Hildegunde of Schönau

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Cistercian; d. Schönau Abbey, April 20, 1188. She was the daughter of a merchant of Neuss am Rhein who made her cut her hair like a man's, dressed her in man's clothing, and gave her the name Joseph. About 1183 her father took her on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he died. "Joseph" returned to enter the Cistercian Abbey of Schönau near Heidelberg and died there during the novitiate. Only after her death was her true sex discovered; inquiries established her real name and origin. Because of her adventurous life and the unusual way in which she had come to the monastic life, she could not help but attract lively interest, and German Cistercian monasteries especially came to venerate her as a saint. There are pictures of her dating from the 15th century. Her story is so well confirmed by her contemporaries that there is no doubt about the fact that a girl did live and die undetected as a novice in Schönau. Statutes of the general chapter of that time seem to confirm the incident. However, similar happenings date from the first days of Eastern monasticism (cf. Palladius, c. 420). The oldest biography of the novice "Joseph" was by a confrere from the novitiate, Berthold, who lived later as a monk in Bebenhausen (Acta Sanctorum April 2:782790; probably used by caesarius of heisterbach, Dial. mirac. 1:40).

Bibliography: Vita A by Engelhard and metrical Vita B, Neues Archiv der Gesellschaft für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde 6 (1881) 516521, 533536. m. huffschmid, "Beiträge zur Geschichte der Cisterzienserabtei Schoenao," Zeitschrift für die Geschichte des Oberrheins 4546 (189192) 430, for sources. k. (c.) spahr, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 5:343. m. schaab, Die Zisterzienserabtei Schoenau im Odenwald (Heidelberg 1963) 43. Cistercienser-Chronik 71 (1963) 24, for bibliog.

[c. spahr]

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Hildegunde of Schönau

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