By CAROLE BRESLIN
Salzburg: Almost everyone has heard of Salzburg. The pearl of Austria with its beautiful vistas and rich heritage claims among its citizens Johann Amadeus Mozart and the Von Trapp family singers made famous by the movie Sound of Music. Most important, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI came from this area as well. This city, one designated as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations, was founded by St. Rupert in the seventh century. Perhaps “refounded” would be a better word since it was built upon the ruins of a city destroyed by the barbarian hordes who descended upon southern Europe in the past.
Rupert’s origins are uncertain. Some claim he was an Irishman, which could be possible since the Celts had settled in the area of Bavaria at the time when the Romans established a settlement there by the name of Juvavum. Some claim that he was of noble lineage from Gaul — of the Merovingian line, which also had its share of people of Celtic heritage. He was born sometime during the mid-seventh century, with most estimates being around the year 660.
Like most saints, Rupert spent much time in prayer, fasting, and helping the poor. This life eventually led him to be nominated and installed as the bishop of Worms. The population was largely pagan. Again, like most saints, Rupert was persecuted for his faithfulness to the teachings of Christ. It was not long before he was savagely attacked. After his beating he was forced to leave the city.
From Worms, he made his way to Rome, the Eternal City, where he prayed to know God’s will for him. After Rupert spent two years there, Duke Theodo of Bavaria, knowing before of the holiness and charity of St. Rupert as well his ability to teach the faith, wrote to him.
The particular area of Bavaria was in great need of men such as St. Rupert. Although some of the population proclaimed the faith, there was still much paganism being practiced, and heresy, such as Arianism, was not uncommon. Even those who sought to follow Christ still held on to some of the old pagan beliefs and practices.
Confusion reigned in the Church. It was the Duke Theodo’s hope that St. Rupert would come to Bavaria and help civilize his people. Thus Rupert went to clarify the teachings of the Church and lead the people to a more pure practice of their faith. To convert, to educate, to minister to the people became the new goal for St. Rupert.
He wrote back to Theodo and agreed to come. The holy man driven out of Worms was warmly welcomed in Ratisbon (Regensburg) in 696. Unlike those in Worms, the people accepted Rupert, who was not alone in this quest. Several priests came with him. Theodo listened to the preaching of the priests and converted to the Catholic faith. It did not take long for the other nobles and influential people to follow his example.
Thus, St. Rupert and his fellow priests did not meet with much opposition. They traveled throughout Bavaria from the Danube to Lower Pannonia, the heart of Europe. They also journeyed to Austria, preaching and teaching the truths of Christianity.
Thousands were converted. The validity of their teachings was confirmed by the many miracles that were worked through St. Rupert. As Rupert and company continued with their mission in Lorch, many converts were miraculously healed of their ailments.
As Rupert’s success continued, Duke Theodo bequeathed an area of Bavaria to him. When he and his companions came upon the ruins of Javavum, an old Roman settlement, they were overcome by the beauty of the area and settled there. Remains of the old Roman buildings were covered with vines and wild plants. At the place of the martyrdom of St. Maximus and his companions (476) at the foot of a precipice, St. Rupert built a church in honor of St. Peter as well as a school.
Not long afterward, to the southeast of the town — once the site of a Roman fort — he also built an abbey for women who followed the rule of St. Benedict. To oversee the running of this convent in Nonnberg, he sought the assistance of his niece, who willingly came to oversee the convent.
Rupert also built a monastery, for men of which he was the abbot. This building of a place for women religious and another for men became a model that spread across continental Europe and it was also followed in Ireland.
Furthermore, the practice of the bishop also serving as the abbot of the local monastery also spread.
Along with the old settlement of Javavum, the land received from Theodo also included a valley in which there were salt springs. Not only did Rupert work to civilize the populace, but he also did much to develop the salt mines of the valley. Hence the name of this city became Salzburg.
Since Rupert and his companions — of whom Vitalis, Chuniald, and Gislar also became saints — met with such success, they needed more help. Therefore, Rupert returned to Gaul to gather more workers for the Church. After he did some preaching and seeking, 12 new aspirants followed him back to Salzburg.
With his original priests and the 12 men he brought back from Gaul, he continued his missions and preaching. They not only founded many churches, but they also established many convents and monasteries throughout the area — some of which remain to this day.
St. Rupert died in Salzburg among his fellow priests on March 27, 710; thus the Catholic Church celebrates his feast on March 27. However, the people of Salzburg celebrate his memory for five days at the end of September. This date came about when the archbishop of Salzburg moved the remains of St. Rupert to the cathedral on September 24, 1628. The celebration has continued since that time.
Dear St. Rupert, you were called to a place where Christianity once thrived but had faded after the barbarians stormed down from the north. By your example, your proclamation of the Truth and your ministry to the sick and poor, you revitalized the Church. Help us also to revitalize the Church in our day by prayer and by work. Ora et labora. Amen.
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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. Mrs. Breslin’s articles have appeared in Homiletic & Pastoral Review and in the Marian Catechist Newsletter. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)