01 Aug

St Matilda, Memorial: March 14

Wife of an emperor

Born at the end of the turbulent ninth century, Matilda was the wife of the famous German emperor Henry the Fowler, considered the founder of the First Reich. Her son Otto would later succeed and become emperor in turn.

She was born in Westphalia in East Francis (as Germany was generally known) and spent most of her childhood at an abbey, her grandmother being the abbess. There Duke Otto I of Saxony spotted her and had her married to his son Henry in her teens.

She had three sons and two daughters. Her husband died in 936 when she was 40, and she established an abbey. Thirty years later her granddaughter, also Matilda, became the first abbess.

Forced to leave court

As Queen Mother she at first stayed close to her son, but his rule was marred by conflict with his younger brother Henry. She was forced to leave court to escape her enemies, who accused her of using treasury money for charities.

After a decade she returned, at the urging of her son’s Anglo-Saxon wife, Eadgyth, the granddaughter of Alfred the Great. She died in 968, having lived to see the establishment of that great oxymoron, the Holy Roman Empire.

Patron of large families

Matilda was much venerated in Germany for her devotion to prayer and almsgiving. Numerous convents produced biographies soon after her death, even if some of the stories attached to her have been discredited.

Her cult remains largely confined to Bavaria and Saxony, even if one church in Co. Westmeath features a stained-glass window dedicated to her. She is the patron saint of large families.”

– This article was published in the Catholic Herald magazine, issue 6701, March 13 2015. For subscriptions please visit (external link).


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