Each year we pause to tell the same two stories. It is an opportunity to share the Catholic heritage from our Swiss-Benedictine roots that traveled with us from the Alps to the Plains.
The earliest American Benedictine communities were mostly founded during the mid to late 1800’s from a handful of monasteries in Germany and Switzerland. Those monastic houses of Swiss descent honor their unique roots. While the universal Church celebrates Our Lady of Mount Carmel, we honor Our Lady of Einsiedeln.
Within Bishop Marty Memorial Chapel, we have a side or transept chapel dedicated to our Swiss Lady. For years, our Swiss and German sisters who worked in the embroidery dressed the Madonna and Child in elaborate gowns of the liturgical seasons. Only later did we discover, like the original, her beautifully carved gown of red and gentle arm embracing the Child Jesus.
The story of Our Lady of Einsiedeln begins with Saint Meinrad, as story goes…
In the 9th century, the monk St. Meinrad, of the family of the Counts of Hohenzollern, left one of the local monasteries to build a hermitage in the wilderness that would later become Einsiedeln.He took with him a miracle-working statue of the Virgin Mary given to him by the Abbess Hildegarde of Zurich. He soon became well-known in the local village for his kindness and holiness, and received many visitors and gifts.
On January 21, 861, two thieves murdered Meinrad for the treasure in his hermitage. According to legend, the murderers were apprehended after two ravens followed them into town and drew attention to them with loud squawking.
In 940, a small group of Benedictine monks transformed Meinrad’s little hermitage into the Lady Chapel. The chapel is said to have been consecrated by Christ himself on September 14, 948. The bishop who was to consecrate the new site had a vision in which the church was filled with a brilliant light as Christ approached the altar; the next day, when he went to perform the ceremony, he heard a voice saying the chapel had already been divinely consecrated. The miracle was confirmed by Pope Leo VIII 16 years later in a papal bull.
St. Meinrad had the Black Madonna statue (its dark color traditionally explained by years of candle smoke) as part of his altarpiece; after his death it was placed in the Lady Chapel for veneration. Many miracles were attributed to the intercession of “Our Lady of Einsiedeln,” and pilgrimages to Einsiedeln began shortly after 1000 AD (Sacred Destinations.com).
Our monastery’s foundresses came from Maria Rickenbach on a musenalp above the city of Niederbach. As a part of the Swiss-American foundations, we continue to honor Our Lady of Einsiedeln. However, our Swiss foundation house continues to welcome pilgrims seeking the intercession of Our Lady of Rickenbach who shares a similar story:
In 1528 as the Protestant Reformation swept across Switzerland, a great iconoclasm took place in which people seized and destroyed statues taken from Catholic churches. The reformers claimed that the statues were false idols, and that Catholics were worshiping the statues instead of God.
A shepherd boy saw a statue of Mary holding the child Jesus on her lap “lightly as if giving him to the world” rise undamaged from a bonfire. He rescued the statue and hid it high in the mountains in the hollow of a tree. The shepherd boy would pray the rosary before that statue inside the hollow of a tree as he tended his sheep.
Soon the townspeople learned of the boy’s devotion and came to retrieve the statue and save it. But it wouldn’t budge. Even the strongest men could not move it. So the people decided to build a shrine around it on that very spot.
People came from miles to walk up the mountain and to pray before the statue. The Benedictine monks from nearby Engelberg would care for the pilgrims, and soon an order of Benedictine sisters was established to care for both the site and the pilgrims who came to pray (Sr. Dawn Mills, BSPA).
On this day, we will remember you in our prayer.
May the faith-filled life and love of Our Lady guide and bless you.