to the city of Lorch, where he proclaimed the truth of the Holy Orthodox Church, the means by which men are saved. Many of the people there were ill and many were languishing in oppression and all were cleansed by the strength of God.
Passing through all the Alpine region, he came at length to the kingdom of the Corinthians. The rulers and people begged him to help them and he converted that kingdom and cleansed it with the baptism of Christ. Climbing the highest mountain, called Tauern (Mons Durus), he preached to the Vandals and attained for them that great gift given by the Lord. He also built there many churches and established several monasteries. At last, having charged his disciples, monastics, priests, and clergy to keep the Christian faith, he returned to the territory of Passau. Upon his return he began to travel around the province. He reached a certain lake which is called the Wallersee, where he had built and consecrated a church in honour of the Apostle Peter. There the most noble Duke Theodo made sizable donations of his own personal wealth to the saint.
Afterward another place came to the attention of St Rupert. It was on the River Salzach, or as it was known in ancient times, the Juvavian Stream. It had been named in the time of the Roman emperors, and a beautiful little house had been discovered deep in the forest which had been built during the Roman period. Hearing of this place, the man of God wished to see it with his own eyes and to verify its existence, for he had a sense that it would profit the faithful. Having seen the place and after praying about it, he asked Duke Theodo to bestow upon him this place that he might exorcise and bless it and to build a church there to the glory of God. The duke at once consented, bestowing possession of over two leucas in length and width, that he might do what was of use to the Church. Then St Rupert began to renew the place (Salzburg), building a beautiful basilica which he dedicated in honour of St Peter, the foremost of the Apostles. He then built a monastery with other buildings for the use of the monastics he placed there and did so in good order. After the monastery was firmly established, he ordained priests and instituted daily solemn observance of the canonical hours. St Rupert wished to further increase the places of service to God. With the help of God, from the gift of the king and duke, and by the loving donations from many among the faithful, the church began to grow.
The man of God, seeing that many of his clerics and monastics had fallen over the precipice of vice because of longing for women, prayed to God in his heart, saying, "Lord, if it is good in your eyes, I will pick for myself other people fit and chaste, that they may through their purity and spiritual example attract both women as well as men to Thy service." He had in his diocese, in the city of Vangionum, in the state of Wormatia, a certain noble virgin consecrated from her infancy to God. Her name was Ermentrude (Erentrudis), and he wanted to send for her in order that she might found a convent for women. He found a place and built a monastery appropriate for holy virgins in the Juvavian fortress and he dedicated it to the Most Holy Theotokos. When it was complete, he summoned Ermentrude and great was his joy when she agreed to be the abbess of the newly founded convent, because he had greatly desired to see this before the day of his death. When she arrived the holy bishop led her into the monastery church, which was consecrated to the Theotokos, and said: "Dear sister, do you know why I have asked you here?" She replied: "Yes, Father, I know, for Our Lord Jesus Christ has revealed it to me, saying: Go in peace as you are called. Behold I will be with you, and through you many women's souls will be brought to salvation. You shall by your example bring these women through the monastic life to me." When he heard this, the blessed bishop rejoiced greatly in God.
Hearing of the new monastery, many virgins and noble matrons came to St Ermentrude, and she guided them with such spiritual love and discernment that in a short time all grew in obedience and spiritual knowledge, bringing glory to God and His Church. So great was the humility of St Ermentrude that she considered herself fortunate for whatever consolation any of her nuns received through God's mercy. Such was her prayer life, that she considered it her entire existence. Such was her fear and love of God, that whether she met good people or bad, she thought herself lower than they. She is to be remembered for her stability and spiritual discernment, for her generosity in almsgiving, for her many virtues, her steadfastness in vigil and her great sanctity in her monastic life. As with all who enter the difficult path to salvation, if at first she was not strong in one or another of these, it must be said that over time she acquired through God's mercy a truly virtuous life.
When the blessed Rupert knew by divine revelation that his death was at hand, he said to Blessed Ermentrude, whom he had called to him: "My beloved sister, these words are for you alone; I pray that you will tell no one of this, for at this moment it is a secret. It has pleased God to show me my departure from this world and now I ask that you pray for my soul when God sees fit to call me to His peace." The holy virgin responded with tears: "If it is true as you say, master, arrange that I die before you do!" The bishop said to her: "Most beloved in Christ! You should not wish to hasten death, nor wish to die without time to fully repent. The end of time on this earth has not been fixed in our wishes, but in divine providence." The holy virgin prostrated herself at the feet of the saint and begged him: "Father and master, I ask you to remember that you have brought me here from my own country, and now you wish to leave me a poor orphan. I ask only one thing of you, that if I am not worthy to depart before you or with you, at least intercede as a witness with God that I may be worthy of my desire to leave this vale of tears!" The most holy St Rupert said that he would intercede with Christ on her behalf and for a long time they talked joyfully about eternal life, they wept together, and said a final sad farewell.
The blessed Rupert celebrated the Liturgy before the entire church on the day of the Resurrection of the Lord. He gave a homily to the people, and distributed the Body and Blood of Christ. He gave a beautiful sermon comforting all his spiritual children and gave them his final blessing. When the Divine Liturgy was over, he prostrated himself and prayed to Christ his Saviour. Commending his spirit into the hands of the Heavenly Father, he fell asleep in the Lord on the twenty-seventh day of March. He was buried in the Basilica of Sts Peter and Paul, which he had himself consecrated to their honour. The entire population of Noricum mourned him, because he had been an apostle to that race, and he had never grieved anyone in any way. After this, the blessed Ermentrude sat night and day in the church and prayed to the Lord with tears for the soul of her now dead friend Rupert. She kept long vigils and awaited the gift of promised consolation. At last one night the holy Rupert came to her in a vision and said: "I have come, beloved sister, to the Kingdom of Christ, for which I have laboured for a long time." Wide awake, she gave thanks to God, and at once she began to feel ill. She called together all the sisters and exhorted them to love one another and to be faithful followers of Christ and to struggle for their salvation. She received the most precious Body and Blood of Christ, and after she had asked forgiveness of the sisters and they had exchanged the sweet kiss of peace, she quietly reposed in the Lord. After this, her holy remains, preserved with spices, were buried in the Monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos with great veneration on the thirtieth day of June.
The Latin texts of the lives translated here can be found in the Acta Sanctorum of the Bollandists under March 27. Another, possibly older, Latin life of Rupert is given in Vol. 6 of the Merovingian series of Monumenta Germaniae Historica and excerpts in Latin from other lives are in John Colgan's Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae (Louvaine, 1647). An English translation of a few sentences from the Life of Ermentrude occurs in Butler's Lives of the Saints by Thurston and Attwater under June 30.
An extremely recent secondary source on Austria-Bavaria in Merovingian and Carolingian times is Germany in the Early Middle Ages by T. Reuter (London: Longman, 1991). Some material on the Austro-Irish Church can be found in John T. McNeill's The Celtic Churches (University of Chicago, 1974).
First published in 'Orthodox Life'.