Today marks the memorial of St. Ludolph, bishop and martyr of the Premonstratensian Order, partiuclarly invoked as a martyr for the freedom of the Church. Nothing is known of the early years of Ludolph. He joined the Norbertine Cathedral Chapter of Ratzeburg where he was treasurer before being elected eighth bishop of Ratzeburg in 1236. He was renowned for his exemplary religious life and powerful preaching of the word of God. He also founded a community of Norbertine sisters at Rehna. But Ludolph is perhaps best remembered for his fearless defense of the rights and goods of the church against the greedy Duke Albert of Saxony. One of the duke’s plans was to raze the cathedral complex, situated near his castle, and transform the place into a garden. Ludolph strenuously opposed the plan. While on an official jouney, and accompanied by only a small body guard, he was seized by Duke Albert’s men, shackled, spat upon and handled roughly. At one point he was bound by his feet and hands in the open forest and left a prey to merciless swarms of mosquitoes. He was then thrown in prison and eventually freed. Ludolph bore all of his sufferings with patient resolve. Fearing to return to Ratzeburg where Duke Albert had gained the upper hand, Ludolph took refuge with Prince John of Mecklenburg at Wismar. It was during this exile that Ludolph, weighed down by the infirmities suffered in prison and by his advancing old age, fell gravely ill. He celebrated his last Mass on Holy Thursday. His final words were “O great and good God, allow me, your useless servent, to belong to you for all eternity.” He died on March 29, 1250. His body was returned to Ratzeburg for burial. As the procession passed through Schlagsdorf, the bells of the city were said to ring of their own accord. At the command of the Duke, Ludolph’s body was carried from the bridge to the cathedral by the nobility of Ratzeburg. Ludolph’s confreres carried him into the cathedral himself where he found his final resting place. Ludolph is honored as a bishop and a martyr for the rights and freedom of the church. He is portrayed with the regalia of a bishop, bearing the shackles that bound him in prison and holding the palm of martyrdom.
Concerning the “punishment”, the Apostle says: “Because through many trials it is fitting that we enter the kingdom of God”. And again: “The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared to the future glory which will be revealed in us”.
Concerning the “cause”, we read: “It is not the punishment that makes the martyr but the cause”. In this regard we read in the Gospel: “Blessed are those who suffer persecution for the sake of justice”.
– Life of St. Norbert, Vita B, Chapter V
SS. Evermode (L), Ludolph (centre) and Isfrid (R)
Almighty God, you made the bishop and martyr Ludolph a zealous and fearless witness of your Church. Through his intercession grant that we may be filled with patience in all the trials of life and be found worthy to belong to you for all eternity. We ask this through Christ our Lord, AMEN.