Saturday, 11 January 2014

odelay or hindsight is 20/20

On the way home, noticing the dramatic contrasts of skies and the still green pastures and lapping brook of the village of Döllbach on the border of Hessen and Bavaria at the foothills of the Rhön, I stopped at the seventeenth century church dedicated to Saint Odile (auch Ottilia oder Odilie). Just opposite there was a spring, the source of the nearly over-flowing stream, also named after the saint traditionally from Alsace (Elsass), and having learnt a bit about her legend and hagiography, wondered if it was not so named with respect to some healing properties of the waters.
The story goes that Odile was born blind to an aristocratic family and her father, rejecting a disabled child, sent her to be raised by peasants. Baptised at the age of twelve (around the year 670), she miraculously had her vision restored, and after her canonisation was popularly venerated in France, Germany and Switzerland as the patroness of eye-sight—especially at the time before the invention of corrective lenses. Now sighted, Odile's brother brought her back to the family estate—which made Odile's father so angry he killed the brother, accidentally, and still rejected his daughter, the duke fearing that the church and monasteries were a threat to his power and embarrassed to disclose to his subjects that he had banished his daughter, whom the faith had made whole.
She restored her brother to life and the two fled across the Rhine to Basel and her father gave up pursuit. Father and daughter were ultimately reconciled years later, after the duke's health started suffering, and he constructed a convent, Hohenburg Abbey, in the Bas Rhin for her to oversee. The duke, Eticho of Alsace who was the founding-father of the Hapsburg family line, is too venerated as a saint for this death-bed conversion, a popular example, especially for the nobility, perhaps with the message that secular powers and piety could be harmonised.