Today (18 September) we commemorate St Richardis of Swabia (French: Richarde de Souabe), Holy Roman Empress and first abbess of Andlau.
From Miss Dunbar: St. Richarda, RICHGARDIS or RIGARDA, Sept. 18, 9th century. Empress. Represented undergoing trial by ordeal – not walking over the ploughshares like Cunegund, but handling them in the fire.
She is said by Wion, Bucelinus, and others to be a daughter of Gregory, king of the Scots; Stadler says her father was Erchangar, count of Alsace. She was wife of Charles the Fat, king of France and Italy, and emperor. They went to Rome in 880 and were crowned by the Pope. Richarda lived ten, twelve or, by other accounts, twenty-five years at Court, a virgin, and a pattern of every virtue. She founded the monastery of Andlau or Andelaha in Alsace, on her own estates in the Vosges, for twelve canons and twelve canonesses, under the invocation of SS. Fabian and Felicitas. Charles suffered excruciating pains in his head, and attributed it to some sort of diabolic possession, for which he was exorcised, but the pain continued. Then he had incisions made in his head to get rid of the devil, but the pain only grew worse. Among other delusions, he suspected his wife of misconduct with Luitward, bishop of Vercelli. She demanded to clear her character, either by having a champion to fight for her or by some other ordeal. The trial consisted of the accused being wrapped in linen cloth soaked with inflammable liquid and set on fire at the four corners. It was burnt away to nothing, and the innocent queen remained unhurt. Thus was her innocence proved. Some say the emperor would have no trial. The empress was divorced, however, and retired to the monastery she had built. There she took the veil, and was soon elected abbess. Afterwards she went to the monastery of St. Felix and St. Regula at Tigurim, in Switzerland. Others say she was abbess of Landau and Seckingen. Very soon after the divorce, Charles was deposed and succeeded by Arnulf. Richarda lived a few years longer. Cratepol says she rests in her monastery of Andlau, where also is preserved the body of St. Lazarus whom Christ raised. In 1049, Leo IX. ordered a solemn translation of her body, and she is honoured as a saint in France and Germany, especially in Alsace.
Andlau Abbey – there is a holiday flat available to hire within the abbey (now a parish church)
Brigit at Under the Oak – it’s possible that she came of a Scottish family
a fanciful French version of the foundation legend of Andlau: St Richardis and the Bear, translated below:
Once upon a time the Lady of the Bears of the Vosges lost her cub. In despair she cried, ‘By St Maternus, if there is in this country a saint able to raise my son from the dead, he shall become a Christian, along with me and all those of my household.’
The following night, she was visited by a dream, in which she was told: ‘ Take your son with you and go toward the river Andlau. Stop there and dig him a grave. Fear not: he will not be buried there.’
The Andlau was nearly in the plain, in an area already infested with humans. But despite the danger, the mother bear took her son in her mouth and did as her dream had instructed.
At that time, the Emperor had a wife named Richardis, whom he sought to repudiate. He accused her falsely of adultery, and found all the false witeness he wanted, as the imperial power knew well how to frighten some and bribe others.
The innocent Richardis was forced to submit herself to ordeal by fire. She passed the test without difficulty. If she had wished, the Emperor would have been able to do no more than to return to her her position and her titles. But she did not want that. Indignant at the way she had been treated, she wanted only to leave and never return – not without having demanded from her injust husband the money necessary to build a house of God.
A dream came to her also: ‘In the place where you see a mother bear digging in the earth, you will establish the house of God.’
Her steps took her out of that country, toward the river Andlau, where our mother bear was already desperately digging the grave for her son.
Filled with pity, Richardis took the bear cub in her arms. She did not pray; at least, the chronicles do not say that it occurred to her to pray to God. But when she gave the cub back to its mother, it was breathing.
The mother bear made the miracle so well known to every last one of her people that all the bears of the Vosges came to be present at the consecration of St Richardis’ monastery.
Since then, the nuns of that monastery have offered food and shelter to all the ‘montreurs d’ours’ in the valley.
If there’s a usual phrase in English to describe this sort of travelling bear showman, I can’t think what it is – bear tamer? – but this is what I mean. It’s a very long tradition, now mercifully extinct I hope, of training orphaned bear cubs to depend on people and to amuse onlookers, particularly by ‘dancing’. ‘Tamed’ bears were often used in circuses – immortalised and romanticised by Enid Blyton in The Circus of Adventure among many others – but there were also individual itinerant bear-showmen. But if you search on the internet for ‘dancing bear’ this is not what you will find… oh dear…
To end on a more edifying note, here are links to some sets of relevant photos on flickr: exquisite romanesque architecture and especially carvings of Andlau Abbey, several photos of the lovely village of Andlau, bears prominent.
I do hope M Lopez-Ginisty will compose a troparion for Ste Richarde one of these years.
Holy St Richardis, pray to God for us.