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Saint Adelaide of Burgundy

A stained glass image of Adelaide of Burgundy (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Born: 931 in Burgundy, FranceDied: 16 Dec 999 at the monastery of Selta (Seltz), Alsace of natural causesCanonized: 1097 by Pope Urban IIFeast: 16 Dec

Patronage: abuse victims, brides, empresses, exiles, in-law problems, parenthood, parents of large families, people in exile, princesses, prisoners, second marriages, step-parents, victims of abuse, widows

Adelaide was born in 931 to Rudolph II of Burgundy and Bertha of Swabia in the city of Orbe. Although it is now part of Switzerland, at the time it was under the control of Burgundy. While she was still a child she was betrothed to Lothair II of Provence and king of Italy. Lothair was heir of King Hugh of Italy, who had married Adelaide’s widowed mother. Their marriage took place in 947 when Adelaide was about 15 or 16. It was not a happy marriage, but they had a daughter named Emma. Lothair died in 950 and his successor, Berengar, who had likely poisoned Lothair, had Adelaide imprisoned at Como for refusing to marry his son, Adalbert.

Her imprisonment only lasted four months and she escaped in August 951 with the help of a priest named Martin who dug a tunnel into the prison through which she was able to flee. They hid in the wood for a while living on fish which Martin caught in a nearby lake. Alberto Uzzo, the Duke of Canossa, became aware of her situation and rescued her, taking her to his castle. (The account of her escape was chronicled in a work entitledGesta Ottoniswritten by a nun named Hrotsvit while Adelaide was still alive.) The castle was soon attacked by Berengar. Adelaide made an appeal for help to the German Emperor Otto, who came to her aid and proposed marriage, which she accepted. They were married in Pavia, Italy in 951. Together they had four children including the future Otto II and three daughters, two of whom became nuns. Ludolf, who was Otto’s son by his first marriage, rebelled but the rebellion was crushed.

It was likely Adelaide’s influence that encouraged Otto’s close relationship with the church. Together they traveled through Italy for six years where they received the imperial crown from Pope John XII.

Otto died in 973 was succeeded by their son, Otto II. At first Adelaide exercised considerable influence but her daughter-in-law, the Byzantine princess Theophano (Theophanu), was able to turn her husband against her. She was driven from court but they eventually reconciled and, in 983, Otto appointed her his viceroy to Italy.

That same year Otto II died and was succeeded by Otto III, who was still a minor. His mother and grandmother were given joint regency, but Theophano once again ousted Adelaide. Theophano died in 991 and the regency returned to Adelaide. She was assisted by St. Willigis, Archbishop of Mainz. Otto came of age in 995 and Adelaide was free to devote herself to pious works, founding or restoring many religious houses. She had a close relationship with the monastery at Cluny, the center of the movement for ecclesiastical reform.

Around the year 991 Adelaide retired to a convent she had founded at Selz in Alsace. She never took the vows to become a nun, but she spent the rest of her life there in prayer, especially for the conversion of the Slavic people. She was convinced that Jesus would return at the turn of the millenium but did not live long enough to be disappointed. On 16 Dec 999, just days short of the millenium, she died of natural causes at Selz Abbey while on her way to Burgundy to support her nephew, Rudolf III, against a rebellion. Some of her relics are preserved in a shrine in Hanover. Her feast day is still celebrated in many German dioceses.


Text © 2018 Gary J. Sibio. All rights reserved.

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Written by Gary J Sibio