Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict – Saint Ludgerus, Bishop

illustration of Saint Ludgerus, Bishop, from the book 'Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict', designed by Father Amandus LiebhaberThe father of Saint Ludgerus was a noble of the highest rank in Friesland, and consigned his son at an early age to the care of Saint Gregory, O.S.B., who was at the same time Bishop of Utrecht and Abbot of the monastery in that city. Ludgerus, when quite a child, had given promise of great genius; being asked one day by a servant what he had done on that day, he replied: “I have either read, or written, or composed books.” The boy’s industry at the monastic school amply fulfilled the promise of his childhood. To still further perfect himself in learning, he crossed the sea to England to place himself under the teaching of Alcuin, the greatest scholar of the time, to whom came crowds of disciples from all parts of the world, not to mention the English, the Irish, and the Scotch. Having spent more than four years with Alcuin, and having received Holy Orders, Ludgerus returned to Utrecht. Alberic, the successor of Gregory, who had died during the absence of Ludgerus, knowing his learning, zeal, and piety, committed to his charge Deventer in Friesland.

There, even at the risk of his life, our Saint waged persistent war on idols; but the fruit of all his labours was, for the moment, destroyed by the conquest of Friesland by Windekind, Duke of Saxony. Discouraged by the havoc he saw on every side, Ludgerus went to Rome, and thence sought rest among his own Order in the tranquil haven of Monte Cassino. But the energy which he had shown in Friesland and the learning he had acquired in England were known to Pope Leo, who, in order that these great qualities should not be hidden in a cell at Monte Cassino, recommended Ludgerus to Charlemagne, just then victorious over Windekind. The Emperor joyfully received our Saint on his return from Italy, and assigned to him five provinces of the Frisians. So successful was his preaching that the barbarians vied with one another in casting out idols and in accepting the true Faith. He also attempted to introduce Christianity among the Normans, but that fierce race expelled him from their territories. Next he was ordered by Charlemagne to nourish the seeds of the Gospel, which had been newly planted in Saxony. At the bidding of the Emperor he was consecrated by Hildebald, Archbishop of Cologne, Bishop of a See which has been identified with the modern Munster. Saxony was not enough for the zeal of Ludgerus. He also converted Denmark, and was meditating an expedition to Norway, when the Emperor, through fear of his losing his life among the savage inhabitants of the North, recalled him.

Having placed Christianity on a firm basis amongst the Saxons, and having built a cathedral church at Werden, the Bishops next want was a monastery. The site given him was in a dense forest on a precipitous mountain. There the trees had grown so huge and so close that they baffled every effort to clear the ground. In despair the workmen rushed to Ludgerus. Awake all through that night, the Saint sent up earnest prayers to the Almighty; not in vain, for suddenly so furious a storm raged that the very monarchs of the forest were uprooted, a space sufficient for the building having been cleared.

Good actions are often misrepresented. An enemy informed the Emperor that Ludgerus, who spent all his revenues in charity, was neglecting the suitable decoration of his churches. An officer was sent to summon the Bishop to the monarch’s presence. The Saint, happening to be at his prayers, told the officer he would follow him when his devotions were ended. This was construed into another offence. When Charlemagne asked why he had shown such contempt for his command, Ludgerus answered, that though he revered his Majesty, he revered God still more, and that while he was engaged in His service, all earthly duties must wait. This noble and courageous reply so struck the Emperor, that he instantly acquitted the Bishop of all the charges brought against him, and punished his accusers.

Many years did Ludgerus labour among the Saxons, until his health began to give way; yet to the last he performed all the duties of his high office. On the very day that preceded his death, he preached twice to his people from his Cathedral throne. Borne from the church to his cell, he survived only a few hours, dying on the 26th March, A.D. 809.

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