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St. Heribert of Köln

Archbishops were awesome figures in the Middle Ages; men of almost plenary authority and prestige, they were powerful leaders who claimed the respect and obedience of their people. Such a man was St. Heribert, Archbishop of Köln (Cologne) from 999 to 1021. The son of Duke Hugo of Worms, Heribert was born about 970.

Ordained a priest early in life, Heribert wanted to enter a Benedictine monastery at one time, but his talents kept him in demand in the world. He was intended by the Bishop of Worms to be his successor, but Otto III, the Holy Roman Emperor, also had his eye on the young man and chose him for the important position of chancellor at the royal court. Heribert was so capable in this post that Otto retained him in it even after he had been chosen to be Archbishop, the latter honor being one Heribert desired no more than he had that of the chancellorship.

Köln was one of the mighty cities of Europe at this time. Sometimes called the "Rome of the North," it was a center for religious and political activity; and Heribert, in his dual capacity as chancellor and Archbishop, had to play a leading role in each field. The formalities of his position did not appeal to him, and he was happiest when he could be doing something for his people: visiting the sick and the poor, giving them alms for their needs, bringing political disputes to a peaceful end — activities for which he became famous.

St. Heinrich II, the successor of Otto III, due to misinformation harbored coldness and suspicion towards the Archbishop. St. Heribert endured this with silence and patience until God Himself satisfied the Emperor's doubts. When St. Heinrich was traveling to Köln to confront the Archbishop, he had a dream in which he saw a stately Bishop standing before him, saying: "Take heed, O Emperor, that you sin not against my fellow-Bishop Heribert. Know that he is dear and pleasing to God. If you dare to do anything against him, you will have to render a severe account." The holy Emperor, always ready to be admonished, immediately recognized his fault. When he met St. Heribert, he fell to his knees and would not rise until he had received his absolution and pardon. Thereafter the Emperor always regarded the Archbishop of Köln as a saint.

One of St. Heribert's many accomplishments was to found a monastery at Deutz, on the opposite bank of the Rhine from Köln, and it was there that he was buried after his death on March 16, 1021.

Perhaps the most important example of virtue in the life of this holy man is his wholehearted obedience to the will of Almighty God. St. Heribert never wished for, and indeed avoided, earthly recognition and fame; yet, the more God asked him to play an active part in the affairs of the world, the more he complied and thus strengthened his spiritual life. He did not seek to justify himself when unjustly accused and suspected, but accepted the will of God with heroic patience.

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