Meinrad was too hospitable
Giving welcome, forgiveness, to the men who killed him
By Tony Staley
When: died 861
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
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, newadvent.org and subi.org.)