Saint of the Day – 16 June – St Benno (1010-1106) Confessor and Bishop of Meissen – born in 1010 at Hildesheim, Germany – died on 16 June 1106 of natural causes – also known as Benedict. Patronages – anglers, fishermen, weavers, diocese of Dresden-Meissen, Germany and Munich, Germany.
Saint Benno worked throughout his long life to reform the Church, supported the legitimacy of the Pope at a time when the papacy was being politically attacked, suffered persecution and exile and worked numerous miracles. Saint Benno remains one of the most venerated saints throughout Germany.
Benno was born to a noble family in Saxony (modern day Germany) and was educated from a young age by the monks of the abbey of Saint Michael. He was ordained a priest, and eventually, at the age of 56 became Bishop of Meissen. Soon thereafter, he was appointed Canon to the imperial chapel of Emperor Henry III, a pious ruler who looked to the Church for guidance in political matters. Upon his death, Henry IV ascended to the throne, at the young age of sixteen. Unlike his predecessor, he sought to subjugate the Church to the state and restrict the legitimacy of the papacy throughout Germany.
However, at that time, one of the greatest of the Church’s popes, Pope Gregory VII, sat on the Chair of Peter and wished for nothing more than to preserve the role of the Pope in investing bishops—that is, providing bishops with the symbols of their holy office, signifying their marriage to the Church. This “Investiture Contest” spread throughout Europe and many bishops sided with the political leaders of their regions, rather than the Pope. However, Saint Benno stood alongside Pope Gregory VII, against the Emperor, instituting the reforms of the Church and maintaining the divine duties of the Pope. For his trouble, he was imprisoned and exiled for many years.
One of the most famous legends told of Saint Benno involves his barring the emperor from receiving the Holy Eucharist following his excommunication (the Pope had excommunicated Henry IV, due to his decisions to challenge the Church’s legitimate authority to invest bishops). Henry, however, hoped that the German bishops would take no notice of this `excommunication’ and rode to Meissen—to the cathedral served by Saint Benno—to receive the Eucharist. Saint Benno realised that there was nothing he could do to keep the emperor out, save barring the cathedral to everyone. So that is what he did. He locked the cathedral doors and threw the keys into the river Elbe. Henry knew that if he attempted to break down the doors to the cathedral, he would anger the crowds gathered, so simply rode away vowing vengeance on the holy bishop.
After he had gone, Saint Benno ordered the local fisherman to cast their nets into the Elbe and after praying over the water, they hauled in their nets. In the net was a fish that had the keys to the cathedral hanging upon its fins. Benno retrieved the key and reopened the cathedral. It was not soon thereafter that he was both imprisoned and exiled, although would not stray from the teachings of the Church, even under threat of punishment.
Saint Benno lived to be a very old man and spent the last years of his life preaching the faith to those who had not yet converted. He never lost sight of his calling as a diocesan bishop, visiting and preaching at all the parishes in his diocese, celebrating the Mass, enforcing discipline and enacting reform amongst the clergy and building many grand cathedrals for the glory of the Lord. An accomplished musician, Saint Benno encouraged music and chanting during Masses throughout the diocese, penned many hymns and wrote extensively on the Gospels.
Following his death, at the age of nearly one hundred, Saint Benno was buried in the cathedral at Meissen. When the cathedral was rebuilt in 1285, his relics were translated to the new cathedra, and many miraculous cures were reported at that time. His relics were later translated to Munich in 1580 and Saint Benno remains the patron saint of that city today.