St. Canutus

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St. Canutus, King of Denmark, Martyr

A.D. 1086.

ST. CANUTUS, or KNUT, the fourth of that name, king of Denmark, was natural son of Swein III. whose great uncle Canutus had reigned in England. Swein having no lawful issue, took care of the education of Canutus, who being endowed with excellent qualities both of mind and body, answered perfectly well the care of his preceptors and governors. It is hard to say, whether he excelled more in courage, or in conduct and skill in war; but his singular piety perfectly eclipsed all his other endowments. He scoured the seas of pirates, and subdued several neighbouring provinces which infested Denmark with their incursions. The kingdom of Denmark was elective till the year 1660; wherefore, when Swein died, many pitched upon our saint, whose eminent virtues best qualified him for the throne; but the majority, fearing his martial spirit, preferred his eldest natural brother Harold, the seventh king of that name, who for his stupidity and vices, was commonly called the Slothful. Canutus retired into Sweden to King Halstan, who received him with the greatest marks of kindness and esteem; but the king could never induce him to undertake any expedition against Denmark; on the contrary, the Christian hero employed all his power and interest in the service of his country. Harold dying after two year’s reign, Canutus was called to succeed him. 1
Denmark had received the Christian faith long before; some say in 826, but wanted a zealous hand at the helm, to put the finishing stroke to that good work. St. Canutus seems to have been pitched upon by providence for this purpose. He began his reign by a successful war against the troublesome barbarous enemies of the state, and by planting the faith in the conquered provinces of Courland, Samogitia, and Livonia. Amidst the glory of his victories, he humbly prostrated himself at the foot of the crucifix, laying there his diadem, and offering himself and his kingdom to the King of kings. After having provided for its peace and safety, and enlarged its territories, he married Eltha, or Alice, daughter of Robert, earl of Flanders, by whom he had a pious son, St. Charles, surnamed the Good, afterwards also earl of Flanders. His next concern was to reform abuses at home. For this purpose, he enacted severe, but necessary laws, for the strict administration of justice, and repressed the violence and tyranny of the great, without respect of persons. He countenanced and honoured holy men, granted many privileges and immunities to the clergy, to enhance the people’s esteem of them; and omitted nothing to convince them of their obligation to provide for their subsistence by the payment of tithes. His charity and tenderness towards his subjects made him study by all possible ways to ease them of their burdens, and make them a happy people. He showed a royal munificence in building and adorning churches, and gave the crown which he wore, of exceeding great value, to the church of Roschild, in Zealand, his capital city, and the place of his residence where the kings of Denmark are yet buried. He chastised his body with fasting, discipline, and hair-cloths. Prayer was his assiduous exercise. When William the Conqueror had made himself master of England, Canutus sent forces to assist the vanquished; but these troops finding no one willing to join them, were easily defeated in the year 1069. Sometime after, being invited by the conquered English, he raised an army to invade this island, and expel the Normans: but through the treacherous practices of his brother Olas, or Olaus, was obliged to wait so long on the coast, that his troops deserted him. The pious king, having always in view the service of God, and judging this a proper occasion to induce his people to pay tithes to their pastors, he proposed to them either to pay a heavy fine, by way of punishment for their desertion, or submit to the law of tithes for the pastors of the church. Their aversion to the latter made them chose the tax, to the great mortification of the king, who, hoping they would change their resolution, ordered it to be levied with rigour. But they, being incensed at the severity of the collectors, rebelled. St. Canutus retired for safety into the isle of Fionia, and was hindered from joining his loyal troops, by the treachery of one Blanco, an officer, who, to deceive him, assured his majesty, that the rebels were returned to their duty. The king went to the church of St. Alban, the martyr, to perform his devotions, and return God thanks for that happy event. This the rebels being informed of by Blanco, they surrounded the church with him at their head. In the meantime the holy king, perceiving the danger that threatened his life, confessed his sins at the foot of the altar, with great tranquillity and resignation, and received the holy communion. His guards defended the church doors, and Blanco was slain by them. The rebels threw in bricks and stones, through the windows, by which they beat down the shrines of certain relics of St. Alban and St. Oswald, which St. Canutus had brought over from England. The saint, stretching out his arms before the altar, fervently recommended his soul into the hands of his Creator: in which posture he was wounded with a javelin, darted through the window, and fell a victim to Christ. His brother Benedict, and seventeen others, were slain with him, on the 10th of July, 1086, as Ælnoth, a contemporary author testifies, who has specified the date of all the events with the utmost exactness. His wicked brother Olas succeeded him in the kingdom. God punished the people during eight years and three months of his reign with a dreadful famine, and other calamities; and attested the sanctity of the martyr, by many miraculous cures of the sick at his tomb. For which reason his relics were taken up out of their obscure sepulchre, and honourably entombed towards the end of the reign of Olas. His successor, Eric III. a most religious prince, restored piety and religion, with equal courage and success, and sent ambassadors to Rome, with proofs of the miracles performed, and obtained from the pope a declaration, authorizing the veneration of St. Canutus, the proto-martyr of Denmark. Upon this occasion a most solemn translation of his relics, which were put in a most costly shrine, was performed, at which Ælnoth, our historian, was present. He adds, that the first preachers of the faith in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, were English priests; that the Danes then zealously embraced the Christian religion, but that the Swedes still continued more obstinate, among whom Eschil, an Englishman, received the crown of martyrdom, whilst he was preaching Christ to certain savage tribes. 2

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume I: January.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

St. Maris, St. Martha, St. Audifax and St. Abachum

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St. Maris, St. Martha, St. Audifax, and St. Abachum, Martyrs

A.D. 270.

MARIS, a nobleman of Persia, with his wife Martha, and two sons, Audifax and Abachum, being converted to the faith, distributed his fortune among the poor, as the primitive Christians did at Jerusalem, and came to Rome to visit the tombs of the apostles. The emperor Aurelian then persecuted the church, and by his order a great number of Christians were shut up in the amphitheatre, and shot to death with arrows, and their bodies burnt. Our saints gathered and buried their ashes with respect; for which they were apprehended, and after many torments under the governor Marcianus, Maris and his two sons were beheaded; and Martha drowned, thirteen miles from Rome, at a place now called Santa Ninfa. 1 Their relics were found at Rome in 1590. They are mentioned with distinction in all the western Martyrologies from the sacramentary of St. Gregory. Their relics are kept principally at Rome; part in the church of St. Adrian, part in that of St. Charles, and in that of St. John Calybite. Eginhart, son-in-law and secretary of Charlemagne, deposited a portion of these relics which had been sent him from Rome in the abbey of Selghenstadt, of which he was the founder, in the diocess of Mentz. 1
The martyrs and confessors triumphed over the devil by prayer; by this, poor and weak as they were, they were rendered invincible; by engaging Omnipotence itself to be their comfort, strength, and protection. If the art of praying well be the art of living well, according to the received maxim of the fathers and masters of a spiritual life, 2 nothing is certainly of greater importance, than for us to learn this heavenly art of conversing with God in the manner we ought. We admire the wonderful effects which this exercise produced in the saints, who by it were disengaged from earthly ties, and made spiritual and heavenly; perfect angels on earth: but we experience nothing of this in ourselves. Prayer was in them the channel of all graces, the means of attaining all virtues, and all the treasures of heaven. In us it is fruitless: the reason is plain; for the promises of Christ cannot fail: “we ask, and receive not, because we ask amiss.” 2

Note 1. Ninfa, or Nympha, in the corrupted ages of the Latin tongue, signifies water. In this place are several pools called by the Italians from these martyrs, Sancta Ninfa. See Chatelain, p. 340, and Du Cange.
Note 2. Vere novit rectè vivere, qui rectè novit orare. Inter. Serm. S. Augustini, Sermon 55, in Appendix, ed. Ben. t. 5. p. 101.

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume I: January.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

St. Margaret of Hungary

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St. Margaret of Hungary

Daughter of King Bela I of Hungary and his wife Marie Laskaris, born 1242; died 18 Jan., 1271. According to a vow which her parents made when Hungary was liberated from the Tatars that their next child should be dedicated to religion, Margaret, in 1245 entered the Dominican Convent of Veszprém. Invested with the habit at the age of four, she was transferred in her tenth year to the Convent of the Blessed Virgin founded by her parents on the Hasen Insel near Buda, the Margareten Insel near Budapest today, and where the ruins of the convent are still to be seen. Here Margaret passed all her life, which was consecrated to contemplation and penance, and was venerated as a saint during her lifetime. She strenuously opposed the plans of her father, who for political reasons wished to marry her to King Ottokar II of Bohemia. Margaret appears to have taken solemn vows when she was eighteen. All narratives call special attention to Margaret’s sanctity and her spirit of earthly renunciation. Her whole life was one unbroken chain of devotional exercises and penance. She chastised herself unceasingly from childhood, wore hair garments, and an iron girdle round her waist, as well as shoes spiked with nails; she was frequently scourged, and performed the most menial work in the convent.

Shortly after her death, steps were taken for her canonization, and in 1271-1276 investigations referring to this were taken up; in 1275-1276 the process was introduced, but not completed. Not till 1640 was the process again taken up, and again it was not concluded. Attempts which were made in 1770 by Count Ignatz Batthyanyi were also fruitless; so that the canonization never took place, although Margaret was venerated as a saint shortly after her death; and Pius VI consented on 28 July, 1789, to her veneration as a saint. Pius VII raised her feast day to a festum duplex. The minutes of the proceedings of 1271-1272 record seventy-four miracles; and among those giving testimony were twenty-seven in whose favour the miracles had been wrought. These cases refer to the cure of illnesses, and one case of awakening from death. Margaret’s remains were given to the Poor Clares when the Dominican Order was dissolved; they were first kept in Pozsony and later in Buda. After the order had been suppressed by Joseph II, in 1782, the relics were destroyed in 1789; but some portions are still preserved in Gran, Györ, Pannonhalma.