Today (4 July) in the relatively thinly populated calendar of early western saints, we commemorate St Bertha, founder and abbess of Blangy in Artois. From Miss Dunbar:
St. Bertha (3), July 4. + c.725 or 735 Abbess and founder of Blangy, in Artois. Represented with her two daughters dressed as nuns. They are drawn on a very small scale, to indicate their minor importance.
Daughter of Rigobert, count of the Palace, under Clovis II (638-656), and Ursana, his wife, who was of English descent and related to the wife of Clovis. Bertha married a relation of the king, Count Sigfried, son of Prince Rigomar and ST. GERTRUDE OF HAMAY. They had five daughters, GERTRUDE, DEOTILA, Emma, Gesa, and Gesta, all of whom did credit to the training of their pious parents. When they had been married twenty years, Sigfried died and was buried in his own ground at Blangy.
Then Bertha left off silk and jewels, took the habit of a nun, and resolved to build a church on her husband’s estate. As soon, however, as the building had made a little progress, it fell down. She built again, on another spot. When the church was finished and ready to be consecrated, and while Bertha was on a visit to ST. RICTRUDE, abbess of Marchiennes, about thirty miles from Blangy, the church fell with such a noise that Bertha and Rictrude heard it as they sat talking. Rictrude tried to comfort Bertha by saying that it was the will of God she should build on another site. At Bertha’s request a fast of three days was strictly observed at Marchiennes, and during that time fervent prayers were offered for the success of her scheme, and for Divine direction as to the situation of the church. At the end of the third day an angel showed in a dream, to one of the workmen, a fitting spot at Terouanne, beside the river Thena, where the foundations were already lined out. There she built her famous church and monastery.
Germain of Paris, Eligius, bishop of Noyon, and several bishops who were afterwards honoured as saints, assisted at the consecration. When they were all assembled for the consecration, there was no hyssop. Consequently, Ravengarius, bishop of Terouanne, refused to proceed with the ceremony. Bertha was in great distress that she had gathered together so many holy and worthy men, and still it seemed that the consecration of her church must be deferred. However, while she was in her oratory engaged in fervent prayer, a man came to the door with hyssop. Bertha thanked God, and thought that at last all would now be well, but another of her people came to tell her that the bishops, finding there was to be no ceremony, had gone away. She, however, sent after them in all haste, and they prophesied that great blessings would rest on her undertaking, as she had persevered and had at length been assisted by a miracle. The church and convent were consecrated, and Bertha and her two eldest daughters received the veil, A.D. 682. The three younger daughters continued with her.
Roger, one of the king’s great nobles, a proud man, seeking mundane and transitory gratification, earnestly entreated Bertha to grant him the hand of Gertrude, her eldest daughter. Bertha replied that her daughter was already the bride of Christ, and that she could enter into no negotiation for her. He went to the king, one of ST. BATHILDE’s sons, and told him that Count Sigfried had promised him the hand of his eldest daughter, and the greater part of his estates as her dowry. He then returned to Blangy with a strong band of followers, armed with the king’s authority to marry Gertrude. Again failing to extort the consent of the mother, Roger swore he would not go away without seeing Gertrude.
Bertha agreed to this. She kept the soldiers waiting until the hour of evening prayer, and while the nuns began to sing the service, the doors of the church were thrown open, and the rebel to God, ‘saw and heard them all singing the prayers and psalms. Before the altar, in a free space within ten paces of him, stood the girl all these soldiers had come to carry off.’ Bertha said, ‘Behold, the servant and spouse of Christ is present, veiled by the holy bishops, and solemnly devoted at the altar where she stands! If you dare to take her away from the Lord, take her: we women can offer no resistance, but God will avenge us!’ Roger did not dare to take Gertrude, but went away in a rage, and vowed vengeance on Bertha.
He immediately went to the king, and accused the Countess Bertha of treasonable correspondence with the English. King Thierry summoned Bertha to answer the charge. She went without fear, trusting in her integrity. Roger came to meet her, under pretence of doing her honour, but really to cast a slight upon her by contriving that she should ride to the palace on a miserable horse, without the usual trappings. Radulph, however, of pious memory, met the venerable abbess thus unworthily mounted, and at once exchanged horses with her, at the same time reproaching Roger for his disrespect. The king was soon convinced of the innocence of Bertha, and sent her home in peace with a guard of honour.
On her return she enlarged and beautified her convent and built ten churches,eight in honour of St. Martin, the other two in honour of St. Audomar and St. Vedast respectively. Then wishing to retire from the government of the house and to devote the remainder of her life to prayer, she promoted Deotila to the office of abbess instead of Gertrude, because of the trouble and scandal Roger had caused on her account, and had a cell built in the church, where she passed all her time; she had a little window near the altar. Her two daughters and the sixty nuns came to her every day to be refreshed with spiritual advice and instruction.
Her two youngest daughters, Gesa and Gesta, died young. Emma, her third daughter, was given in marriage by Thierry, king of France, to Waraclinus, :a king of the Anglo-Saxons. St. Bertha, hearing of his cruelty and infidelity to her daughter, invited her to visit her at Blangy. Emma set off with her husband’s consent. During the voyage, she was seized with fever and died. When Bertha heard of it, she ordered everything to be prepared for a funeral befitting her daughter’s rank, and went to meet the corpse. ‘Alas, my beloved daughter,’ she said, ‘I see your face, but you are not able to see me.’ Hereupon Emma opened her eyes and looked at her mother. Bertha had her taken into the convent and buried with all honour.
St. Bertha died at the age of sixty-nine, about the year 725 or 735. At the moment of her death three men, in shining raiment, were seen standing by to take her soul to heaven. Deotila ruled the convent with her mother for twenty-nine years, and was solo abbess for some time. Gertrude succeeded her.
In 805, during an invasion of the Normans, the nuns fled from Blangy to the monastery of Estrees at Strasburg. They took with them, as their most sacred treasures, the bodies of the sainted founder and her two daughters, Gertrude and Deotila. They brought them back on their return to Blangy, many years afterwards.
Soller says the Life of St. Bertha is by an anonymous author of the l0th or 11th century, and that it is well established that she was worshipped directly after her death. Her marriage and her foundations are facts, but the story of Roger cannot be traced to any contemporary source, and is attributed by Haillet to an author ‘de mauvaise foi et fort ignorant.’
- Abbaye Ste-Berthe de nos jours! (in French)
- Butler’s Lives of the Saints
- Catholic Encyclopediahttp://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02519a.htm
Ton 1 Tropaire à sainte Berthe, higoumène de Blangy (Natalice en 725 A.D.)
Epouse dévote du Comte Sigefroy,*
Tu vécus à la cour des rois mérovingiens,*
Devenue veuve, tu partis avec tes filles*
Les saintes moniales Gertrude et Déotile,*
Dans le couvent sacré de Blangy-en-Ternoy.*
Sainte Berthe, prie le Seigneur de nous sauver!
Devout wife of Count Sigfried,
You lived at the court of the Merovingian kings.
On becoming a widow, you left with your daughters
the holy nuns Gertrude and Deotila,
and entered the holy convent of Blangy-en-Ternoy.
Holy Mother Bertha, pray to the Lord to save our souls!