Saints Who Saw Mary
St. Meinrad (d. 861) and
St. Conrad of Constance (d. 975)
Early in the ninth century, a saintly, quiet-loving young Benedictine monk
named Meinrad, while passing through the city of Zurich on his way to become
a teacher at the small monastery of Bollingen, was deeply thrilled when the
Abbess-Princess Hildegarde gave him a lovely three-foot wooden statue of the
Mother of God holding the Child Jesus in her arms.
Very often during his several years at Bollingen, young Father Meinrad used
to gaze out of the window of his cell with ever-increasing longing at a forest-clad
mountain on the other side of the lake, for he wished more than anything else
to become a hermit and to live a life of prayer, penance and meditation all
alone in those woods, like the great hermit-saints of old. Having at last
obtained his superiors' permission, one day in the year 828 he took up in
his arms his cherished statue of Mary and set out in a wide flat-bottomed
boat to cross the lake and become a hermit in the Dark Wood on the slopes
of Mount Etzel.
Soon after settling in a solitary retreat he found a nest with two young
ravens, which he gladly adopted and tamed, perhaps because the Child Jesus
of his statue held a small bird in one hand. Meinrad spent seven years on
this mountain, and he was a happy young hermit except for one thing: more
and more pilgrims were coming to visit him, attracted by his growing reputation
as a saint.
Therefore he fled from his tiny cell, taking his statue and his two friends,
the ravens, with him. He went still farther into the depths of the Dark Wood
until one day he found, in the midst of the lofty pine trees on a small table-land
surrounded by hills on three sides, a bubbling spring giving forth sparkling,
fresh mountain water. Here he built himself a little log hut and a chapel,
in which he reverently placed Our Lady's statue. His faithful ravens often
perched on either side of a crucifix on the gable and watched the holy hermit
as he worked and prayed. He was completely happy in this solitude.
But one day a woodcutter discovered Meinrad's retreat, and soon pilgrims
were again flocking to receive his blessing and advice. Once some of his Brothers
in religion came to visit him, and during the night one of them saw and heard
Meinrad reciting his Office with a beautiful seven-year-old boy all dressed
in white, who approached the astonished monk and secretly foretold many events
which later occurred.
After more than twenty years of prayer and penance, while he was saying Mass
in his little chapel on the morning of January 21, 861, the Feast of the Martyr
St. Agnes, Meinrad learned by a divine revelation that this was to be his
last Mass. With perfect resignation to the will of God, he devoutly received
Holy Communion as if it were Holy Viaticum. Then with tears of love in his
eyes, the old hermit looked up at his beautiful statue of Mary and begged
Our Lady to strengthen him, asking her to offer to her Son the death which
he was about to suffer for His glory.
During all the years which Meinrad had spent alone in the Dark Wood, he had
never been harmed by the mountain bears or wolves or other wild animals who
dwelt there. Now, however, two human beasts of prey, two hardened criminals,
hearing that people made pilgrimages to the hermit, were tempted by the idea
that he must have precious gifts and rich treasure hidden away in his lonely
hermitage. And so this cold winter night they made their way through the deep
snow to his retreat in the forest.
Meinrad was just finishing his Mass as they approached, and he now heard
the shrill screams of warning of his faithful ravens. With a smile of heavenly
joy on his lips, he went out and welcomed the two men with loving kindness
and hospitality, setting before them some bread and wine. When they roughly
demanded that he show them his hidden treasure he humbly led them into the
little chapel, and pointing to the plain wooden statue above the altar, he
said, "I have no other treasure."
Then with a last loving look at Mary, he folded his hands on his chest, bowed
his head, and added calmly, "That for which you have come, do..."
In a mad rage the two robbers seized and brutally beat the saintly old hermit
to death with a heavy club, while his two ravens flew wildly about, screaming
and trying in vain to help their good friend by pecking at the murderers'
Then the criminals dragged the Saint's body to his couch of dry leaves in
his hut and were about to begin their search for the supposedly hidden treasure
when all of a sudden they noticed that a strange yet delicious odor pervaded
the place. When they perceived that two candles standing by the hermit's bed
had somehow just been lighted without human hand, the two assassins fled in
terror all the way to Zurich. But like the accusing finger of God, Meinrad's
two ravens persistently followed and attacked the murderers until they were
arrested and had confessed the crime.
The body of the holy martyr was taken by his Brothers to the great Abbey
of Reichenau near Constance, in which he had entered the Order and been ordained
In the years that followed, pilgrims kept coming to the abandoned little
chapel in the Dark Wood, and a few hermit-monks settled there. In the year
906, St. Benno of Strasbourg began to restore and add to the old structures.
And in 934, St. Eberhard, also from Strasbourg, arrived and set about building
a large monastery and church, the latter enclosing and protecting Meinrad's
holy little chapel, which was only eight and a half yards long by six yards
wide. When this work was completed in the summer of 948, Eberhard, having
become the first Abbot of Einsiedeln, invited St. Conrad, the Bishop of Constance,
to consecrate and dedicate the Chapel of Our Lady of the Hermits.
Conrad's party, which included the Bishop of Augsburg and many princes and
knights of the Empire, arrived at the hermitage in the Dark Wood on September
13 in the year 948, on the eve of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy
Cross. And that night there occurred at the Shrine of Our Lady in Einsiedeln
one of the most glorious events in all the history of the Catholic Church.
The holy Bishop of Constance retired to his room early in the evening in
order to rest after the trip. However, despire his fatigue, he did not fail
to get up, as was his custom, before midnight and to go with several religious
to pray in the chapel which he was due to consecrate the next morning. While
he was fervently beseeching the Blessed Virgin to accept this holy shrine
and to make it henceforth a center of pilgrimages where for centuries and
centuries she would heal and help her suffering children, suddenly, at exactly
midnight, St. Conrad and those with him began to hear the sound of many harmonious
voices chanting a melody of heavenly beauty. Looking up, he saw with amazement
that the sanctuary of the chapel was filled wiht a brilliant light that made
everything clearer than the brightest noonday sun, and that the altar was
completely illuminated as for a solemn festival. Then he saw coming down from
Heaven a magnificent procession of angels under the leadership of St. Michael
the Archangel. Some of them formed the choir and were chanting celestial psalms,
while others bearing swinging golden censers took their places before the
After the angels came St. Peter with a crozier in his hand, followed by St.
Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John, who preceded three great Doctors
of the Church, St. Gregory, St. Augustine and St. Ambrose. Then came, vested
as deacon and subdeacon, the Martyr Saints Lawrence and Stephen. And finally,
as High Priest, arrayed in pontifical vestments and wearing a violet chasuble,
there appeared in all the splendor of His Divinity, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus
Christ. Then, as a breathtaking climax, just before God the Son began the
Mass that was to consecrate this holy shrine forever to His Immaculate Mother,
Mary herself took her place above the altar of her chapel, radiant with dazzling
glory and attended by her train of angelic spirits!
In speechless awe St. Conrad followed every detail of this extraordinary
Mass. He observed with rapt attention that the solumn ceremony was performed
in the minutest particulars according to the ritual prescribed by the Church
for the consecration of a temple, except that at the Sanctus the angels sang:
"Holy God, have mercy on us in the court of the Glorious Virgin! Blessed
be the Son of Mary who has come to this place and who is to reign world without
More than an hour later, having formally dedicated the shrine to His Blessed
Mother under the title of Our Lady of the Hermits, the King of Kings returned
in all His majesty to Heaven with His distinguished company of saints and
angels. The beautiful living Virgin vanished too, leaving in her place the
lovely statue. The singing ceased. The bright light was magically extinguished.
And soon the newly consecrated shrine was to all outward appearances exactly
as it had been before.
The saintly Bishop of Constance, however, remained kneeling for hours in
ecstatic meditation over the marvels which he had just witnessed. Later that
morning, when all the dignitaries had assembled and after he had kept them
waiting quite a while, he was politely informed that it was time for him to
begin the dedication ceremony. Still deeply moved, he firmly declared that
the chapel had already been miraculously consecrated by God Himself during
the night. But when the Abbot Eberhard and the other officials flatly refused
to accept this story and insisted that the ceremony for which so many persons
had come together should start at once, St. Conrad yielded. Then another striking
supernatural intervention took place: as the Bishop put his foot on the first
altar step, the great church was suddenly filled with a strong and impressive
voice which everyone present heard exclaim three times:
"Stop! Stop, Brother. The chapel has been divinely consecrated!"
Later on, a full investigation of these extraordinary events was undertaken
by the highest civil and ecclesiastical authorities, and in the year 964,
in the presence of the Emperor Otto and of St. Conrad, His Holiness Pope Leo
VIII issued a bull confirming the miraculous dedication.
It was not long before Einsiedeln became one of the three or four most popular
pilgrimage centers in all Europe. For the past nine centuries it has been
famous among the Catholic peoples of France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and
Switzerland as a great and beautifully situated shrine at which Our Lord performs
many miracles through the merciful intercession of His compassionate Mother.
For several centuries now, over 100,000 - and often as many as 200,000 - devout
pilgrims have been visiting Einsiedeln every year. The large church has suffered
half a dozen disastrous fires, but not once was Our Lady's little chapel damaged,
until the sacking of the shrine during the wars of the French Revolution.
The present great basilica and monastery, built in the first half of the 18th
century, are one of the most impressive religious monuments in Europe. In
1861 the Benedictine monks solemnly celebrated the 1000th anniversary of the
death of their founder, St. Meinrad, whose body had been brought back to his
beloved Alpine retreat in 1039, the year in which he was canonized. And on
September 14, 1948, Einsiedeln duly marked the 1000th anniversary of the miraculous
It is deeply significant that, probably in large part due to Our Lady of
the Hermits, the sturdy little Christian democracy of Switzerland, whose patron
St. Nicholas of Flue was a hermit and a frequent pilgrim to Einsiedeln, has
been able to achieve a hermit-like state of peace and sober well-being amid
all the international and civil wars of our times, while participating actively
in unselfish brotherly relief and charity work for the unfortunate of all
nations. Switzerland has rightly been called the heart of Europe. And the
Catholic Canton of Schwyz, in which Einsiedeln is located, is in the heart
Thanks to Mary, the heart of Europe and the heart of Switzerland have remained
a special gateway for receiving graces from Heaven.
(Interesting Note: the headquarters of the SSPX is in Menzingen, Switzerland.)
Taken from Saints who Saw Mary
by TAN Books &
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