St. Henry, Emperor

July 12, 2019

The Pastor's Page

St. Henry was the Duke of Bavaria, the Holy Roman Emperor, a powerful ruler, and extremely involved in Church affairs.

St. Henry was born in Hildesheim, Bavaria, on May 6, 972. His parents were Duke Henry II of Bavaria and Gisela of Burgundy. He was the eldest of four children, all of whom rose to positions of influence. His brother Bruno became the bishop of Augsburg, his sister Gisella married Stephen of Hungary, and his sister Brigid became the abbess of the monastery of St. Paul in Regensburg.

St. HenrySt. Henry received his education from St. Wolfgang, the bishop of Regensburg, from whom he gained a strong love for the Church, and in monastic schools where he developed a great appreciation for the value of monastic life. He was a man of faith, prayer, and conviction.

In 995 at the age of 22, St. Henry succeeded his father as the Duke of Bavaria. Three years later he married Kunegunda of Luxemburg (also Cunegunda or Cunegund). They had no children, were married 26 years, and together performed many good works, particularly care for the poor. She became a Benedictine nun after his death in 1024, and she was canonized a saint in 1200.

In 1002 at the age of 29, St. Henry was elected to succeed his cousin, Otto III, as the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. He was first crowned in 1007 at Magonza, and then again in 1014 by Pope Benedict VIII in Rome. As emperor, he realized that he was subject to the King of all, and that the most important crown is not power and riches but the crown of immortality.

The Empire was vast and beset by strife. St. Henry led multiple military campaigns throughout his reign. In 1004 his forces crossed the Alps to defeat Arduin of Ivrea who had installed himself as king of Italy. In the same year his troops drove Boleslaus I of Poland from Bohemia. In 1021 his military returned to Italy to confront Greeks who had a stronghold at Apulia.

St. Henry did much to strengthen the Church in Germany, particularly in the reform and reorganization of the dioceses of Hildesheim, Magdeburg, Strassburg, and Meersburg. Also, in a strategic move, he founded the Diocese of Bamberg in 1006 in the hope that the capital of the empire would move from Rome to Germany, and he insisted on the construction of both a great cathedral and a monastery as focal points. Pope John XIX approved the new diocese, and Pope Benedict VIII consecrated the cathedral in 1020. The new diocese served as the center of a missionary outreach to the Slavs, but it was opposed by the bishops of Wurzburg and Eichstatt, both of whom lost territory from their dioceses.

St. Henry supported the Pope’s authority over the Papal States. He was a strong proponent of the Cluny monastic reform movement which put him squarely at odds with archbishop Aribo of Mainz, his friend and personal appointee, who opposed the reform.

St. Henry died in his Grona palace near Gottingen, Germany, on July 13, 1024, at the age of 51, and was buried in the Bamberg cathedral. Pope Eugene III canonized him a saint in 1146, and Pope Pius X named him the patron saint of the Benedictine lay oblates.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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