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Art for Meditation - March 2019

Santa Matilde

Matilda of Ringelheim, marble, Milan Cathedral

Matilda was a woman, a wife, a mother, and a queen who distinguished herself for her extraordinary concern for the poor and the sick, as well as for her intense life of prayer.

Born in the year 895, she was educated by her grandmother, also named Matilda, who was abbess of the monastery of Herford. In 909, she became the second wife of Henry the Fowler who, three years later, was elected Duke of Saxony and, in 919, King of Germany. Matilde gave him five children: Otto I the Great, Gerberga (who married King Louis IV of France in 940), Hedwig, Henry and Bruno who became Archbishop of Cologne in 953.

In 936, her husband died. She is said to have supported her young son Henry's candidacy for the throne, but Otto was elected as her eldest son. There were disagreements over her preference, and Matilda suffered a great deal for it. Then the family reconciled and after the coronation of Otto in Rome in 962, reunited in Cologne, whereas Matilda retired to the monastery of Nordhausen. Later, having fallen ill, she retired to the monastery of Quedlinburg, in Saxony. Both monasteries, in addition to those of Poehlde and Enger, had been founded by herself.

Previously, she had already been led to live in a religious community by her two sons Otto and Henry, who were worried about her mother's excessive generosity in helping the poor and the sick. In fact, she did not live at court, but went in search of the needy; this is a fact unanimously underlined by the iconography about her: Matilda, as we can also see in the beautiful marble statue of the cathedral of Milan (one of the 3,400 statues that adorn the splendid Gothic construction!), is usually depicted with a long robe, the cloak on her shoulders and the crown on her head, holding a bag with money or medicines, while visiting the houses of the poor and stopping next to the bed of the sick. The marble statue of St. Matilda is particularly effective in conveying the solemnity of the figure of the queen. It also transmits extreme simplicity: only the crown tells us that we are in front of an important person, whereas the robe, on which a beautiful cross stands out, and the cloak, with the edge embellished by a simple embroidery, reveal the sobriety and humility of the woman.

In addition to her husband, Matilda also lost two children, Henry in 955 and Bruno in 965. The holy queen, to whom biographers attribute the gift of prophecy, died in Quedlinburg on 14 March 968 and was buried in the castle chapel next to her husband. The German dioceses of Paderborn, Fulda and Munich are particularly devoted to her.

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