Saint Matilda of Ringelheim

Matilda of Ringelheim, Saint Maltida, was born around 895 in the Duchy of Saxony. She was the daughter of the local count Dietrich and his wife Reinhild, a noblewoman of Danish and Frisian descent. As a young girl, she was sent to the convent at Herford Abbey where her grandmother, also named Maltida, was abbess, and where her virtue soon attracted many attentions.

Matilda’s reputation for beauty and virtue –and possibly also her extensive Westphalian dowry– is said to have attracted the attention of the Saxon duke Otto the Illustrious, who betrothed her to his son and heir, Henry, about 20 years her senior. By the conjugal union, the Ottonian dynasty (Liudolfings) considerably enlarged their possessions in the western parts of Saxony. In 909, Henry’s previous marriage to a young widow, named Hathburg, had been declared invalid, asked for Matilda’s hand, and married her at Walhausen, which he presented to her as a dowry. Henry succeeded his father as Duke of Saxony and was elected King Conrad of Germany in 919. They had five children including Otto I who would succeed his father as the Emperor of Germany and in 962 become Holy Roman Emperor; Henry, Duke of Bavaria; St. Bruno, Archbishop of Cologne; Gerberga, who married Louis IV of France; and Hedwig, the mother of Hugh Capet.

As queen, Matilda was humble, pious, and generous, and was always ready to help the oppressed and unfortunate. She wielded a wholesome influence over the king. After a reign of seventeen years, Henry died in 936. He bequeathed to her all his possessions in Quedlinburg, Poehlden, Nordhausen, Grona, and Duderstadt.

Matilda was devoted to prayer and almsgiving. In addition to the convent at Quedlinbury, she established several others. This became a point of contention at court where Otto and his brother Henry were quarreling. The father, King Otto, had wanted his son Otto to succeed him, while Matilda favored the younger son Henry. About three years after his brother had been crowned on 936, Henry revolted against his brother Otto, but, being unable to wrest the royal crown from him, submitted, and upon the intercession of Matilda was made Duke of Bavaria. Soon, however, the two brothers joined in persecuting their mother, whom they accused of having impoverished the crown by her lavish almsgiving.

To satisfy the two sons, Matilda renounced the possessions the deceased king had bequeathed to her, and retired to her villa at Engern in Westphalia. Later, when things weren’t going as well for the brothers, Matilda was called back to court, and both Otto and Henry implored her pardon.

Matilda built many churches, and founded or supported numerous monasteries. Her chief foundations were the monasteries at Quedlinburg, Nordhausen, Engern, and Poehlden. She spent many days at these monasteries and was especially fond of Nordhausen. Matilda died after long illness on 14 March 968 in Quedlinburg Abbey, outliving her husband by 32 years, and was buried there by the side of her husband. She was venerated as a saint immediately after her death. Her feast is celebrated on 14 March.

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