Sunday 7 September 2014

Saint Madelberta of Maubeuge, September 7

September 7 is the feastday of a Belgian saint, allegedly of Irish extraction, Madelberta, abbess of Maubeuge. She is one of an extraordinary family of saints whom Canon O'Hanlon is only too happy to claim for Ireland. The account below has been abridged from Volume 9 of his Lives of the Irish Saints, but whether this saint and her kindred ever had an Irish connection is another matter entirely. Her name is not found in any of our native calendars but obviously occurs in the continental ones, which Canon O'Hanlon lists. He also cites a list of Irish saints compiled by Convaeus, which I think is a reference to a seventeenth-century Irish-born Jesuit, Richard Conway (Richardus Convaeus), who was involved with the Irish colleges in Spain. I would be interested to know if his list is among the papers of the archives hosted by the Irish in Europe Project.


ALTHOUGH the place of this holy virgin's nativity has not been distinctly ascertained; yet, she has been classed among our Irish Saints, because her religious father is held to have sought from Ireland the shores of France, where he was renowned as a warrior, and where he attained the distinction of being known as Count of Hannonia, or Hainault, in reward for his services, as also because with his religious wife, Waldetrude, he visited Ireland, on a mission entrusted to him, by Dagobert I., King of France. Moreover, on her father's side, St. Madelberta. had Irish blood in her veins, and doubtless she inherited many of those happy dispositions, that rendered her worthy to rank with so many other members of a truly noble and holy family.

…St. Madelberga or Madelberta was the daughter of Saints Maelceadar or Vincentius and Waldetrude. Their children were Landric or Landry, afterwards Bishop of Meaux, or of Metz, Aldetrude, and Malberta, their daughters, and Dentelin, who was the youngest of that family. Surrounded by such a happy circle, we can scarcely wonder, that Madelberta, or Amalberte—as she is also called—grew up in the most happy dispositions. Born—as seems most probable —a short time before the death of Dagobert I., King of France, which happened about A.D. 638; from childhood, Madelberta loved to pray constantly, and to profit by the teaching and example of her holy parents. It has been thought by some, that she and her sister Aldetrudis had been twins, and born about the year 637; or if they were born at different periods, one saw the light about A.D. 636, and the other A.D. 637. Her aunt, St. Aldegundis, who could not have been many years older, was the first foundress of a convent at Malbod, also known as Maubeuge. It was then a solitary place, on the River Sambre; and, it is now a town and canton of France, in the Department of the North. There she had built three churches, on the death of her parents. One of those was dedicated in honour of the Queen of Angels; another to honour St. Quintin, Martyr; and the third was dedicated to the chiefs of the Apostles, Saints Peter and Paul. Her sister Waldetrude retired from the world, having collected around her a fervent and religious community. At that time, Aldegonde was placed under her charge, at the age of eleven years, by Bertilia, as seems likely for purposes of religious and secular instruction; the younger children of Waldetrude remaining in care of their maternal aunt. The parents of Aldegonde withdrew their daughter after a brief sojourn in the monastery, fearing that she also should take the veil, and because they had intended her to marry a man of rank -equal to their own. However, their efforts were unavailing; for she soon took an opportunity to escape from the paternal mansion, and while still very young, she had found that place of solitude, where her religious house was afterwards established.

Meanwhile, Aldetrude and Madelberta felt a growing desire to consecrate their lives solely to the service of Christ. At an early age, they had been consigned by their pious mother to the convent founded at Maubeuge, where they were placed for education and direction under their aunt. Thus, it may be said, that almost from their cradle, they were familiarised with all the monastic rules and practices. Being—as supposed—the youngest of the daughters of St. Mauger or Vincent, and Vaudrue, or Waldetrude, Madelberta sought a retreat from the world with St. Aldegonde; while it would seem, that her sister Aldetrude also devoted herself to a religious life, in the same monastery. There indeed was a union of souls engaged in all the practical virtues of their state. Their chastity and humility were exercised with vigils and largesses to the poor. From St. Amand and other holy bishops, they heard frequent exhortations, and were comforted against the trials and temptations, which fail not to test the fortitude of even the most virtuous persons. On one of those occasions, while our saint was in great distress, bright rays of light came through the windows of her oratory, and seemed to cover her, as if the Divine influence had been poured on her for a protection from the snares of the enemy.

For a long time, the holy Abbess Aldegonde ruled over her community, on the banks of the Sambre. She was favoured in an eminent degree with the gift of fervent prayer, and with many revelations. Under such a superioress, we may well suppose, her nieces were schooled in all the virtues and discipline of their religious state. The closing years of Aldegonde were a continual martyrdom for a cancer in the right breast was the cause of intense pain. This she bore, not only with exemplary patience, but with rejoicing that she was deemed worthy to suffer for the name of Christ. When her term on earth was arrived, a globe of fire was seen coming from Heaven and settling over the house, in which her spirit so happily departed, and as generally supposed on the 30th of January, A.D. 684. We have already seen, the parents of St. Madelberta separated by mutual consent to spend the rest of their days in religious retirement, about the year 653; Madelgarius, or Vincent, to take up his abode in that monastery he had previously founded, at Hautmont, near Maubeuge, on the River Sambre, and his wife Waldetrude, or Vaudru, at Castrilocus, or Castrilos, subsequently designated Mons, in the year 656. The Blessed Aldetrudis, or Adeltrude, succeeded her aunt in the government of this religious establishment. For twelve years she presided over it with great virtue and wisdom, when she was also called away to taste the fruits of life everlasting, about the year 696.

After the death of her sainted sister, Madelberta was selected to govern the monastery. Nor was she less careful to set an excellent example to the nuns under her charge, and to foster the good seed already sown, so that daily were pious females brought to the sanctuary, and directed by her in the paths that led to Heaven. She ruled over her religious community for the term of nine years. Madelberta had thus become the third abbess of Malbod, and now in turn she was called to receive the eternal reward. In the most admirable sentiments of piety she died about the year 684, or 685 according to some writers. However, more recent and exact researches, by Carolus le Cointe and others, have ascertained by certain historic comparisons of data that her life had been prolonged to about A.D. 705. Her body was deposited in the Church of St. Peter, the Apostle, with solemn funeral rites; a great number of priests with the religious entoning the psalms and canticles appropriate for the occasion.

Soon after the Saint's death, a remarkable miracle took place, which soon caused the people of all that surrounding country to venerate her as their special patroness. A very religious man, living near Maubeuge, had a deafness in the right ear, and he had often prayed to God for the gift of sound hearing. One night in his sleep, a voice came to him, saying: "Arise, go to the monastery of Maubeuge and to the Church of St. Peter, where the body of St. Madelberte, Virgin, reposes, and there you shall be healed at her tomb." When morning had come, he arose and hastened to the monastery as directed. He assisted at Mass with profound devotion, offering up his prayers most fervently. Suddenly, when the priest commenced chaunting the Gospel, the man had an extraordinary sensation. His limbs began to tremble, his face grew pale, and some aqueous humour distilled from the ear affected. At the same moment, he felt relieved from his infirmity, which never afterwards returned. Another miracle is recorded regarding a certain girl, whose lower limbs had been crooked and paralysed from the time of birth; but her parents had brought her to the tomb of our saint, where she was suddenly restored to their use. At the time of the evening office, she was seen by the nuns, walking through the middle of the Church, and giving thanks to God. This caused great rejoicing and admiration to all who had known her previous condition, and who had witnessed her perfect restoration. These are only a few of those miracles, which were wrought, at the place of her first sepulture.

St. Hubert, who had succeeded St. Lambert as Bishop of Maestricht, removed the episcopal see in 721 to Liege, of which city he then became the first bishop. To honour his martyred predecessor, he had built a stately church, which he designated the cathedral, and thither he conveyed the relics of St. Lambert. He is still venerated as chief patron of Liege. Until the year 722, the relics of St. Madelbert reposed at Maubeuge. The fame of her sanctity and miracles was so great, that about the same time, St. Hubert had her body transported to Liege, with solemn ceremonies. Having encased her relics in a shrine, in which were also enclosed the relics of St. Theodard, they were placed in the cathedral church. There several miracles were afterwards wrought through our saint's intercession. During the middle ages, likewise, frequent broils arose among the powerful and opulent families that disturbed the peace of Liege; when public prayers and visitations to the shrines of the local patrons took place, to avert those disorders. On such occasions, the relics were exhibited for veneration to the faithful. In the year 1489, those relics were well preserved, when a commission had been appointed to examine into their state. On the 14th of April, with solemn religious ceremonies, a number of representative ecclesiastics, deputed by the Dean and Chapter of Liege Cathedral, began the work of examination, which was continued on the 18th and 19th of the same month. In that compartment, in which the remains of St. Magdelberta reposed, they found her bones, with her hood and veil, as also a black cincture remarkably wrought; moreover, they saw her robe and another veil, with two large portions of her habit, and two small scissors, which she was doubtless accustomed to use, together with some other ornaments—whether belonging to her or placed there by others is not known. After this examination, the inner and outer coverings were locked, when the keys were placed in the sacristy of the church, and in an upper drawer, which was lettered Mechlinia.

The name of this holy virgin is to be found in a great number of calendars and martyrologies. Although not contained in the oldest versions of Ado and Usuard; yet, from her own time has Madalberta been venerated in the Low Countries, and mentioned in various additions to Usuard. At the 7th of September, she is recorded in the Florarian Manuscript, by Castellan, by Canisius, by Saussay, and in the Parisian Martyrology. Besides these, Arnold Wion, Menard, Dorgan, Bucelin, Molanus, Miraeus, Constantine Ghinius, Arturus, and a host of other hagiographers, have inserted the name and festival of this holy virgin in their writings. On the 7th of September, she was venerated at Malbod, according to the list of Irish saints compiled by Convaeus.

…In a Breviary of Liege, printed a.d. 1514, at Paris, there is a Duplex Office, as also in the edition of 1520, there printed. All the parts are from the common office of a virgin, except the nine Lessons—comprising her Life, as found in [her] ancient anonymous Acts—and the Prayer, which may thus be translated from the Latin:—"O God, the Creator of innocence and the lover of charity, who hath translated to Heaven on this day, thy beatified virgin Madelberta, grant to us Thy servants celebrating her sacred festival pardon of our sins through her pious intercession."

…In the Low Countries, they represent St. Madelbert in a group, with her father, St. Vincent of Soignies, and her mother St. Waldetrude, St. Aldetrude her sister, as also her brothers, St. Landry, Bishop of Meaux, and St. Dentlin.

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