St. Mathilda, Queen
Patroness of Queens
If there is a saint that is just about perfect for talking about during Lent, I think we found her in St. Mathilda. Her life of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer just about sums up Church teaching on what Lent is all about and it is one that, over a thousand years later, can still teach all of us a thing or two about how to show our love for God (even those of us who aren’t quite queens).
Born somewhere in the very end of the ninth century, daughter of Theodoric, a Saxon Count, Mathilda was sent at a young age to live with and be educated by her grandmother, Maud, an abbess at the monastery she had joined after the death of her husband. (And yes, in case you’re wondering, I do now have the theme to “Maude” playing in my head.) Do you ever wonder why some details are included and passed down to us from generation to generation about some saints? I do. Like I wonder why we know that, while with her granny, Mathilda became an expert at needlework. Perhaps it is meant to show us her discipline and attention to minute tasks? I’m not sure. Anyways, she became quite proficient at it, and also learned the importance of labor and prayer, as well a spiritual reading.
Eventually, when she was about 14 years old, she was given in marriage to Henry “the Fowler” (can you guess what he was known for?). Thankfully for them both, they were what we would call today a match made in heaven, and perhaps we wouldn’t be that far off. Mathilda, who, with Henry rose to the throne of Germany after the death of his father, spent her time literally living out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. She gave succor to the poor and the sick, she visited and comforted those in prison and ill, and all the time worked to convert sinners. Her husband, thankfully, looked happily on her endeavors. Once her husband died, after 23 years of marriage, she offered one Mass for the repose of his soul, and then gave up the pageantry, pomp, and trappings of court for good, and moved on to a life of spiritual pursuits. Perhaps their match was made in heaven; at least their co-vocation of marriage to each other certainly seems to have been.
After the death of her husband, her elder two sons were left to battle it out as it were for the empty throne. Her youngest, Bruno, however, as youngest children are wont to do, gave his dear mother not a whit of trouble, choosing instead to become a priest and then Archbishop of Cologne, and finally a saint, proving once again that youngest children truly are the holiest and best. But I digress. With the help of her older son, she founded several monasteries and even an order of canons throughout their lands. Even though she favored her oldest son, Otho, who eventually became the Holy Roman Emperor, both sons subjected her to terrible treatment; the younger, Henry, because she favored the elder for the elective crown; the elder, because his advisers disliked her charitable activities. So often is the life of a saint, beset on all sides by detractors.
St. Mathilda died in 968, outliving her husband by 30 some years. She left behind her a legacy of charity, founded on the triune pillars of Lent: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. While she patroness of queens, she could just as well be patroness of all those of us attempting to have a happy, prayerful, productive Lent.