Wednesday, September 09, 2020

The Feast of St Corbinian

In the Roman Martyology, one of the entries for September 8th is that of St Corbinian, the first bishop of Freising in Bavaria, which traditionally keeps his feast today, out of respect for Our Lady’s Nativity, and celebrates the translation of his relics on November 20th. Born and raised in the neighborhood of Chartres in France, he spent many years as a hermit, before undertaking a pilgrimage to the tomb of St Peter. The Pope at the time, St Gregory II, who took great interest in the evangelization of Germany, consecrated him as bishop and sent him into Bavaria as a missionary, as he sent St Boniface to the western parts. Corbinian established a monastery near Freising as the center of his evangelizing activities, and for that reason, he is traditionally called the first bishop of Freising, but a see was not formally established there until about ten years after his death, when St Boniface officially arranged the hierarchy in Bavaria.

St Corbinian and the Bear, by Jan Polack (1435-1519). Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
In 1818, the seat of the diocese and the cathedral chapter of Freising were transferred to Münich, and the see renamed “Münich and Freising”; the eleventh bishop to hold this title (from March of 1977 to February of 1982) was Joseph Ratzinger, who was made a cardinal very shortly after his elevation to the episcopacy. One of the elements of his coat of arms as Pope Benedict XVI is a bear with a pack on its back, an element which derives from a legend of St Corbinian. The story is that when the Saint was travelling to Rome, a bear attacked and killed his pack horse; he therefore ordered the bear to take the horse’s place, and the animal thus tamed accompanied him the rest of the way to Rome. (In the pre-Tridentine Missal of Freising, a verse of the Sequence for his Mass reads, “By his order a bear is subdued, and burdened in place of the pack-horse which it killed.”)

In the northern Italian region of the Alto-Adige, in the province of Bolzano, there is a beautiful collegiate church jointly dedicated to St Corbinian and to a Saint named Candidus, and who has given his name to the surrounding town. He is a figure of whom very little is known, apart from the fact that that he was a bishop of Chartres, Corbinian’s native place. The area is so far north within Italy that it was formerly part of the diocese of Freising. Here are pictures taken by Nicola de’ Grandi during his recent visit to that area.

As is so often the case, a church has been built on the site several times, first in 769, then again sometime before the year 1000; the crypt of this second church is seen below. It was then rebuilt again in 1143, but destroyed by a fire in 1200; the current Romanesque structure was consacrated in 1284, and the bell-tower raised between 1320-26.

Over the south portal is a sculpture of Christ amid the symbolic animals of the Four Evangelists, and a fresco of the Emperor Otto I, under whom the church was first rebuilt, and Ss Corbinian and Candidus. The fresco is attributed to Michael Pacher (1435 ca. - 1498), who was from the Suditrol region, and one of the first German artists to adopt the style of the Italian Renaissance.
The north portal, decorated with a 19th century painting of Ss Corbinian and Candidus and three of the church’s canons.
The west portal, with portaits of Otto I, Tassilus III,  Duke of Bavaria, in whose time the church was originally founded, and his wife Liutberga.
As in many Italian Romanesque churches, the sanctuary is notably elevated above the level of the central nave, and has a large crypt underneath it.
In the Crucifix on the main altar, Christ is shown awake and wholly upright, as was typical in the early Middle Ages, to indicate that He is still the creator and sustainer of the universe, even in the midst of His Passion.
Frescos of stories of the Creation in the cupola, from the year 1285.
The crypt survives from the first rebuilding of the church in the 10th century.

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