January 4, 2016
A few years ago, I wrote a book entitled
Don’t Trust the Abbot (which I could do only while abbot). As a result of research by our Brother Reginald Udouj in his seminary work at St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, MN, I have learned embarrassing news about another Abbot who was untrustworthy, one of my medieval predecessors. This later information adds a footnote to Subiaco’s recent Monastic Heritage Pilgrimage to trace our Benedictine roots in Switzerland.
Two of the Abbeys we visited last October were Reichenau, established on an island in the Sea of Constance (bordered by Switzerland, Germany, and Austria) in 724, and St. Gallen, founded about 50 miles to the south in Switzerland in 747. Both were centers of Catholic culture with great libraries and schools of copyists in the Middle Ages, but were eventually suppressed by secularist governments during Napoleonic times, Reichenau in 1803 and St. Gallen in 1805.
It turns out that one of the abbots of Reichenau, Abbot Ruodman (973-986), became very jealous of the Abbey of St. Gallen, and tried various ways to discredit his neighbor monks. Two incidents are enough to reveal his pattern.
Ruodman heard that the monks of St. Gallen were routinely eating the “meat of four-footed animals,” reserved in the Rule of St. Benedict only for the sick (Chapter 36). We don’t know what this meat was (if the accusation was true), but St. Gallen had a large sheep herd, which provided food for the lay workers and sheepskin for manuscript production. Ruodman took this straight to Emperor Otto II and was able to rouse an imperial investigation into life at St. Gallen.
Another incident was more unsavory. The record says he was “a prying, gossiping sort of a personage,” spreading tales about St. Gallen. The ultimate was when he crept into the neighboring monastery at night with his hood up, hoping to spy unrecognized. But one of the senior monks wondered why someone was tiptoeing in the hall and came out with a lantern to find out. Soon the whole community was aroused, and some of the younger monks ran forward with rods in case there was an opportunity for “salutary correction.” Ruodman was, in fact, spared, but left apparently unreformed.