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St. Adelaide: This empress of the Holy Roman Empire is patroness of abuse victims


Kaho Mitsuki | CC BY SA 4.0

Larry Peterson - published on 12/16/17

She is also another patron of large families, as well as those in second marriages.

Adelaide of Burgundy is also known as Adelaide of Italy. That is because this extraordinary woman was inadvertently thrust into the world of 10th-century politics, where her very survival depended on not only her intelligence and political savvy, but also her kindness and the power of her faith.

Adelaide was born in Upper Burgundy (now Switzerland) in the year 931. Her father was Rudolf II and by the time she was only a small child, he was planning her future, mainly for his own benefit. When she was 2 years old, he had her betrothed to his rival’s son, Lothair of Italy. They were married when she turned 15 and Lothair had become king.

When Adelaide was 18, King Lothair was poisoned by his successor, a man named Berengar. He insisted that Adelaide marry his son, Adalbert. Adelaide refused and managed to flee the castle. She was quickly captured by Berengar’s guards and put in prison. After about four months in prison, Adelaide managed to escape. She headed to Canossa, a town in northern Italy.

Upon arriving in Canossa, she turned to Otto of Germany for help. Otto, only too happy to help Adelaide, marshalled his army and promptly conquered Italy. Finishing his conquest, he married Adelaide in 951. In the year 952, Otto was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in Rome. Adelaide was crowned as the Holy Roman Empress.

Otto and Adelaide reigned for 20 years. Otto passed on in 973, and the new widow was immediately a victim of the jealousy of her daughter-in-law, Theophano. The wife of Otto II, she insisted to him that Adelaide was going to try to have him overthrown. The pressure on Adelaide grew and she returned to Burgundy to live with her brother.

Once back in Burgundy, Adelaide began establishing monasteries and churches, and began to promote evangelization. She used her position to help the poor, for whom she had a special affinity.

Otto II died in 983. But before he died, Adelaide had prayed to St. Martin so that he would repent of his transgressions. This in fact did happen because Adelaide and her son reconciled their differences.

After Theophano died in 991, Adelaide became the Regent for the kingdom because the heir to the throne, Otto III, was too young to be sworn in as Emperor. In order to thank St. Martin for hearing her prayers and interceding with her son, she sent an ornate imperial mantle that Otto II wore to St. Martin’s gravesite.

She wrote the following instructions that were included with the mantle: “When you will reach the tomb of the glorious St. Martin, say these words: ‘Bishop of God, receive these humble gifts from Adelaide, servant of the servants of God, sinner by nature and Empress by the grace of God. Receive this mantle of Otto, her eldest son. You, who had the glory to cover Our Lord with your mantle in the person of a poor man, pray for him.’” 

The simple humility of St. Adelaide can be seen in the words she wrote; “receive these gifts from Adelaide—sinner by nature—Empress by the grace of God.” At the time, as Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, she was the most important woman in the world. But she never lost sight that it was God’s doing that put her there.

Adelaide passed away in the year 999, at the convent of Setz which she had founded. She was canonized in 1097 by Pope Urban II. Besides being venerated in the Roman Catholic Church she is also venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Her feast day is December 16 and she is honored in most dioceses throughout Germany.

St. Adelaide, no matter the circumstances, devoted herself to Christ and His Church. She even brought the Slavic people to conversion. She is the patroness of a number of causes including brides, widows, princesses, second marriages, step-parents and large families. (She had five children: a daughter with her first husband, and four children with Otto the Great.) She is even called upon to intercede for problematic in-laws. This is one saint who is certainly kept busy.

Her feast day is December 16, the day of her death.

St. Adelaide, please pray for us all and a special request to help with the ongoing attacks taking place on the family today.

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