A well lived short life

Today, 15 May 2012, is the memorial of St Rupert of Bingen, one of the important Patron Saints in the life of - soon to be officially recognised as a saint – Hildegard of Bingen. To find out how an 8th century Saint, who only lived to the age of 20, had a major impact upon a 12th century holy abbess and her followers Saint, read on…

St Rupert was born in 712 into a noble German family with a pagan father and a Christian mother. When Rupert was still young, perhaps 3 years old, his father died. Diligently his mother undertook to educate her son, particularly in those things necessary for a thorough Christian education: prayer, the practice of Christian virtue, the celebration of the Sacraments, and knowledge of the Bible and Church teachings.

At the age of 15 the question, ‘God, what do you want me to do with my life? How do you want me to serve You?’ looms large. It’s also the age when a parent is looking to expose her child to the wonders of the wider world, before the child takes on the burdens of adulthood. Long before the ‘Grand Tour’ became a fashionable way to conclude the education of young nobles, Rupert and his mother Bertha began a pilgrimage to Rome. As the Eternal City of the Apostles, Rome is the perfect place to go to complete a Christian education. It gives the pilgrim the opportunity to visit the relics of the Apostles and to see the sites where the early Christian martyrs died. A pilgrimage like this makes the reality of the Apostles and Martyrs concrete in a way that nothing else can. So it is not surprising that Rupert and Bertha were drawn to dedicate themselves more completely to God’s service, being surrounded by the reminders of these great heroic witnesses of Faith.

When they returned home, Rupert and Bertha set about divesting themselves of their inherited wealth and putting it to Godly use via the building of churches, the establishment of hospices and the alleviation of the sufferings of the poor. Bertha embraced a life devoid of the trappings of wealth and served God with fasting, vigils, prayer and almsgiving. Rupert felt the additional call to seek God for Himself alone as a hermit.

The place he settled upon was a hill to the west of the Nahe River near where it joins the Rhine River in west-central Germany. Because Rupert attained such holiness there the locals renamed the hill Rupertsberg in his honour. The good God decided to shorten the time of Rupert’s earthly sojourn to 20 years so that their mutual longings to be united forever could be satisfied. A fever was the cause of death. Successfully, Rupert had used the few years given him to attain the true goal of life’s labours - sanctity. On the same hill Bertha asked to be buried some 25 yeas later. 

As with all Saints, the story doesn’t end with death. Believers find that when they seek the intercession of this deceased youth who was on fire with the love of God, that wonderful explosions of grace and healing occur.

Fast forward 400 years and God decides to honour the zeal of St Rupert even further by directing Hildegard of Bingen to settle on the site previously sanctified by St Ruperts prayers and mortifications. There the women religious under the Rule of St Benedict who gather around Hildegard become known as the sisters of St Rupert. For her part Hildegard does her best to keep the memory of the holy life of Rupert alive in the Church, she writes about him and she composes music in his honour. The sequence, “O Jerusalem city of gold” she sees the holy life of St Rupert as the true foundation of the building of the convent, just as the Apostles were the the true foundation of the Church universal.

Let us follow her example and find out for ourselves just how powerful St Rupert’s intercession is before the throne of the good God.

St Rupert of Bingen, pray for us.