Saint of the Day – 15 August – Blessed Alfred of Hildesheim OSB (Died 874) Bishop, Benedictine Monk, Confessor, Founder of Essen Abbey, Hildesheim Cathedral, many Convents, Schools and Seminaries, Royal Spiritual Adviser to the East Frankish King Louis the German, Diplomatic Peacemaker, he was know for his great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Born in the early 9th century in Cologne, Germany and died on 15 August 874 of natural causes. Patronage – Hildesheim, Essen, Germany.
Alfred was born into an aristocratic family in Saxony, Germany at around 800. Not long before he was born, King Charlemagne of the Franconian Empire, conquered the Saxons after some long and bitter battles. The Saxons were converted to Christianity. St Alfred was born to a family of new converts.
He was probably educated at a convent. At the time, there were only two sources of education – schools opened by imperial courts and schools run by convents.
Alfred became a monk at Corvey Abbey and in 851 he was appointed Bishop of Hildesheim and initiated the construction of the first Cathedral of the city. On 1 November 872, the Cathedral was Consecrated by the saint himself and was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, St Cosmas and St Damian, St Cecilia, St Valerian and St Tiburtius as Patron Saints. A Cathedral school was also opened, which became the foundation of the educational system in Hildesheim.
Even before his Consecration as Bishop, Alfred had been active in the foundation of several female religious communities. The most important one was the Canonesses Convent in Essen. He funded this Convent which was built on his inherited land. With donations from generous donors across generations, the Convent became one of the richest in Germany. The Church therein was consecrated by Alfred and was dedicated to the Holy Trinity, the Holy Mother of God, St Cosmas and St. Damian. Between 845-847 Alfred had acquired the relics of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Rome.
Bishops at that time were greatly revered in the kingdom and were often given duties by the kings. Alfred’s level of involvement in the politics of his time may be a little unimaginable to us today. After King Charlemagne’s death, his descendants divided up his kingdom. Disputes and feuds happened often as the princes fought for expansion of power. As Alfred was a good friend and adviser to Ludwig der Deutsche, king of East Fraconia, he was often given diplomatic duties to negotiate with the king’s brothers and nephews.
His adherence to justice and his political wisdom had brought successes to his diplomatic missions and earned him the reputation of peace-maker.
On 15 August 874, Alfred died “rich in days” after some two decades as Bishop of Hildesheim. The place of Altfrid’s death is not known, although the date is recorded by Abbot Altbert of Lobbes as the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, 15 August 874, which occurred on a Sunday that year. He was buried, according to his wishes, in the church of Essen Abbey. A Gothic tomb stands over his grave in the east crypt, which is named after him.
After his death Alfred was particularly venerated at his tomb in Essen. Many miracles were reported at his grave, which greatly increased the veneration and the effects of a healing spring close to the Church were also ascribed to his intercession. After a serious fire in the Church in the 13th century a Gothic stone sarcophagus was obtained for his bones. Alfred’s feast day – which in Essen was celebrated on 16 August, rather than on 15 August – is the most festive in the Abbey’s yearly calendar.
The almanac of Bishops of Essen which was edited in the 12th century has a record that says: – “Alfred passed away at an advanced age and joined rank with the saints. He was buried at the Essen Cathedral which he built and Consecrated. Ever since then, there have been many miracles. Pilgrims from other places bear witness to these matters.”
In 1965, Pope Paul VI approved a feast day for Alfred, Bishop and Confessor, who had been regarded as a saint for centuries. Mass in his honour has since been celebrated. The long-time devotion to the saint was finally recognised by the Church.