Romantic Road Germany

Saints Along The Romantic Road

Plenty of visitors from the UK and Ireland get confused when they see familiar names popping up as the patron saints for a particular area or involved in the legends surrounding the founding of a city.

Much of the story has to do with the preservation of Christianity in the remote regions of Scotland, Ireland and northern England following the withdrawal of the Romans and the eventual missionary work carried out by monks and bishops to other parts of Europe.

Germany was especially favoured because of the influence of the part of England settled by the Saxon invaders.

St Mang Abbey in Füssen

St Kilian of Würzburg

Originally in born in Ireland in the 7th century, St Kilian had a major role in the growth of Würzburg into a city, as his rediscovered remains became a point of pilgrimage to the settlement. St Kilian is the patron saint of Würzburg and the Würzburg Cathedral is dedicated to him.

St Kilian settled in this part of Franconia in the middle of the 7th century and started preaching his message of Christianity.

He managed to convert the local ruler, Count Gosbert, but mixed himself too far into marital (and political) matters. In the Franconian area it was customary for a widow to be remarried to the brother of her dead husband, so that she could be cared for and this is what Gosbert and his sister-in-law had done in the past.

However, this apparently didn't agree with Christian teachings of the time and St Kilian told Gosbert that he had to separate from his former sister-in-law. The irate Countess Gailana waited until her husband was off on a military campaign and ordered the assassination of the troublesome missionaries, who were stabbed while praying and whose bodies were then buried in the count's stables.

However, at least according to official Catholic records, the Countess went mad and died; the murderer committed suicide; and Gosbert was also later killed. Following that the local population may have decided that it was a wise move to to convert from their old beliefs.

Around 70 years later the bones were rediscovered. Supposedly, horses would paw at the ground in the stables in a particular place and, when the area was excavated, three skeletons were discovered.

After the miraculous cure from blindness of a local philosopher who visited the grave, the location was declared holy, the skeletons were declared to be those of the martyrs and the three monks were raised to sainthood. Perhaps not coincidentally the location also became a place of pilgrimage (a good source of income in those days) and the site of the first Würzburg Cathedral (which was a wooden structure) and a later more imposing stone building (although it is not sure these days where the original cathedral was exactly situated).

The current cathedral is the third cathedral and even this also had to be rebuilt after the bombing damage from the Second World War.

The Feast Day of St Kilian is on July 8 and the bones (which are kept in a crypt in the Neumünster) are paraded through the streets of the city. According to the local farmers' almanac St Kilian's Day is also the start of the harvest time - "Kilian, the holy man, marks the first days of cutting" (it rhymes in German!).

The Kiliani-Volksfest is one of the biggest festivals in Franconia, with rides, stands, processions and beer tents and is held over a fortnight around St Kilian's Day.

St Lioba of Tauberbischofsheim

St Lioba was another of the northern European missionaries to the southern German population. She was born in Wessex in the 8th century and was a follower of St Boniface, who created a convent in Tauberbischofsheim and appointed her the first abbess. Lioba was regarded highly amongst the religious and political hierarchy (almost entirely male) of the area and was an advisor to both Pepin and his son Charlemagne, rulers of the Frankish empire. The main shrine to St Lioba is in Fulda.

St Ulrich & St Afra of Augsburg

St Afra is probably the oldest of the saints on this page as her martyrdom is supposed to have taken place in the latter part of Roman rule (around the 4th century). Afra was a Christian inhabitant of Augsburg who was burnt at the stake on an island in the River Lech for refusing to take part in pagan rituals.

St Ulrich dates from much later and was a Bishop of Augsburg in the 10th century (in fact, he led the Roman Catholic church in Germany at the time). Originally a sickly Swabian (or Swiss, depending on the source) he rose to the highest ranks of the church and stayed there through his piety and the fact that he organised the successful defence of the city against Hungarian invaders.

St Magnus of Füssen

St Magnus, or - as he is popularly known in Bavaria and the Tirol - St Mang, is one of the best-known saints of the Romantic Road. Yet there is very little that can be discovered about him outside the popular traditions.

Apparently he was part of the missionary settlement started by Irish monks in the eastern part of Switzerland, although this may be a confusion with an earlier Magnus. At any rate, he became known as the Apostle of the Allgäu and was responsible for the foundation of the monastery at Füssen.