Saint of the Day – 25 January – Saint Poppo of Stavelot (977-1048) Abbot, Reformer, Ascetic – born in 978 at Flanders, Belgium and died on 25 January 1048 at Marchiennes, France of natural causes. He became one of the best known abbots of Stavelot and was one of the first recorded Flemish pilgrims to the Holy Land.
The Vita Popponis, the biography of Poppo, was written shortly after his death by the monk Onulf and the abbot Everhelm of the abbey of Hautmont. According this source Poppo belonged to a noble family of Flanders, his parents being Tizekinus and Adalwif. About the year 1000 he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with two compagnons. Soon after this he also went to Rome. He was about to marry a lady of noble family, when a miraculous experience made him end his military career. Late at night, a flame burst out of the sky and kept his lance radiating. He believed this to be an illumination of the Holy Spirit and soon after, he decided to enter the monastery of Saint Thierry at Rheims (1005).
Around 1008 Abbot Richard of Saint Vannes at Verdun, who was a zealous reformer of monasteries, took Poppo to his monastery. Richard made Poppo prior of St Vaast in Arras, in the Diocese of Cambrai, about 1013. Here Poppo proved to be the right man for the position, reclaimed the lands of the monastery from rapacious vassals and secured the possession of the monastery by deeds. Before 1016 he was appointed to the same position at Vasloges (Beloacum, Beaulieu) in the Diocese of Verdun.
In 1020, the German emperor Henry II, who became acquainted with Poppo in 1016, made him Abbot of the abbeys of Stavelot and Malmedy (in Lower Lorraine, now Belgium) and in 1023 the Abbey of St Maximin at Trier.
He became even more important during the reign of Conrad II. From St Maximin, the Cluniac reform now found its way into the German monasteries. The emperor placed several imperial monasteries under Poppo’s control or supervision, as Limburg an der Hardt, Echternach, St Gislen, Weissenburg, St Gall, Hersfeld, Waulsort, Hautmont and Hastières. Soon after Poppo transferred these positions to his disciples. The Bishops and laymen who had founded monasteries placed a series of other monasteries under his care, like St Laurence at Liège, St Vincent at Metz, St Eucharius at Trier, Hohorst, Brauweiler, St Vaast, Marchiennes etc. However, the reform of Richard of Saint-Vanne had no permanent success in the German Empire.
Personally Poppo practised the most severe asceticism. He had no interest in literary affairs and was neither particularly prominent in politics. During the reign of Henry III he lost influence. Death overtook him while he was staying at the abbey of Marchiennes. Poppo was later buried in the abbey of Stavelot.