Thursday, November 22, 2012

Local Saints and a Local Hero

Blessed Bernhard
Last August I blogged about Edith Stein Freiburg claims as a local saint. Well, I know that in the Catholic Church saints are considered universal, i.e., belonging to and venerated by the whole community. However, places where those selected people once dwelt are always special.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch and Bernhard in the background
Today I read in my favorite newspaper that Freiburg's archbishop Robert had started the final step for the sanctification of another "local person": Bernhard von Baden.

In February 2011 I already devoted a blog to Blessed Bernhard who is considered as the patron of the Freiburg archdiocese. Now all supporting documents for his canonization including the one about a miraculous healing of a nun from Baden in 1956 were placed in a sealed box and sent to the Vatican for further action and final decision by the pope.

The name of Bernhard not always had a good reputation in Freiburg. Bernhard von Weimar, yes Weimar again, pushed Freiburg in 1638 into misery when during the Thirty Years War he besieged the city at Easter and took it after eleven days. Bernhard born in 1604 was the eleventh son of Johann, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, and had no chance to become heir to the throne. In these days later-born children either became clergymen or warlords. Bernard chose to support King Gustav Adolf, the invader from Sweden, and became one of his most valuable generals. Following the King's death in the battle of Lützen Bernhard continued serving the Swedes. Being successful he was granted the former bishoprics of Würzburg and Bamberg and the title Duke of Franconia. We read in Wikipedia: A stern Protestant, he exacted heavy contributions from the Catholic cities which he took, and his repeated victories caused him to be regarded by German Protestants [with Gustav Adolf dead] as the savior of their religion. But in 1634 Bernard suffered a great defeat at Nördlingen, losing the best of the Swedish army and his duchy.

The other Bernhard approaching the city of Breisach 1638
One year later still longing to become a German prince Bernhard made a pact with Cardinal Richelieu, the man Protestant Germans considered as a twofold devil being both Catholic and French. The Cardinal gave money and troops to his German speaking general to fight the Habsburgs on German territory. Soon Richellieu felt cheated as Bernhard rather used the French mercenaries to pursue his personal ambitions.

In 1638 in a blitz campaign he first captured the Habsburg cities on the High Rhine and then Freiburg. The following siege of Breisach, the imperial fortress, took him seven months. Conquered eventually Bernard made the city the site of his Princely Saxon Government unblushingly requesting Richelieu to make him Duke of the Alsace, the Breisgau, and the bishopric of Basel. Bernhard died a sudden death in 1639 and rumors had it that he was poisoned. Already in these days conspiracy theories circulated freely. Whatever the true story is, following Bernhard's death the French took it all, i.e., his troops, money, and territories.

Surely Bernhard is not Freiburg's local hero but he suddenly became Weimar's hero in 1935 where in an exhibition devoted to him he was talked up as the Führer's predecessor. A Weimar newspaper wrote: Duke Bernhard who came out of the people, lived with the people and belonged to the people deserves the honor the national-socialistic movement bestows on him. This is all so wrong. As most of his contemporaries nobleman Bernhard did not give a hoot in hell for his people. He at best considered them as cannon fodder when following his ambitious aspirations. In this respect he was a true predecessor of the Führer.

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