Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume XI: November. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Leopold, Marquis of Austria, Confessor
LEOPOLD, the fourth of that name, from his infancy commonly called The Pious, was son of Leopold III. and Itta, daughter to the Emperor Henry IV.1 By attending diligently to the instructions of Gods ministers, and meditating assiduously on the pure maxims of the gospel, he learned that there is but one common rule of salvation for princes and private persons: this he studied, and from his cradle he laboured to square by it his whole life. In his youth he laid a good foundation of learning; but it was his chief study to live only for eternity, to curb his passions, to mortify his senses, to renounce worldly pleasures, to give much of his time to prayer and holy meditation, and to apply himself to the exercise of all manner of good works, especially those of almsdeeds and charity. By the death of his father, in 1096, he saw it was become his indispensable duty to study and procure in all things the happiness of a numerous nation committed by God to his charge. The Austrians were then a very gross and superstitious people: it was necessary to soften their minds, to imbue them with the principles of reason and society, and make them Christians. The work was tedious and difficult. The saint prepared himself for it by earnestly asking of God that wisdom which he stood in need of for it; and by active endeavours, through the divine blessing, succeeded beyond what could have been hoped for. He was affable to all, studied to do good to every one, and eased as much as possible all public burdens of the people. His palace seemed the seat of virtue, justice, and universal goodness. When he was constrained to proceed to punishments, he endeavoured to engage the criminals to receive them with patience, and in a spirit of penance, and to acknowledge the severity which he used, to be necessary and just. He pardoned malefactors as often as prudence allowed him to do it: for he considered that the maintenance of justice and the public peace and safety depended upon the strict execution of the laws.
When the civil war broke out between the unnatural excommunicated emperor, Henry IV., and his own son, Henry V., Leopold was prevailed upon to join the latter, to whose cause he gave the greatest weight. Motives of justice and religion, and the authority of others determined him to take this step; yet Cuspinian tells us,2 that he afterwards did remarkable penance for the share which he had in those transactions. In 1106 he took to wife Agnes, a most virtuous and accomplished princess, daughter to the Emperor Henry IV., sister to Henry V., and widow of Frederic, duke of Suabia, by whom she had Conrad, afterwards emperor, and Frederic, father of Frederic Barbarossa. To St. Leopold she bore eighteen children, of whom seven died in their infancy: the rest rendered their names famous by great and virtuous actions. Albert, the eldest, having given uncommon proofs of his valour and military skill, died in Pannonia, a few days after his father. Leopold, the second, succeeded his father in Austria, and reigned also in Bavaria. Otho, the fifth son, made great progress in his studies at Paris, became first a Cistercian monk, and abbot of Morimond, was afterwards chosen bishop of Frisingen, accompanied the Emperor Conrad into the Holy Land, and died at Morimond in great sentiments of piety. His famous Chronicle from the beginning of the world, and other works, are monuments of his application to his studies. The Marchioness Agnes would have her part in all her husbands good works. With him she read the holy scriptures, and with joy interrupted her sleep in the night to rise to the usual midnight devotions of the church, to which this religious couple added together long meditations on the truths of everlasting life. Leopold, in the year 1117, founded the monastery of the Holy Cross, of the Cistercian Order, twelve Italian miles from Vienna, near the castle of Kalnperg, where he lived. The saint and his religious marchioness were desirous to have been able to watch continually at the foot of the altar in singing the divine praises; but being obliged by their station in the world often to attend other affairs, though in all these they found God, whose holy will and greater glory they proposed to themselves in every thing they did; they resolved to found a great monastery of fervent regular canons, who might be substituted in their places, to attend night and day to this angelical function. This they executed by the foundation of the noble monastery of Our Lady of New Clausterberg, eight miles from Vienna. The marquis out of humility would not lay the first stone, but caused that ceremony to be performed by a priest. The church was dedicated in 1118 by the archbishop of Saltzburg, assisted by the bishop of Passau, the diocesan, and the bishop of Gurck. The foundation was confirmed by the pope, and by a charter of Leopold,3 signed by Ottacar, marquis of Stiria, and many other counts and noblemen, in presence of the bishops, who fulminated an excommunication, with dreadful anathemas, against any who should invade the rights or lands of this monastery, or injure or molest the poor servants of Christ, who there followed the rule of St. Austin.
Stephen II. king of Hungary, invaded Austria, but was repulsed by St. Leopold, who defeated his troops in a pitched battle. The Hungarians returned some years after, but were met by the holy marquis on his frontiers, and their army so ill handled that they were glad to save their remains by a precipitate flight. Upon the death of Henry V. in 1125, some of the electors and many others desired to see Leopold raised to the imperial dignity: but the election of Lothaire II. duke of Saxony, prevailed. Conrad and Frederic, sons of the Marchioness Agnes by the Duke of Suabia, who had also stood candidates, raised great disturbances in the empire, to which they afterwards both succeeded. But Leopold adhered with such fidelity to Lothaire, as to give manifest proofs of his sincere disinterestedness, and to show how perfectly a stranger he was to jealousy and ambition. He attended the emperor as his friend in his journey into Italy. After a glorious and happy reign he was visited with his last sickness, in which he confessed his sins with many tears, received extreme unction and the other rites of the church, and, never ceasing to call on Christ his Redeemer, and to recommend his soul, through his precious death, into his divine hands, with admirable tranquillity and resignation, passed to a state of happy immortality on the 15th of November, in 1136. He was buried at his monastery of New Clausterberg, two German miles from Vienna, and on his and his holy consorts anniversaries two large doles are still distributed by the community to all the poor that come to receive it. St. Leopold was honoured by God with many miracles, and was canonized by Innocent VIII. in 1485. See his life by Vitus Erempercht, published by F. Rader, in Bavaria Sancta, vol. 3, p. 143; the History of the Foundation of Medlic, quoted at large by Lambecius, (Bibl. Vindob. vol. 2); and Francis of Possacs oration before Innocent VIII. in order to the saints canonization, (in Surius, t. 79,) in which many miracles are recited; see other manuscript monuments quoted by F. Rader.
Note 1. Austria was part of Noricum, and afterwards of Pannonia, when it fell a prey to the Huns and Abares. Charlemagne expelled them, and settled colonies from whom the country was called Osterriccha and Osterlandia; whence Austria signifies the eastern country, as Austrasia in France. Charlemagne and his successors placed there governors of the borders called marches, to restrain the Huns, &c. Upper Austria frequently was subject to Bavaria. Leopold I. was created by the Emperor Otho I. Marquess of Austria, in 940. St. Leopold was the sixth marquess, and his son Leopold V. was also duke of Bavaria, from whom the present dukes of that country derive their pedigree. Henry II., marquiss of Austria, was created the first duke by the Emperor Frederic Barbarossa. Rodulph, count of Hapsburg, possessed the county of Bregents, near Constance, and Alsace; after he became emperor of Germany he obtained this duchy of Austria in 1136, with which he invested his son Albert: from which time his descendants have remained possessed of it. See Bertius, Rerum Germanic. Aventinus, Aannal. Boiorum; Rader. Not. in S. Leopold. Fiefs or feodal principalities were established by the Lombards in Italy, and, after the extinction of their kingdom, adopted in Germany, &c. Titles merely honorary were first made hereditary by Otho I. The name of Hertzog, which the Germans give to their dukes, signifies a leader of an army. Landgraves were originally governors of provinces; margraves of marches, frontiers, or conquered countries; burgraves of particular places of importance; rhinegrave, of the country about the Rhine: wildgrave, of the forest of the Ardennes, this word signifying wild count. See Selden on Titles of Honour, Du Cange, &c. [back]