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How Emperor Henry II Became Lame

Hugh O’Reilly
Henry the Pious, Duke of Bavaria, was born in 972, and bore his father’s name. St. Wolfgang, Bishop of Ratisbonne, baptized him and afterward raised him in the practices of virtue befitting the heir of a great sovereign.

emperor Henry II

The Emperor of the Holy Roman German Empire
Saint Henry II (972-1024)

At age 23 Henry assumed the paternal title of Duke of Bavaria and married Cunegundes, who like himself is today a canonized Saint. They observed perfect chastity all their lives,

During the Council in Frankfurt in 1007 when the foundation of the Bamberg Bishopric was established, the Duke himself named his heir: “For the sake of future compensation and because there remains to me no hope for acquiring offspring, I [Henry II] have made Christ my heir.”

One night Duke Henry had a dream and saw his deceased master, St. Wolfgang, who told him to read the words written on a wall: “After six.” He supposed this meant he would die in six months, and prepared himself with great seriousness. When six months passed without sickness or incident, he thought it could be six years.

At the end of the sixth year, he found the prediction verified in an unexpected way by his election as Emperor of the Holy Roman German Empire. On the first day of the year 1002 he ascended the throne with the triple aim to defend the realm, provide for the Church and reign for the greater glory of God.

He provided for the restoration of the episcopal churches of six dioceses, which had been almost entirely destroyed by the pagan Slavs who up until then had been despoiling the Empire.

Menaced by a pagan army, he prayed to the patron of the ruined Church of Merseburg, saying: “Great St. Lawrence, illustrious martyr of Jesus Christ, if by your assistance I can submit these barbaric nations to the Christian Religion, I will, with the help of God, re-establish in its original dignity, this church consecrated to your honor.”

king emperor Henry II

Henry II was crowned Emperor by Benedict VIII

He prayed again before the battle, invoking three Martyrs, and then attacked the invaders with a small force. But an Angel and the three Holy Martyrs were seen leading his troops, and the heathens fled in fear. Poland and Bohemia, Moravia and Burgundy, were in turn annexed to his Empire, and Pannonia and Hungary won for the Church.

When the Faith was secure in Germany, Henry passed into Italy, drove out an antipope and brought Benedict VIII back to Rome. He was crowned in Saint Peter’s Basilica by that Pontiff in 1014.

It was Henry’s custom, on arriving in any town, to spend his first night in prayer, in some church dedicated to Our Blessed Lady. As he was praying in Saint Mary Major’s during the first night of his arrival in Rome, he saw “the Sovereign and Eternal Priest Jesus” enter to say Mass. Saints Lawrence and Vincent assisted as Deacon and Sub-Deacon. Countless Saints filled the church and Angels sang in the choir.

After the Gospel, an Angel was sent by Our Lady to give Henry the Sacred Book to kiss. Touching him lightly on the thigh, he said: “Accept this sign of God’s love for your chastity and your justice,” and from that time on, the Emperor always limped.

The vision of Emperor Henry

This scene of the Great Catholic Sovereign who became lame is confirmed by Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich in a vision of July 12, 1820:

“I have had a vision of the Emperor Henry. I saw him last night in a beautiful church kneeling alone before the main altar. I know the church. There is a beautiful chapel of the Holy Crib in it (St. Mary Major's in Rome). I saw it once before on the Feast of Our Lady of the Snow.

crib in st mary major

Relic of the Crib in St. Mary Major's in Rome

"As he knelt and prayed, a light shone above the Altar and the Blessed Virgin appeared alone. She wore a robe of bluish white which shot forth rays, and she carried something in her hand. She covered the Altar with a red cloth over which she spread a white one, and deposited upon it a magnificent luminous Book set with precious stones.

"Then she lighted the candles from the Sanctuary lamp. Many other lights in the form of a pyramid burned at the same time. She took her stand at the right of the Altar.

"Now came the Savior Himself in sacerdotal vestments, bearing the chalice and veil. Two Angels served Him as acolytes, and two others accompanied Him. Our Lord's head was uncovered. The chasuble was a large, heavy, red and white mantle shining with light and precious stones. The ministering Angels were white. There was no little bell, but there were cruets. The wine was as red as blood and there was also some water.

"The Mass was shorter than ours, and there was no Gospel of St. John at the end. I saw the Offertory and Elevation. The Host was like ours. The Angel read the Gospel and carried the Book to Mary to kiss, and then, on a sign from Our Lord, he took it to Henry that he might do the same. At first, he dared not obey, but at length gained courage to do so.

"At the end of the Mass, Mary went to Henry and gave him her right hand, saying that she honored thus his chastity and exhorted him not to grow remiss.

"Then, I saw an Angel approach and grasp him by the right side as had been done to Jacob. Henry showed signs of intense pain, and afterward limped a little. During the whole of this ceremony, there were numerous Angels in adoration, their eyes fixed upon the Altar.”

Before he died in the year 1024, Emperor Henry II gave back to her parents his wife, St. Cunegundes, “a virgin still, as a virgin he had received her from Christ." At the age of 52 years he peacefully surrendered his own pure soul to God.

The Church canonized the Emperor in 1146 and his wife Cunegond in 1200.

tomb cunegarde and Henry II

Tomb of St. Henry & St. Cunegunde


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Excerpts from The Life and Revelations of Anne Catherine Emmerich, vol. I., pp. 284-285,
Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints,
by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882)
Posted September 18, 2021

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