COLUMN: A visit with King Henry

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I’ve been to the tombs of plenty of famous people, presidents, kings, queens and emperors. I’ve been to the graves of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Joyce, Edgar Alan Poe and Thomas Jefferson. I’ve stood near the tombstones and memorials of popes and princes but it was the grave of a king and queen I was thinking of Friday.

July 13, inauspiciously falling on a Friday this year, was the feast of St. Henry II. He was Holy Roman Emperor from 1014 to 1024 and is buried alongside his wife, Cunigunda, in the cathedral at Bamberg in Germany. Now, Bamberg is about the most beautiful small city in Germany that I’ve come across in my travels. It’s filled with history, beautiful buildings, a charming city hall, beautiful rivers, breweries and with nary an exception, friendly people.

The Romanesque cathedral, constructed by Henry, is one of the most historic in Germany. It’s home not only to the graves of Henry and Cunigunda but a pope (Clement II) and the Bamberg Rider, a famed stone sculpture of a king seated on a horse.

The countryside around Bamberg looks a lot like Perry and Spencer counties: rolling hills, small farms and quiet roadways.

Bamberg is also a short train (or bike ride) from other smaller communities such as Staffelstein. That berg is just a mile from historic structures such as the Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, one of the inspirations for my family chapel.

Like most saints and even nonsaints who are famous from the past, all kinds of legends and lore surround Henry and Cunigunda. For example, Cunigunda was once under suspicion of being unfaithful and walked across red-hot plowshares to prove her innocence. I’m not sure why she did that. Perhaps if her feet weren’t burned she would be assumed innocent. I’ve also heard the test centered around the inevitable burns. If the wounds healed without becoming infected, Cunigunda was supposedly innocent. If infection set in, she would be judged guilty of unfaithfulness.

Either way, Cunigunda was declared innocent and there developed the tradition that she and Henry lived together chastely. Perhaps that belief sprang from the fact they had no children.

Both were canonized and Henry is the only German king to be honored as a saint.

Visitors to Bamberg Cathedral today can get within a few feet of the impressive stone tomb that holds their remains. I’ve visited there several times.

I had hoped to get back this fall but there’s no guarantee. I had hoped to see the ripening vineyards and fields of corn and late-cut hay, sample beer and sausage from local farms.

I hope the farmers there are faring better than those here as far as a growing season.