The Translation of St. Norbert

Saint Norbert was originally buried at Magdeburg, the church he had governed as archbishop. At the time of the so-called Reformation the cathedral fell into the hands of the followers of Martin Luther. The pain felt by the Order at this usurpation of the tomb of their revered founder is well recorded by the chronicler Du Pré: “Around 1600, at the time of the Reverend Father Herman Helfenstein, the last Catholic provost, through the tricks and malice of the Protestants, all Catholic religious were either poisoned or expelled and driven out, and others of the Lutheren religion were brought in, who externally wear our habit, retain our officials, practicing some kind of religion…..”

The religious of Steinfeld are thought to have been the first of St. Norbert’s sons to have considered a plan for the translation of his relics to a place where they might once more be properly venerated. Their plan inspired Abbot Lohelius of Strahov to write to Abbot General Despruets in April 1588 who in turn commissioned the Czech abbot to arrange for their translation to Premontre via Strahov. The plan proved fruitless as the Protestant provostof Magdeburg was opposed to the plan; in 1590 he had had the coffin opened whereupon it emitted an extraordinary fragrance that dissuaded him from the idea. Later attempts to translate the relics also failed.

A later abbot of Strahov, Gaspar von Questenberg seized the opportunity to return the relics to Catholic hands in 1625, when the troops of the Imperial Army arrived at the gates of Magdeburg. With the help of the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II, the abbot arrived at Magdeburg and took possession of the precious coffin. When the coffin was opened, the body of Our Holy Father was found intact, in a cope of red damask. It is told that the gold ring slipped from the hands of St. Norbert onto the middle finger of von Questenberg and thus gave a heavenly sign of the approval of St. Norbert.

The relics were transferred to Strahov on May 2nd 1627. A wagon drawn by eight white horses brought the body of Our Holy Father into Prague and thence he was borne on the shoulders of eight abbots, accompanied by two hundred coaches of the nobility, a hundred Premonstratensians carrying candles and with the sound of triumphant trumpets. The Chancery of Prague preserved the abjurations of six hundred Protestants who, on the day, or during the octave, of the translation, adjured their heresy. On that occasion the Archbishop of Prague, at the request of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, proclaimed St. Norbert the Patron and Protector of Bohemia.

(Source: B. Ardura, The Order of Premontre, History and Spirituality) 


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