Saint of the Day – 29 March – St Ludolf of Ratzeburg O.Praem. (Died 1250) Bishop and Martyr, Preacher and founder of a community of Norbertine Sisters, Reformer and Counseller. St Ludolf was a Priest of the Premonstratensian (Norbertines) Order, particularly invoked as a martyr for the freedom of the Church.
Ludolph was a Norbertine Canon who was appointed to the See of the newly-formed Prince-Bishopric of Ratzeburg in 1236. He led such a strict religious life that his community was nicknamed the “carcer ordinis” (Prison of the Order).
Nothing is known of the early years of Ludolph. He joined the Norbertine Cathedral Chapter of Ratzeburg where he was treasurer before being elected eighth bishop of Ratzeburg in 1236. He was renowned for his exemplary religious life and powerful preaching of the word of God. He also founded a community of Norbertine sisters at Rehna.
Like the Good Shepherd, Ludolph focused all his energies on the care of souls. He preached and made pastoral visitations. The pope entrusted him with several political missions, forcing him to fight for the rights and freedom of the Church. His most difficult trial involved standing up to Prince Albert, the “Bear of Saxony,” who had taken possession of cathedral properties—an act that Ludolph resisted. The prince’s insults and threats did not intimidate him. The Duke had him imprisoned, where he was beaten and later sent into exile. Albert consequently ordered Ludolph thrown into a dungeon, where he had to suffer severe tortures. Realising that his treatment of the bishop was unpopular, the prince decided to set Ludolph free. After his release from prison, he was brought half-dead to the Franciscans at Wismar but he died shortly after.
It was during this exile that Ludolph, weighed down by the infirmities suffered in prison and by his advancing old age, fell gravely ill. He celebrated his last Mass on Holy Thursday. His final words were “O great and good God, allow me, your useless servant, to belong to you for all eternity.”
His body was returned to Ratzeburg for burial. As the procession passed through Schlagsdorf, the bells of the city were said to ring of their own accord. At the command of the Duke, Ludolph’s body was carried from the bridge to the cathedral by the nobility of Ratzeburg. Ludolph’s confreres carried him into the cathedral themselves where he found his final resting place. Ludolph is honoured as a “Bishop and a Martyr for the Rights and Freedom of the Church.” He is portrayed with the regalia of a bishop, bearing the shackles that bound him in prison and holding the palm of martyrdom.
After his death, those who visited his grave in the Cathedral of Ratzeburg reported numerous favours received. The centuries-old veneration of Ludolph was confirmed and extended to the whole order by Pope Benedict XIII on 12 April 1728.
The head of Ludolph was kept in the possession of the Norbertine nuns of Meer in Prussia, beginning in the 17th century. After the secularisation of this convent, the relic came into the possession the abbot of Hamborn in 1826. On 5 March 1984, the Congregation for Divine Worship granted permission for the public veneration of the three Norbertine bishop-saints of Ratzeburg, see image right – Ludolph, Evermode and Isfrid.
Concerning the “punishment”, the Apostle says: “Because through many trials it is fitting that we enter the kingdom of God”. And again: “The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared to the future glory which will be revealed in us”.
Concerning the “cause”, we read: “It is not the punishment that makes the martyr but the cause”. In this regard we read in the Gospel: “Blessed are those who suffer persecution for the sake of justice”.
– Life of St Norbert, Vita B, Chapter V
Almighty God, you made the bishop and martyr Ludolph a zealous and fearless witness of your Church. Through his intercession grant that we may be filled with patience in all the trials of life and be found worthy to belong to you for all eternity. We ask this through Christ our Lord, AMEN.