Saint of the Day – 15 October – St Thecla of Kitzengen OSB (Died c 790) a Benedictine nun and abbess. Born in England, she went to Germany to assist Saint Boniface in his missionary labours. She died in c790 at Kitzingen Abbey, Germany of natural causes. She is also known as Thecla of England, Tecla, Heilga.
The clues about Saint Thecla are tantalising. Who was this nun entrusted to govern two Abbeys in eighth century Francia, east of the Rhine, a more dangerous area than her native Britain?
She was a kinswoman of Saint Lioba (c 710–782) who, in turn, was kin of St Boniface. Thecla lived with St Lioba and other Benedictine nuns at Wimbourne, a double monastery governed by Saint Tetta.
The savage Teutonic people of Northern Europe were brought to Christ by missionaries in the eighth century. The most famous of these gospel-bearers was St Boniface. Among his helpers were women. He asked Tetta, the abbess of Wimborne, Dorset, to send him assistants. Tetta sent Lioba and Thecla to his aid.
Boniface appointed these women as heads of monastic institutions observing the Benedictine rule. Boniface must have trusted Thecla a great deal because he put her charge of two Abbeys, one at Ochsenfurt and the other at Kitzingen. Their work endured even after he had been butchered by pagans. Many a man has been able to work on his feet because others supported him on their knees. Boniface relied on his “daughters” as more than heads of Abbeys. He called on them to be his prayer partners.
In a famous letter to the “…revered and dearly loved sisters Leobgith and Thecla and to Cynehild,” he wrote: “I urge and direct you, beloved daughters, to pray to our Lord frequently, as we trust you do constantly and will continue to do, as you have in the past … and know that we praise God and our heart’s yearning grows, that God our Lord, refuge of the poor and hope of the lowly, will free us from our straits and the trials of this evil age, that His word may spread and the wonderful Gospel of Christ be held in honour, that His grace be not fruitless in me… And… pray that I may not die without some fruit for that Gospel.”
Abbesses at this time were in positions of power and influence and acted autonomously. That Thecla was responsible for two Abbeys tells us how much Boniface trusted her, both for her abilities and loyalty. The 11th century Passion of Boniface says, “She shone like a light in a dark place.”
It seems that Thecla’s character was so noble that when she oversaw Kitzingen, she was simply called Heilga, which means “The Saint.” This day, 15 October is her feast day. The Roman martyrlogy states – “In Germany, St Thecla, thanks be to God.”
She is believed to have died around 790, after more than 40 years in Francia. Her relics were at Kitzingen and her cult apparently was strong in the 11th century.
But there is a sad postscript centuries later. In 1525 during the Peasants War, the tombs of Thecla and another saint were desecrated and when the church was rebuilt in 1695, the bodies were covered with rubbish. Despite this outrage, the echoes of the good they did cannot be muted and we are sure that they will rise again at the resurrection.