Fun Facts from Church History: The Martyr of Einsiedeln and The Founding of a Monastery

The story of Einsiedeln is worth repeating. The name comes from “einsiedler,” a hermit; hence the Latin name for the place is “Emitarum Cœnobium.” Meinrad was the hermit from whom it derived its origin. He was a native of Rottenburg, twenty-five miles south-west of Stuttgart, but was educated in the famous Benedictine abbey school on the island of Reichenau in the Untersee, three and one half miles north-west of Constance, and after a brief experience as a secular priest became a monk in that monastery.

At some later date he was sent to teach at the abbey’s branch school at Oberbollingen, on the Lake of Zurich, near its eastern end and twenty miles from Zurich. Across the lake were mountains and dense forests, and as he day by day gazed towards them he was seized with the desire to bury himself in those solitudes and so cut himself off from contact with men. Accordingly he crossed the lake in the year 829 and made his way to the pass of the Etzel, a small mountain a couple of miles south of the Lake of Zurich and some twenty miles south-east of Zurich, and lived on the spot for some seven years. He had the same experience which distressed many other hermits—his solitude was invaded—so he removed to another spot in the “Gloomy Forest,” as the forest was called, to the plain where Einsiedeln is built, about four miles south of his first abode.

There beside a spring he put up his hut and a little place for prayer. On Tuesday, January 21, 861, he was visited by two men who, probably under the misapprehension that he had hidden treasure, murdered him. Forty years later there were a number of hermits living where the martyr had fallen. Thirty years more and the huts had been abandoned for a regular conventual building.

In 948 the chapel of Meinrad was enclosed in a church. Conrad, Bishop of Constance, in whose diocese Einsiedeln was till the beginning of this century, came down to dedicate this enclosing church to the Virgin Mary and the holy martyr Mauritius, and at the same time St. Meinrad’s chapel to the Virgin Mary. But at midnight preceding the day set for the dedication, (Thursday, Sept. 14, 948) while the Bishop and some of the monks were praying in the church, they heard angelic voices singing in the chapel the dedicatory service. Consequently he refused the next day to undertake the duty for which he had come, as far as the chapel was concerned, declaring that it had already been consecrated and in a sublime manner.

But, over-persuaded, he proceeded to read the service. Scarcely had he begun, when a voice was heard by all, saying, Stop, brother, God has already dedicated the chapel.” The speaker was the Angel of the Covenant, the Lord Jesus Christ, so the dedication is known as the Angelic Dedication; in German “Engelweihe,” meaning by “angel” the Lord Jesus Christ.*

Einsiedeln was the most popular pilgrimage site in Switzerland in the 16th century. And when the Reformation took hold in Zurich, pilgrimages there were stopped.

*Samuel Macauley Jackson, Huldreich Zwingli: The Reformer of German Switzerland (1484–1531) (Heroes of the Reformation; New York; London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons; Knickerbocker Press, 1901), 99–101.

1 thought on “Fun Facts from Church History: The Martyr of Einsiedeln and The Founding of a Monastery

  1. Meinrad is heavily venerated here in Southern Indiana (a.k.a. Bavaria). Look up St. Meinrad Archabbey if you haven’t heard of it. I’m no Papist, but it’s an impressive place to visit – even if you just take a walk around the grounds.


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