Poor Henry started out somewhat like Prince Herbert in Swamp Castle. His dad, Count von Berg, was a warlike man from a warlike family. They did manly things like kill other men. Henry preferred wandering around with a dreamy half-grin plastered on his tender, young face. The Count grumbled that he wished Henry had been born a girl, and that the von Berg sisters had been born boys -- they would have made fine warriors. I imagine that Henry took notice of this, and that it made him sad. Later in life, he took his mother's maiden name (Sus) rather than keeping von Berg.
|The Dreamy Dominican Mystical Poet|
He set about mortifying his flesh in the most distasteful ways. First, he renounced bathing, a decision which lasted at least twenty-five years. Second, he inserted needles and tacks into his gloves so he would not scratch the bugs that infested his body or slap at the mosquitoes that fed on him at night. He wore a tight, half-length undershirt with 150 brass nails stitched into it. This gouged his torso for sixteen years, until one Pentecost an angel brought him the message that "Enough is enough! Lose the damned shirt!" He threw it in the river.
|an illuminated page from Henry's book Exemplar|
He had been a student of the controversial German mystic Meister Eckhart, whose teaching ran afoul of the official line. Henry defended his teacher against the charges of heresy, and spent some years in confinement for that as well as for slander. Of course, whether you sleep unwashed on the stone floor of a monastery or a jail cell is somewhat moot -- it is tough to punish a guy who voluntarily wraps himself in brass tacks.