Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict – Saint Adelaide, Abbess

illustration of Saint Adelaide, Abbess, from the book 'Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict', designed by Father Amandus LiebhaberWhen Godfrey, only son of Megengor, Count of Guelders, and Gerbirge, his wife, fell in battle fighting for the Emperor against the Bohemians, his parents resolved to devote all their wealth to the foundation of a nunnery at Villich. The death of this gallant young noble filled his sister Adelaide, or Alice, with the liveliest grief. In religion she found, her only consolation, and to it she determined to give up her life. Even at the time when the Convent at Villich was commenced, she used to live with holy virgins, who had consecrated themselves to God. As soon as the buildings were finished, her parents called Adelaide, and placed her over the new Nunnery. While not yet certain of the Rule, Adelaide practised Community life with those whom she had chosen for her companions. A little later her riper judgment selected the Rule of Saint Benedict, to which both the Saint and her companions bound themselves. For fear of acting hastily through inexperience she first made trial of her strength. She invited to Villich the Abbess of the Benedictine Convent of Our Lady at Cologne, a Religious who was famous for the rigid observance of the Rule of her Order, and by daily exercise, under her guidance, Saint Adelaide scrupulously performed all the duties of the more strict life. Most of the Virgins were willing to undertake what Adelaide began; she inspired their souls with the zeal that burned in herself. She was like a mother to her Sisters. If any were ill, her own hands made their beds, gave them food, watched them during the night, and tended them in every way, as if she were the lowest of her servants. She also desired that her Nuns should be taught Latin for the proper understanding of the Psalms. By frequent visits to the classes and by questions she satisfied herself as to the application with which they devoted themselves to study. A kiss or some small gift rewarded the diligent, and stimulated them to further efforts.

Most solicitous for the welfare of the poor, of whom great numbers were to be always found in front of the gates of religious houses, she set apart a fixed portion of the annual revenues of Villich for their relief. A great famine then oppressed that neighbourhood. This gave the Saint an opportunity of exercising her charity, which she tempered with prudence. In distributing food to the starving, she took care that those who had some strength still left should have a little meat, while those who were almost at death’s door were nursed on soups and broths till they were able to digest more solid food.

The great virtues of Saint Adelaide could not escape notice. Heribert, Archbishop of Cologne, wished her to come and take charge of the Convent at Cologne, over which his sister Bertrada, lately dead, had hitherto ruled. Saint Adelaide, determined to end her days with her Nuns at Villich, firmly declined the most flattering entreaties of the Archbishop, and yielded at length only to the express command of the Emperor Otho III. She made it a condition of her acceptance that she should not relinquish the charge of Villich, and thenceforward, both by letters and by personal visits, she continued to watch, like a most affectionate mother, over her Sisters there. Heribert, struck with the holiness of our Saint, used to consult her as if she were a prophetess, whenever any difficulties arose in connection with the duties of his sacred office. And Divine Providence made clear Its will by the mouth of Adelaide. Nor was Heribert’s faith in her misplaced. So formerly in times of danger the heads of the State used to consult Hildegarde and Elizabeth, also of our Order.

The sanctity of Saint Adelaide was attested by numerous miracles. Whenever there was a want of harmony in choir through the hoarseness of any of the Sisters, that Sister had her usual sweetness of voice restored by a word, or a light stroke from the hand of the Saint. So too those who were prostrated by sickness, or those who, through apathy, made the burdens of the other Sisters heavier, when rebuked by the Abbess, recovered their health, and were enabled to perform their regular duties. By a miracle Saint Adelaide caused Heaven to show how the safety and good order of a House depended on the virtue of obedience. The Sister in charge of the cellar was called from it while she was engaged in drawing wine. Without a moment’s delay she flew to receive the order of the Superioress. After speaking a few words to Adelaide, the Sister noticed she had still in her hand the pipe through which she was drawing the wine. Growing pale with fright at the thought of the loss her carelessness would cause, she threw herself at the feet of the Saint and confessed her fault. With a kind smile the Abbess bade her be of good cheer and go back to the cellar. When she returned, she was amazed to find that not a drop had escaped from the cask, though the hole from which the pipe had been taken was still open. This miracle the Sister attributed to the holiness of the Saint, and the Saint to the obedience of the Sister.

The holy virgin was now growing old, and approaching the reward of her labours. Attacked by a quinsy, she summoned the Sisters at Villich to Cologne, and, confiding to Heribert the affairs of the Convent and the care of the Nuns, she died a most holy death three days after she had fallen ill. While preparations were being made for her burial, a dispute arose between the Sisters from Villich and those of Cologne, the former claiming the body of the Saint because she was their Mother, the latter asserting their right to it since she was their Abbess. Heribert decided in favour of Cologne, influenced thereto, no doubt, by personal leanings. The claims of Villich found more favour with Heaven. As soon as the body, arrayed in funeral garb, and accompanied to the banks of the Rhine by a dense crowd of citizens, was, in sight of Heribert, placed on board a vessel which was to bear it to its last resting-place, before an oar touched the water, the vessel, by the Divine will, moved up against the stream and hastened on its way to Villich. There the remains of our Saint were consigned to earth in the tenth century after Christ.

– text and illustration taken from Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict by Father Aegedius Ranbeck, O.S.B.