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of the Day

 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinJanuary 17, 2003 Issue 

Meinrad was too hospitable

Giving welcome, forgiveness, to the men who killed him

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor
Saint of the Day graphic

St. Meinrad

When: died 861

Where: Switzerland

What: Hermit

Feast: Jan. 21

One of life's many curiosities is the hermit -- men and women who wish to live, work and pray in solitude and thereby draw closer to God. Their way of life tends to attract fascinated visitors, to whom the hermits respond as warmly as they would Christ.

One such hermit was St. Meinrad, whose hospitality proved fatal. Meinrad, a member of a Swiss noble family, was ordained a priest and then joined the Benedictines at Reichenau.

At first, he taught near Zurich, before receiving his abbot's permission in 829 to live as a hermit in a secluded spot in the forest. Seven years later, he had so many visitors -- who he felt he couldn't care for adequately because of his poor health -- that he moved to an isolated spot near Lake Zurich, which he named Einsiedeln (the Hermitage). He built himself a shelter where he lived for the next 25 years, praying and helping visitors.

But then, on Jan. 21, 861, two men -- Richard and Peter -- came searching for him, asking directions to his hermitage. They seemed to believe that Meinrad was an eccentric miser with a vast fortune, rather than a poor hermit.

When Richard and Peter approached Meinrad was praying in his hermitage and they watched him through a crack in the wall.

Eventually, he came out to greet them, expressing his regret that they had not arrived in time to attend the Mass he had finished a little earlier. He invited them to go inside and pray before doing what they had come to do.

As they came out, Meinrad offered his tunic, bread and drink, saying: "Take these things from my hands; indeed, once you finish what you have come to do, you can take for yourselves whatever you want of these things here. For I know that you have come to kill me. But one favor I beg of you. After you have ended the course of my present life, place these candles which you see and which I made for this very purpose, one burning at my head and one at my feet. Then afterwards quickly leave this place, lest those who usually visit me come upon you and force you to pay the penalty of your crime."

The two clubbed, then strangled him, before laying out his body and placing an unlit candle at his head. They went to light the second candle and returned to find the first burning brightly. Frightened, the men ran off, chased by Meinrad's pet ravens who made so much noise that the men were held, then arrested after the crime was discovered.

The Benedictine Abbey of Maria-Einsiedeln was founded on the site in 934. Some 900 years later, monks from that abbey started St. Meinrad Abbey near Indianapolis. The Benedictine Swiss-American Congregation -- now numbering seven monasteries and nearly 400 monks -- grew from that.

(Sources: Butler's Lives of the Saints, Dictionary of Saints, The Life of St. Meinrad, and

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