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

illustration of Saint Richtrude, Abbess, from the book 'Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict', designed by Father Amandus LiebhaberRightly is the Feast of Saint Amandus followed by that of Saint Richtrude; not that this is the date of her birth, but that on this day the translation of her remains, after a lapse of many years, was accompanied by numerous miracles throughout Belgium. She was born in Gascony, of noble parents, Ernoldus and Lucia, who, however, were blinded by the mists of idolatry. As kind Heaven was unwilling that so bright a soul should be lost, it sent Saint Amandus to rescue her from the thrall of inherited superstition. Saint Amandus at this time was an exile in Gascony, which was one among the many provinces in Gaul then debased by the worship of false gods. Wherever exile directed Saint Amandus’ footsteps, he waged persistent war on idols. To show that they were mere bronze, or wood, or stone, he often with a breath blew them to the ground. These miracles were followed by numerous conversions, among which Saint Amandus found it an easy task to win over to the true Faith a virgin who had erred more through the bringing-up of her parents than through love of idols.

On the death of Aritbertus, the King of the Gascons, all the provinces of Gaul passed by right of inheritance to his brother Dagobert. As permission to journey through France was now granted to all who desired it, Adalbaldus, a noble Belgian, through love of travel, proceeded from his native land to Aquitaine, and there he met Richtrude. With her beauty, nobility, and sweet character Adalbaldus was completely smitten. He pressed his suit with so much modesty that he won her consent. Four children were the fruits of this happy union, Maurontus, Clorsenda, Eusebia, and Adelsenda. Thus far all went well with this fortunate pair. It happened that Adalbaldus had to make a journey into Gascony to see after the dowry and property of his wife. The Gascons, especially the kinsmen of Richtrude, were jealous of Adalbaldus as a foreigner; they grudged him both his beautiful, nobly-born wife and her wealth; so, having secretly planned an ambuscade, they murdered him. The sad news soon sped to Belgium. Richtrude was in despair as to what she should do; to Amandus, as being the good father through whom she was born again to the Faith, she entrusted the control of her affairs and of her life. His advice was conveyed in the words of Saint Paul and of our Lord Himself.

Saint Richtrude never faltered; she pleaded neither the bloom of her youth nor the wants of her children, but placed herself entirely in the hands of the Prelate.

The Evil One left no means untried to disappoint the pious wishes of the widow. Dagobert was not willing that his palace should be robbed of such youth and beauty; he intended her for the wife of one of the noblest of his courtiers. The King’s persuasion and threats were alike of no avail. More stringent steps were about being taken to compel Richtrude’s consent, when, by the advice of Saint Amandus, she pretended to yield. Dagobert and his nobles were bidden to a banquet at her country estate. There she was the life and soul of the feast. Towards the end of the banquet, the Saint threw herself at the King’s feet, and, with a most engaging gesture, asked if it were allowed her to do as she liked in her own house. The King, thinking she was about to ask for permission to pledge him in a cup, readily granted the request. Then Saint Richtrude, drawing from beneath her robe the sacred veil, which she had previously obtained from Saint Amandus, threw it over her head, crying, “Now Richtrude is the bride of Heaven, and no force shall ever tear from me this emblem of chastity.” Astonishment seized all. The King, giving utterance to terrible threats, rushed from the mansion in a furious rage.

Then our Saint began to lead the life of a Religious, bidding farewell to all her wealth and distributing it amongst the poor. Clothed in the black robe, and wearing under it sackcloth, she spent her days and nights in prayer and mortification. The anger of the King being at last appeased when he saw Richtrude earnestly devoting herself to the service of God, she began to look round for a Convent in which to spend the rest of her life. This Convent she found at Mont de Marsan, which, lately built by Saint Amandus for men, she turned into a Convent. Thither she brought her daughters Adelsenda and Clorsenda. Husebia was sent to Hamay, while her son Maurontus was commanded to attend the court and camp of Dagobert. Our Saint was the first Abbess of Mont de Marsan, and she governed it so strictly that the fame of her sanctity was in the mouths of all. Her daughter Adelsenda, while yet a child, preceded her to Heaven. Clorsenda, on her mother’s death, succeeded her as Abbess. At Hamay, Eusebia was elected Abbess, though she was only in her twelfth year.

Richtrude was distressed that her daughter, who was little more than a child, and entirely without experience, should venture to rule others. Therefore she employed all her persuasive powers to induce Eusebia and her Community to leave Hamay and join her at Mont de Marsan. As her advice was not listened to, she laid the matter before Dagobert, and he compelled the Sisters of Hamay to come to Mont de Marsan. There, under her mother and Abbess, Eusebia so well discharged all the duties of her holy calling, that after death she was numbered among the Saints. She was sent back to Hamay, and died there before she had completed her twenty-third year, a light from Heaven flooding her chamber as she was breathing her last.

Saint Richtrude, now worn out by old age – she was in her seventy-fourth year – was called to her everlasting reward on the 12th May A.D. 687.

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