Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict – Saint Kunegunde, Empress

illustration of Saint Kunegunde, Empress, from the book 'Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict', designed by Father Amandus LiebhaberO more precious offering can be made by a holy woman to her Creator than that of her virginity, and this was the offering that Saint Kunegunde tendered to her Maker, under circumstances which enhanced the value of the gift.

The daughter of noble parents – some authorities say her father was Sigefrid, Prince of Metingow in Lorraine, others the Count Palatine – she was trained from her earliest years in pious works. On her marriage with Henry, afterwards Emperor and Saint, both her spouse and herself vowed that they would, in honour of our Lord and His Blessed Mother, preserve their virginity inviolate, and live together as brother and sister. This chaste union they maintained untarnished for several years, till the Evil One, envying such perfection, caused rumours to be spread about the palace that the Empress was unfaithful. Henry, certain of the purity of his wife, and relying on God, the Protector of innocence, determined, in order to silence the voice of slander, that the Empress should submit to the ordeal by fire. In the presence then of the crowded court Saint Kunegunde walked with bare feet over red hot ploughshares, and suffered not the slightest hurt.

In thanksgiving for this miraculous proof of her innocence, both Henry and Kunegunde made most liberal grants to the Church; and there were few religious houses within their dominions that did not benefit by their bounty. To our Holy Father, Saint Benedict, Saint Kunegunde gave special honour. Several monasteries and convents were built, where both monks and nuns, bound by the Rule of the Order, were to offer, day and night, prayers for the salvation of herself and of Henry. To the poor also she devoted herself; every day she both fed and clothed a crowd of the needy.

When Henry died, broken down by the cares of empire, Kunegunde, after piously interring his remains at Bamberg, resolved, now that she was freed from the ties of matrimony, to become literally the bride of Christ. During Henry’s life she had erected at Kaffungen a nunnery, the church of which was not yet consecrated. On the day appointed for the consecration, while the Bishops, who were present in large numbers, were officiating at the ceremony, the Empress, clad in her imperial robes, advanced to the altar, and laid down the crown and royal purple. Then she put on the Nun’s lowly habit and veil, and, amid the mingled amazement and admiration of all, took the sacred vows.

Once a nun, there was no duty of her holy calling that she did not scrupulously fulfill. Her food was of the coarsest; she prolonged her fast to the second day, spent the night in prayers and watching, and insisted on performing the most menial offices. In these good works and mortifications she passed the last fifteen years of her life.

When, worn-out by such severe labours, she was nearing her end and was now almost at the last breath, her Sisters placed beside her bed a gold-embroidered garment, in which they intended to lay her out as befitted her imperial rank. Deeply hurt, she asked, what had she, the humble handmaiden of Christ, to do with such finery; and she would not rest till they promised to bury her in her habit. She died on the 3rd March A.D. 1040. Her body was laid beside that of her sainted spouse at Bamberg, and her sanctity was attested by the numerous miracles worked at her tomb.

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