This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Friday, July 13, 2012

July 13 -- Feast of Saint Henry II, HRE

If I say Henry II, I usually mean the Plantagenet King of England who ordered Thomas a Becket to be killed.  Okay, I really mean Peter O'Toole, who played Henry II in Becket and The Lion in Winter.  Speaking of whom, can we all please agree to give him the Oscar for Cristiada, irrespective of whether he was any good or not?  Please?
Not the right Henry II

But this Henry II is a Bavarian, the son of Henry II, Duke of Bavaria.  Yes, Henry II is the son of Henry II, because he (the son) was the second Henry to be the Holy Roman Emperor while his dad was the second Henry to be the Duke of Bavaria.  When he eventually got to be the Duke of Bavaria, the younger Henry was IV.  

The story of who got to be Duke Henry III must have something to do with the War of Three Henrys.  Actually, there are two wars called The War of Three Henrys, one in 977-978, and the other in 1587-1589.  I think they ought to have recognized that names are given to distinguish individual persons from each other -- if everyone is named Henry, the whole purpose of naming is negated.  The Three Henrys rebelled against their Emperor, whose mom wisely named him Otto.  Otto's army utterly defeated them.  Henry II, nicknamed the Quarrelsome, lost Bavaria for a while, though he eventually got it back by kidnapping the infant Otto III, who was his kinsman (or rather, kinsboy). 
The correct St. Henry II

With his dad in exile so often, little Henry was pretty much raised by bishops and priests.  When dad died and young Henry took the duchy, he did show much saintly promise.  The Holy Roman Empire was obviously a jungle of internecine warfare, assassination, and baby-stealing.  Henry had no sooner become the Duke than he marched his army toward Rome where his cousin Otto III was under pressure.  The Italians were tired of German kings lording it over them.  Even if he had gotten there sooner, Henry IV could not have saved his cousin, whose death might have been caused by malaria or maybe poison.  He did, however, get there in time to proclaim himself Henry II, King of Germany, and lead the Germans out of Italy.  After a lightning war on Poland (does that ever get old?), he waged war in Italy, and then back to Poland, and then in Italy again.  In addition to King of Germany, he picked up the titles King of Italy and Holy Roman Emperor, which entitled him to wear the Iron Crown.  

It's a crown and a reliquary!
The Iron Crown doesn't have much iron in it.  You can see in the picture that it is mostly made of gold and inlaid with fine jewels, as you would expect.  But if you look very carefully, you can see the narrow band of iron on the inside.  That band is made from one of the nails used to peg Jesus onto the Cross.  True story.  The Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, brought three nails and the Cross and some other relics back to Constantinople from the Holy Land.  She actually had four nails, but tossed one into the stormy sea to calm it so their ship wouldn't sink.  Anyway, one of those precious nails would up inside the Iron Crown, which is kept in the Cathedral of Monza and has crowned thirty-four monarchs, including Charlemagne, Frederick Barbarossa, Napoleon Bonaparte, and of course, Saint Henry II, the only German king to be a saint.   

Tombstone shows the burden of being the HRE
Henry isn't a saint for any of that.  In spite of his wars, his primary governance goal seems to have been to reform the organization of the Church within the HRE.  He strongly promoted clerical celibacy so that ecclesiastical properties and privileges did not become hereditary.  He and his wife Saint Cunegunda (March 3) may have also been celibate -- it is somewhat debated, but very clear that they left no children.  They funded the construction of schools and cathedrals, sponsored missions to the Slavic countries, and were generous with the poor.  He became an Oblate (lay affiliate) of the Benedictines and after Cunedgunda's death, he explored retiring to a monastery, but the abbot convinced him that he could do God's work better as Emperor.  

Some sources will give his feast as July 15.  It has switched back and forth, but has been on July 13, his dies natalis, since 1969. 

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