May 3 – Sword-bearer to the Emperor

May 1, 2014

St. Ansfried of Utrecht

Ansfried (aka Ansfridus or Aufridus) was born ca. 940, and died May 3, 1010 near Leusden.) He was a nobleman in the Holy Roman Empire and sword-bearer for Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor. Till 995 he was Count of Huy, then he became bishop of Utrecht. He is also the founder of monasteries in Thorn (990) and Hohorst in Leusden. He has been canonized and is celebrated on the day he died, May 3.

Statue of St. Ansfried of Utrecht in the square next to St. Michael's church of Thorn in the Netherlands. The Church is usually called Abdijkerk Thorn.

Statue of St. Ansfried of Utrecht in the square next to St. Michael’s church of Thorn in the Netherlands. The Church is usually called Abdijkerk Thorn.

Ansfried was born about 940 in a Frankish noble family. First he was raised to 956 by his uncle Ruotbert of Trier and then by Archbishop Bruno of Cologne. He went along with King Otto I, when they besieged Rome in 961 to be there to be crowned emperor.

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He married in 966 Lady Heresuint or Hilsondis and together they founded the Abbey of Thorn. Their daughter, Benedicta, was its first abbess. Ansfried became Count of Huy and became known as the knight with the great sense of justice, who subdued and prosecuted highwaymen without pity. He was praised for his character and education. Many came to him for advice.

Choir section of the Abbey Church in Thorn.

Choir section of the Abbey Church in Thorn.

After a few years of marriage the pious spouses both made a vow of chastity. They were increasingly free from the worldly goods and gave substantial gifts to the churches and monasteries.

After the death of his wife in 994, Ansfried wanted to withdraw as a simple monk in a monastery, but Otto III made an urgent appeal to him to join the clergy and fill the vacant bishopric of Utrecht. Ansfried initially refused pleading old age, but after the insistence of the bishop of the principality of Liège, Ansfried accepted the appointment. He was consecrated bishop in the cathedral of Aachen. Then he laid his sword on the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary and received the symbols of episcopal dignity. He donated his county to the Principality of Liège.

Principality of Liège

Principality of Liège

From 1006 he lived alternately in Utrecht, where he fulfilled his episcopal duties, and Heiligenberg, where he lived as a monk. In Utrecht he especially nursed the sick. His possessions, he made available to the poor, of whom he is said to have fed 72 daily. Also known is the story that he washed a leper, put him to sleep in his own bed, and sent him away the next day with clean clothes. His own blindness apparently not hindered him in these activities. He was even happy that his blindness could do penance for his sins.

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