Friday, November 18, 2011

Blessed Hermann of Reichenau

As part of the boys' schooling this year, we are reading Stories of the Saints from Catholic Heritage Curricula. I've really been impressed by this book. The stories are very engaging and I've been learning new things as well.

This week, we learned about Blessed Hermann of Reichenau. I pray the "Hail Holy Queen" every day as part of the rosary. I can honestly say that I never thought about the man who wrote it, however. Blessed Hermann was that man! He lived a very remarkable life. Here is his story (or at least the Wikipedia version):

Hermann of Reichenau (1013 July 18 – 1054 September 24), also called Hermannus Contractus or Hermannus Augiensis or Herman the Cripple, was an 11th century scholar, composer, music theorist, mathematician, and astronomer. He composed the Marian prayer Alma Redemptoris Mater. He was beatified (cultus confirmed) in 1863.

Hermann was a son of the duke of Altshausen. He was crippled by a paralytic disease from early childhood. He was born in 1013 with a cleft palate, cerebral palsy and spina bifida. [None of the sources cited just the specific diagnosis of spina bifida]. As a result he had great difficulty moving and could hardly speak. At the age of seven he was placed in a Benedictine monastery by his parents who could no longer look after him. He grew up in the monastery, learning from the monks and developing a keen interest in both theology and the world around him.

He spent most of his life in the abbey of Reichenau, an island on Lake Constance. Hermannus contributed to all four arts of the quadrivium. He was renowned as a musical composer (among his surviving works are officia for St. Afra and St. Wolfgang). He also wrote a treatise on the science of music, several works on geometry and arithmetics and astronomical treatises (including instructions for the construction of an astrolabe, at the time a very novel device in Western Europe). As a historian, he wrote a detailed chronicle from the birth of Christ to his own present day, for the first time compiling the events of the 1st millennium AD scattered in various chronicles in a single work, ordering them after the reckoning of the Christian era. His disciple Berthold of Reichenau was its continuator.

At the age of twenty Herman was professed as a Benedictine monk; he spent the rest of his life in the monastery. He was literate in several languages, including Arabic, Greek and Latin and wrote about mathematics, astronomy and Christianity. He built musical and astronomical instruments and was also a famed religious poet. [None of the references justify the claim that he could read Arabic. There were few Arabic speaking scholars in Europe at this time, and Herman could not have learned by traveling scholars]. When he went blind in later life he began writing hymns. His best known is Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen).

Herman died at the age of forty in the monastery in 1054. The Church beatified him in 1863.

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