Saint of the Day – 3 December – Saint Emma of Bremen (c 975–1038) Married Laywoman, Princess, mother and widow, apostle of the poor, founder of Churches. Also known as Emma of Lesum, Emma of Stiepel, Hemma, Imma. Born in c 975 and died on 3 December 1038 of natural causes.
Emma was born into the Saxon noble family of the Immedinger, descendants of Widukind. She married Liudger, a son of the Saxon duke Hermann Billung and brother of Bernard I, Duke of Saxony. Emperor Otto III made the couple a present in 1001 of the Pfalz or palatium in Stiepel), where, in 1008 Emma had a church built dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which later became a popular place of pilgrimage. The only child of the marriage was Imad, who was Ordained a Priest and later was consecrated as the Bishop of Paderborn in 1051.
After the early death of her husband in 1011, Emma withdrew to the estate of Lesum (now Bremen-Burglesum) and with her fortune, generously supported Bremen Cathedral and granted the Cathedral chapter her property at Stiepel with its church.
She was portrayed as a great benefactress of the Church and indeed, founded a number of Churches in the Bremen area, although her greatest care was for the poor.
Emma was later venerated as a Saint, although there is no evidence that she was formally ever either beatified or canonised. She was buried in Bremen Cathedral, where her tomb was still to be seen in the 16th century. Her tomb is one of the biggest in the cemetery. When the tomb was opened, her body had crumbled to dust except for her right hand (the hand that dispensed the help to the needy and the poor). That relic was placed in the Abbey of Saint Ludger at Werden.
There is a well-known Bremen legend concerning her gift of a meadow to the town in 1032. When a delegation of the townspeople approached her with a request for more meadowland, Emma promised them as much meadow as a man could run round in an hour. Her brother-in-law Bernard or Benno, Duke of Saxony, with an appraising eye on his inheritance, suggested mockingly that she might as well give them as much land as a man could run round in a day. Emma agreed to this but Bernard asked to choose the man who was to do the running and when Emma agreed to that too, picked out a legless cripple past whom they had just walked. This man proved, however, to have extraordinary strength and endurance and by the end of the day had succeeded in making his way round a very substantial area, bigger even than the present Bremen town meadow.
This story has been current in various forms since at least the 18th century, although there is no documentary evidence for it but gives a whole meaning to the inclusion of the figure of the “cripple” at the feet of the statue of Bremen Roland, the protector of the City of Bremen.