Hermann of Reichenau- Wonder of His Age and the Rubbish of Christ's Little Ones
Updated: Feb 11, 2022
This post has come off the back of a call for historical figures with funny hair on Twitter, and my desire to do a few more "quickfire history" style posts.
Look at his hair though, sure, it's inkeeping with many other medieval monks but it looks like a furry halo version of the bit in Matilda when she superglues his hat to his head.
"Hermann, the rubbish of Christ's little ones, lagging behind the learners of philosophy more slowly than a donkey or a slug."
How Hermann introduced himself in one of his many books.
Hermann of Reichenau was 7 years old when he was dropped off at a monastery, after his parents had run out of resources and the ability to look after him. Born in 1013, he was unable to walk and barely able to move. Soon, the monks had built him a specially designed chair that they were able to carry him around in. He couldn't speak well, but took Holy Orders to become a Benedictine monk (not one of the ones with a vow of silence, alas) in 1043.
By their nature, plenty of researchers have tried to diagnose him in the many years since then, and as is standard, we have no way of knowing the precise reality of his impairment. So far, the guesses most respected include Spina Bifida, Cerebral Palsy and Motor Neurone Disease (ALS). He also became blind later in life, but excelled in the Cloister School, and later as a monk.
He took to learning, and seems to have become literate in multiple languages, including Latin and Greek, and contributed to almost every subject that you could think of.
He wrote about mathematics, history, astronomy, the history of music and of course Christian theology. People would travel from across the continent to be taught by him.
He was also well known as a composer and religious poet, considered by some to be one of the first composers of Gregorian chants, and after he lost his sight he moved to writing hymns. (I would argue that being a composer and religious poet meant you were already a hymn writer, but he seemed to consider those two skills separate.)
He wrote a number of hymns that managed to be passed down including Alma Redemptoris Mater (Nourishing Mother of the Redeemer) and Salve Regina (Save the Queen) which gained in extra popularity 100 years later, when it was sung to St Bernard while he was campaigning for the second of many hundreds of Crusades (ish). I'm not a Catholic, or practising in any religion but I hear these are still used in traditional German Catholic churches, as well as its rebirth in the form of featuring in the film Sister Act which realistically we're all more likely to know.
The man called by many "The Wonder of his Age" died in 1054, aged 41 and was beatified (declared blessed by the Catholic church) in 1863.