Saint of the Day – 16 November – St Othmar of Saint Gall (c 689-c 759) Priest, the Founder and first Abbot of the Abbey of St Gall in Switzerland, founder of a hospital and a school as well as the famous Library of St Gall (see below), which is the oldest working Library in the world, Apostle of the poor and sick, defender of his people and Abbey against secular usurpers. Born as Alemanne Othmar in c 689 probably near St Gallen and died on 16 November 759 on the Island of Werd-on-the-Rhine, near Echnez, Switzerland. Patronages – of winegrowers, vintners, against childhood diseases and diseases in general, of the Diocese of St. Gallen and the Monatery of St Gall (with St Gall).Also known as -“
Poor”Father Audomar, Otmar.
Othmar was born of the Alemannic dialectic group of Germans spoken in certain parts of South Germany, in Alsace (France), Vorarlberg (Austria), Switzerland and Liechtenstein. He received his education in Rhaetia, Switzerland and was Ordained to the Priesthood there. For a time he presided over a Church of St. Florinus in the same location.
In 720, he was appointed as the Superior of the Monks of St Gall (Died 646- Feast 16 October) and Custodian over the Saint’s Relics, who at the time, lived separately but followed a single rule of life. Othmar built a Monastery to accommodate them and united the Monks who lived about the cell of St Gall, according to the Rule of St Columban and became their first Abbot. He added a hospital and a school to the foundation. During his Abbacy the Rule of St Columban was replaced by that of St Benedict.
The Abbey was soon endowed with goods from Alemannic landowners who cared for their salvation but also wanted to keep their goods out of the hands of the Frankish Empire.
Othmar gave away Monastery assets to the poor, built the first house for lepers in Switzerland near the Monastery and took in the sick, blind and poor in another building, where he also looked after them at night. The close connection between the Monastery Monks and the common people, was the reason for his missionary successes and earned him the name “Poor Father.” Fearing the growing wealth of his Monastery, he dressed himself simply, only riding a donkey instead of a horse.
When King Karlmann renounced his throne in 747, he visited Othmar at St Gall and gave him a letter to his brother, King Pepin, recommending Othmar and his Monastery to the King’s generosity and protection. Othmar personally brought the letter to Pepin and was kindly received.
The flourishing Monastery of St Gallen then got caught up in the turmoil of politics in the Frankish Kingdom. When the Counts Warin and Ruodhart unjustly tried to gain possession of some property belonging to St Gall Abbey, Othmar fearlessly resisted their demands. Hereupon they captured him while he was on a journey to Constance and held him prisoner, First he was in the dungeon of the Royal Palace, then led to a show trial, at which he was accused of desecrating a woman and sentenced to death by starvation, later commuted to life imprisonment. He finally found asylum with Count Gozbert on the Rhine Island of Werd near Stein am Rhein but did not survive the abuse he had endured for long and died there.
Othmar’s biographer Gozbert reports that ten years later, in 769, Monks from St Gallen wanted to bring back the body of the Monastery Founder and found it intact. The brothers took a wine barrel with them as provisions for the journey and it always stayed full on the way there and back, no matter how much they drank from it. A storm that was devastating the whole area was miraculously kept away from the ship on the journey across Lake Constance and from the tomb, so that not even the candles at Othmar’s feet and head, went out.
In 867 he was solemnly entombed in the new Church of St Othmar at St Gall. His cult began to spread soon after his death and now he is, next to St Maurice and St Gall, the most popular Saints in Switzerland. His cult was officially recognised in 864 by Bishop Solomon I (Bishop of Constance).
His Feast is celebrated on 16 November. He is represented in art as a Benedictine Abbot, generally holding a little barrel in his hand, an allusion to the miracle, that a barrel of St Othmar never became empty, no matter how much he took from it to give to the poor.
St Gallen Cathedral is dedicated to Saints Gall and Othmar. St Othmar Chapel on Werd island was erected in his memory.