Meet Saint Cunegunda (or is it Cunegundes, or maybe Cunigunda?)
Remember when the names at your local Catholic grade school read like a litany of saints? Mary. Joseph. James. Mary. Patrick. Margaret. Michael. Mary. Elizabeth. John. Matthew. Catherine. Ann. Oh, and Mary. And what Catholic school attendance list would have been complete without a Saint Cunegunda?
You didn’t have a Cunegunda? Maybe the one in your class spelled it, “Cunigunde.”
St. Cunegunda is one of those saints of antiquity you’ve likely never heard of but would have been fascinated by if you had met her back in the day.
Nowadays, we’ve gotten used to people of privilege who think it’s their job to shock us with their behavior…or see how wild their behavior can become before we stop being shocked. St. Cunegunda was a woman of privilege who shocked those surrounding her in a very different way. But we’ll get to that later.
Not your average Cunegunda.
We’re not talking about a girl whose parents did well for themselves by choosing the right broker. Cunegunda was a descendant of Charlemagne. Charles the Great. Carolus Magnus. The first Holy Roman Emperor. “Big Chuck”—as the tabloids of the day would have called him had there been tabloids of the day.
Cunegunda’s dad was Siegfried I, founder and first Count of Luxembourg (let that sink in…he “founded” a country). Siegfried and his wife, Hedwig, had eleven children, the seventh of them being Cunegunda. Eleven kids. These folks were “Big C” Catholic all the way. If they were a contemporary couple, their royal vehicle would be one of those big white airport vans.
As was the way in royal circles, a husband was selected for Cunegunda. A very nice young man name, Henry—Duke of Bavaria. And did this fellow have prospects! He was later crowned King of Germany (Cunegundas was crowned queen consort), King of Italy (it’s not known for sure if Cunegunda got a crown that time) and then Holy Roman Emperor. There was definitely a crown for Cunegunda this time, as Holy Roman Empress—a crown she received on February 14, 1014. What a Valentine’s Day that must have been:“Happy Valentine’s Day, Honey. I got you a crown.”
“Another one?!? Oh, Henry, you darling!”
But what did Saint Cunegunda do that was so shocking?
Rather than act like the pampered royalty one might have seen in the tabloids of the day had there been tabloids of the day, Cunegunda did penance and reached out to the poor. It is also believed that, because religious life had been Cunegunda’s true desire, that she and Henry (St. Henry, these days, by the way) were childless because of a vow of virginity taken by Cunegunda and supported by her husband.
Together, Cunegunda and Henry did much for the Church and gave generously to people in need. So generous were they in walking the talk of Christianity that, when Henry died, Cunegunda was left in rather ordinary circumstances for someone of her birth. Unable to give more in a worldly sense, Cunegunda was now in a position to give herself entirely to the Lord and Savior she loved and had always served. She became a Benedictine sister in the very monastery she had built in thanks for her deliverance from illness years earlier.
St. Cunegunda was every bit the example for others as a sister that she was as an empress. She checked all sense of rank at the door and considered herself the least among her sisters. The last fifteen years of her life were spent praying, reading, doing simple manual labor and providing comfort and companionship to the sick.
Like we said…shocking, especially by today’s standards.
St. Cunegundes, pray for us! And thanks to wikipedia.com, catholic.org and magnificat.ca for today’s background research.
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