June 16 – St. Benno

June 13, 2022

Bishop of Meissen, b., as is given in biographies written after his lifetime, about 1010; d., probably, June 16, 1106. He is said to have been the son of a Count Frederick von Woldenberg (Bultenburg) and to have been educated by his relative St. Bernward of Hildesheim. But these statements and the date of his birth cannot be proved to be historically correct. It is, however, certain that he was a canon of Goslar about the middle of the eleventh century, and that he was made Bishop of Meissen in 1066. At that time the great struggle between the Emperor Henry IV and the papacy over investiture, which involved the independence of the Church, was raging. Benno took part in the revolt of the Saxon nobles against Henry (1073). In 1075 he was taken prisoner by the emperor, who was then victorious, and kept in prison for a year. As, later, he upheld the party of Pope Gregory VII he was deposed at the synod of Mainz, 1085, by the prelates belonging to the imperial party and Felix, a partisan of the emperor, received the bishopric. Three years later Benno recognized the Antipope Wibert (Clement III) and obtained his see again; at a later date, however, he separated himself from his schismatical party and recognized Urban II (1088-99) as the rightful pope. The authorities of the eleventh and twelfth centuries contain no further information as to his life.

The Miracle of St. Benno’s Key by Carlo Saraceni in the Church of Santa Maria dell’Anima, Rome. According to the Legend, St. Benno had the key to his church thrown in the river to prevent Henry IV from entering. Once the Emperor was gone, the key reappeared in a fish taken from the river. Photo by Sailko.

The Diocese of Meissen extended towards the east as far as the River Bober and included Upper and Lower Lausitz, which were inhabited by Slavs. According to later tradition Benno devoted the last years of his life to missions among these heathen tribes. He was reputed to be the founder of the cathedral of Meissen and in after-ages was the most venerated bishop of the diocese. He was canonized by Pope Adrian VI in 1523 (Bull “Excelsus Dominus” in Bullarium Romanum, Turin ed., VI, 18 sqq.) and his relics were, with great solemnity, exposed for veneration, May 16, 1524. Luther took this occation to publish his lampoon “Wider den neuen Abgott and alten Teufel, der zu Meissen soli erhoben werden”. After Saxony had adopted Protestantism Duke Albert V of Bavaria had the relics of the saintly bishop transferred to Munich and placed in the church of Our Lady (now the cathedral). Since this time Benno had been the patron saint of Munich-his feast is celebrated June 16. He is represented with a fish and a key; according to a legend he gave the key of the cathedral of Meissen, when starting on his journey to Rome, to one of the canons with the command to throw it into the Elbe as soon as Henry IV should be excommunicated. This was done; after Benno’s return a large fish was caught in the Elbe and the key was found hanging to one of its fins, so that the bishop received it again.

J. P. Kirsch (Catholic Encylopedia)


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