Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict – Saint Alto, Abbot

illustration of Saint Alto, Abbot, from the book 'Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict', designed by Father Amandus LiebhaberIn early times Ireland sent forth many missionaries to spread the light of the Gospel among the Pagan nations of the Continent. It was to the Monks, trained in the various Monasteries which at that time were scattered all over the “Island of Saints,” that the greater portion of Germany owed the introduction of Christianity. From there came Columba, and Gall, and Magnoaldus, and hosts of others, who taught the fierce and barbarous Germans to submit their stubborn necks to the gentle yoke of Christ. To Ireland also is Germany indebted for Saint Alto. He was the descendant of a long line of kings, as distinguished for their wisdom as they were by their rank. While yet a mere boy, Alto preferred the lowly cowl of the Monk to the regal crown. Entering a Monastery, he spent his youth in emulating his elders in fasting, watching, and prayer.

From the beginning the young Monk’s ambition was, following the example of the Irish missionaries, to go abroad, to root out idolatry, and to become the trumpeter of the Faith. Obedience alone restrained him. Not many years rolled by before an Angel in a vision commanded him to bid farewell to his native land and his Monastery, and to set out for Germany, then sunk in Paganism. The vision was communicated to the Abbot, who assigned him comrades, and soon they crossed the sea, and making their way through Gaul, reached Germany. As Saints Boniface, Willibrord, and Willibald were then engaged in converting the Frisians, the Saxons, and the Thuringians, Alto and his companions proceeded to the country of the Lycatii and the Ambrones. There, by teaching and by miracles, they began to bring into the fold of Christ the flocks that were straying amid the darkness of idolatry. Alto chose for his abode a forest in Boica, now Bavaria, midway between Augsburg and Munich. Pepin, King of France, who then ruled the inhabitants of that country, granted to the missionaries as much of this forest as they wished to clear. Oaks of great age and immense size grew all round. The Monks set to work, vigorously wielding their axes, but the thickness of the trunks and the hardness of the wood defied all their efforts. They ran to Alto, and showed him their hands blistered and bleeding from useless toil. The Saint went with them into the forest, and with a knife, which is still preserved in his Monastery of Alto, marked the trees they were to cut down. Then the trees, that previously had resisted every attack, fell almost at the second blow. Want of water also distressed the new-comers; in the whole forest there was neither spring nor stream. To relieve their thirst, Alto struck the ground with his staff, and water gushed forth in plenty. Such were the miracles that signalised our Saint’s entry into his woodland home.

There were many who, attracted to Boica by the holiness of Alto, sighed for a monastic life. King Pepin again listened to the Saint’s prayers, and built for him a Monastery, which was consecrated with the usual ceremonies, a Divine message having summoned Saint Boniface into Boica for that purpose. There Alto and his brethren tilled the ground with their own hands, strictly practised the rule of the Order, and by constantly preaching the Divine Word kept the Faith alive among the Lycatii. These labours did our Saint continue to toil at till his worn-out frame found rest in death on the 9th of February A.D. 760.

In later times this Monastery, originally so poor, grew in wealth. The rapacious nobles cast longing eyes on the fair lands, made fertile by the sweat of the monks. Farm after farm was wrested from them, and the plunder of its property at last brought the house of Saint Alto to the verge of destitution. It is uncertain whether the Guelphs, then sovereigns of Boica, winked at this open robbery. At all events, Saint Alto could not endure the sacrilege. He appeared by night to Guelph II, denounced his supineness, and threatened the most awful penalties unless full restitution was made. After that, Guelph was filled with the greatest affection for the disciples of Saint Alto. He not only ordered the immediate restoration of all the plunder, but brought with him to Altorfium, the hereditary seat of the Guelphs, the Abbot and his brethren. And there to this day the successors of Saint Alto dwell in the famous Monastery of Weingarten.

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