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Wolfgang of Regensburg

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Saint Wolfgang, stained glass, Parish Church in Leising
The Almoner
Bornc. 934
Holy Roman Empire
Died(994-10-31)31 October 994
Venerated inCatholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Canonized1052 AD by Pope Leo IX
Feast31 October
Attributesdepicted with an axe in the right hand and the crozier in the left; or as a hermit in the wilderness being discovered by a hunter.
Patronageapoplexy; carpenters and wood carvers; paralysis; Regensburg, Germany; stomach diseases; strokes

Wolfgang of Regensburg (Latin: Wolfgangus; c. 934 – 31 October 994 AD) was bishop of Regensburg in Bavaria from Christmas 972 until his death. He is a saint in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. He is regarded as one of the three great German saints of the 10th century, the other two being Ulrich of Augsburg and Conrad of Constance. Towards the end of his life Wolfgang withdrew as a hermit to a solitary spot, in the Salzkammergut region of Upper Austria. Soon after Wolfgang's death many churches chose him as their patron saint, and various towns were named after him.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • Pacher, St. Wolfgang Altarpiece


(jazzy music) Male: We're in the Church of St. Wolfgang on a gorgeous lake in the Alps in Austria. We're looking at an alterpiece by one of the most important early Renaissance painters in this region, Michael Pacher. Female: And we're being very hushed because we're talking here in front of the alterpiece. It fills the entire space from almost floor to ceiling. Male: We're not used to seeing alterpieces that are this intricate and this large anymore. Female: It's a combination of sculpture, architecture and painting together in its original location, and this is incredibly rare. These things are often disassembled and in museums, so we don't get to experience them the way that they were meant to be. Male: We're also quite lucky because on the day of our visit, the alterpiece is opened completely so we're able to see the most sacred areas of the object. Female: We have a scene of the court of heaven and Mary being crowned as the queen of heaven. But the space that surrounds them is a Gothic space like the one we're standing in. Male: We recognize all of the figures here, but the one that most people probably wouldn't recognize would be St. Wolfgang, the namesake of this town, of the lake, and of this church. He was a 10th century hermit, and I have to say he chose a lovely spot. Female: You can see him on the left and St. Benedict is on the right of that central scene. Above Christ and Mary, flying toward us, is a white dove. The space of the alter is incredibly deep, I don't think I've ever seen anything like this, so that the figures are set back in shadow. Male: It is like a stage, actually. Female: Behind Christ and Mary we see angels. Male: There's a choir of angels, and then there are small angels in the front that seem to be flitting about, for instance holding the hem of Mary's garb. Female: The whole space that these central figures occupy, everything about it seems activated. The figures seem to move. The angels, as you said, seem to flit about. Christ raises his hand. Mary folds her hands in a gesture of prayer. The dove flies out towards us. The filigree on the Gothic niches catches the light. It's as though the whole thing is really alive and happening before us. What happens is that we look, then, on either side to the painted panels and we see painted figures in architecture that again resembles the space that we inhabit. Male: This is Early Renaissance painting and we know that the artist Pacher had actually crossed the Alps, gone to Northern Italy, and had learned the techniques of artists like Mantegna. It looks like he has learned the lessons of linear perspective from the Italians, which is only about 50 years old. He's brought this back to Northern Europe. We often think about [Daret] being the artist that does this, but Pacher does it long before. We see Pacher's interest in deep space. We see that in the sculptural figures in the center, we see it in his use of linear perspective and foreshortening. Male: You're absolutely right. This is clearly an artist that is concerned not only with the rendering of deep space, but also the creation of mass, of solidity within the figures themselves. Female: We see something very typical of Northern Renaissance in German art; those very deep and very complicated folds of drapery. Male: He was able to carve the wood quite easily because this is a very soft wood. Female: Surrounding the central scene are moments from the life of Mary. Male: We have a smaller sculptural scene down in what we might call the predella that shows the adoration of the Magi. They're framed by two panel paintings. On the left is The Visitation; and on the right, the Flight into Egypt. These are scenes that take place when Christ is an infant. We see that chronology continued in the panels up above. Female: On the upper left, The Nativity of Christ's birth. Even there we see an illusion of deep space behind Mary. Male: I love the way that the angels float very close to the pictural plane and the way in which those timbers seem to almost frame the painting itself. Female: And how about the cow who's foreshortened? Below that we see Christ circumcised in the Temple. Male: Look at the architecture there. The complex ribbing of the [unintelligible] is just a perfect mirror of what's above us. Female: Although I think it's more complicated even and more fanciful than the space that we're in. Then we see perspective in the tiles on the floor. We see that again in the panel on the upper right, the scene of The Presentation in the Temple. Male: Then down below that, the death of Mary. We can see her being attended to, but then Christ waits for her just above, assisted by angels. Female: What's so amazing about this alterpiece is that we have this sculpted Gothic architecture that surrounds the central scene of The Coronation of Mary. Then we have painted space with painted figures in it, and painted sculptures, for example, in the panel on the lower right of the death of Mary. Then we stand in this space which is itself inhabited by sculpted figures, by Gothic architecture. Male: All of that architecture, all of that sculpture in the real space of the church is also painted. So it is a kind of perfect fusion. Female: There is the potential for a truly visionary experience. Male: Art is most successful, and I think this is especially true in a religious environment, when art changes the way that we perceive the things that we would normally see as normal. This sculptural group, this painted group, transforms the way that we see the rest of the church. Female: There's a real fusion of our so-called "real world" and the visionary world of the biblical figures we are looking at. The tools of the Renaissance of creating three-dimensional form, of believable bodies, of believable space, are here used to create a total experience. Male: The idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, the total work of art. Female: All we're missing is music. (jazzy music)

Early life

Wolfgang was descended from the family of the Swabian Counts of Pfullingen. When seven years old, he had an ecclesiastic as a tutor at home; later he attended the celebrated monastic school at Reichenau Abbey.[1] Here he formed a strong friendship with Henry of Babenberg, brother of Bishop Poppo of Würzburg, whom he followed to Würzburg in order to attend the lectures of the noted Italian grammarian, Stephen of Novara, at the cathedral school.

After Henry was made Archbishop of Trier in 956, he summoned Wolfgang, who became a teacher in the cathedral school of Trier, and also labored for the reform of the archdiocese,[1] despite the hostility with which his efforts were met. Wolfgang's residence at Trier greatly influenced his monastic and ascetic tendencies, as here he came into contact with the great reform monastery of the 10th century, St. Maximin's Abbey, Trier, where he made the acquaintance of Ramuold, the teacher of Saint Adalbert of Prague.

After the death of Archbishop Henry of Trier in 964, Wolfgang entered the Benedictine order in the Abbey of Maria Einsiedeln, Switzerland,[1] and was ordained priest by Saint Ulrich in 968.

Mission to the Magyars

After their defeat in the Battle of the Lechfeld (955), Hungarians settled in ancient Pannonia, where they remained a constant menace to the empire. At the request of Ulrich, who clearly saw the danger, and at the desire of the Emperor Otto the Great, Wolfgang, according to the abbey annals, was "sent to the Hungarians" as the most suitable man to evangelize them.[2]

He was followed by other missionaries sent by Piligrim, Bishop of Passau, under whose jurisdiction the new missionary region came.[2]

Bishop of Regensburg

Saint Wolfgang altar painting, made c.1490

After the death of Bishop Michael of Regensburg (23 September 972) Bishop Piligrim obtained from the emperor the appointment of Wolfgang as the new bishop (Christmas, 972). Wolfgang's services in this new position were of the highest importance. As Bishop of Regensburg, Wolfgang became the tutor of Emperor Saint Henry II, who learned from him the principles which governed his life.[3] Poppe, son of Margrave Luitpold, Archbishop of Trier (1018), and Tagino, Archbishop of Magdeburg (1004–1012), also had him as their teacher.[2]

Wolfgang deserves credit for his disciplinary labours in his diocese. His main work in this respect was connected with the ancient and celebrated St. Emmeram's Abbey, which he reformed by granting it once more abbots of its own, thus withdrawing it from the control of the bishops of Regensburg, who for many years had been abbots in commendam, a condition of affairs that had been far from beneficial to the abbey and monastic life. He was one of the first German bishops to do this, and his example in this was much copied across Germany in the years following. In the Benedictine monk Ramuold, whom Wolfgang called from Saint Maximin at Trier, Saint Emmeram received a capable abbot (975).

Wolfgang was an advocate of the monastic reforms of Gorze Abbey which aimed at a reestablishing adherence to the Rule of St. Benedict. He also reformed the convents of Obermünster and Niedermünster at Regensburg, chiefly by giving them as an example the convent of St. Paul, Mittelmünster, at Regensburg, which he had founded in 983. He also co-operated in the reform of the ancient and celebrated Benedictine Abbey of Niederaltaich, which had been founded by the Agilolfinger dynasty, and which from that time took on new life.

He showed genuine episcopal generosity in the liberal manner with which he met the views of the Emperor Otto II regarding the intended reduction in size of his diocese for the benefit of the new Diocese of Prague (975), to which Adalbert of Prague was appointed first bishop.[4] As prince of the empire he performed his duties towards the emperor and the empire with the utmost scrupulousness and, like Ulrich, was one of the mainstays of the Ottonian policies.

He took part in the various imperial Diets, and, in the autumn of 978, accompanied the Emperor Otto II on his campaign to Paris, and took part in the Diet of Verona in June 983. He was succeeded by Gebhard I.[5]

Hermitage and death

Apparently on account of a political dispute between Duke Henry II of Bavaria and Emperor Otto II, Wolfgang spent a year at Mondsee in 976. From there he withdrew as a hermit to a solitary spot, now the Wolfgangsee ("Wolfgang's Lake") in the Salzkammergut region of Upper Austria. He was discovered by a hunter and brought back to Regensburg.

While travelling on the Danube to Pöchlarn in Lower Austria, he fell ill at the village of Pupping, which is between Eferding and the market town of Aschach near Linz, and at his request was carried into the chapel of Saint Othmar at Pupping, where he died.[4]

His body was taken up the Danube by his friends Count Aribo of Andechs and Archbishop Hartwich of Salzburg to Regensburg, and was solemnly buried in the crypt of Saint Emmeram. Many miracles were reported at his grave; in 1052 he was canonized.


Saint Wolfgang as depicted in the Kefermarkt altarpiece

Soon after Wolfgang's death many churches chose him as their patron saint, and various towns were named after him.

Wolfgang is sometimes counted among the Fourteen Holy Helpers. He is the patron saint of woodcutters.[4]

In Christian art he has been especially honoured by the medieval Tyrolean painter, Michael Pacher (1430–1498), who created an imperishable memorial to him, the high altar of St. Wolfgang. In the panel pictures which are now exhibited in the Old Pinakothek at Munich are depicted in an artistic manner the chief events in the saint's life. The Kefermarkt altarpiece in Kefermarkt in Upper Austria is another monumental Late Gothic piece of art dedicated to the saint.

The oldest portrait of Wolfgang is a miniature, painted about the year 1100 in the Evangeliary of Saint Emmeram, now in the library of the castle cathedral at Kraków.

A modern picture by Schwind is in the Schack Gallery at Munich. This painting represents the legend of Wolfgang forcing the devil to help him to build a church.

In other paintings he is generally depicted in episcopal dress, an axe in the right hand and the crozier in the left, or as a hermit in the wilderness being discovered by a hunter.

The axe refers to an incident in the life of the saint. After having selected a solitary spot in the wilderness, he prayed and then threw his axe into the thicket; the spot on which the axe fell he regarded as the place where God intended he should build his cell. This axe is still shown in the little market town of St. Wolfgang which sprang up on the spot of the old cell.


At the request of the Abbey of St. Emmeram, the life of Wolfgang was written by Otloh, a Benedictine monk of St. Emmeram about 1050. This life is especially important for the early medieval history both of the church and of civilization in Bavaria and Austria, and it forms the basis of all later accounts of the saint.

The oldest and best manuscript of this Vita is in the library of Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland (MS. No. 322), and has been printed with critical notes in Mon. Germ. His.: Script., IV, 524–542.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Foley, Leonard. "St. Wolfgang of Regensburg", Saint of the Day, Franciscan Media
  2. ^ a b c Schmid, Ulrich. "St. Wolfgang." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 4 January 2023 Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ Paolo O. Pirlo (1997). "St. Henry". My First Book of Saints. Sons of Holy Mary Immaculate - Quality Catholic Publications. p. 148. ISBN 971-91595-4-5.
  4. ^ a b c Agasso, Domenico. "San Volfango di Ratisbona", Santi e Beati, February 1, 2001
  5. ^ Bernhardt, John W., Itinerant Kingship and Royal Monasteries in Early Medieval Germany, c. 936–1075. 1993, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 102, n.62]
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSchmid, Ulrich (1913). "St. Wolfgang". In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. This entry cites:
    • Der heilige Wolfgang, Bischof von Regensburg; historische Festschrift zum neunhundertjährigen Gedächtnisse seines Todes, ed., in connection with numerous historical scholars, by MEHLER (Ratisbon, 1894), among the chief collaborators on this work being BRAUNMULLER, RINGHOLZ (of Einsiedeln), and DANNERBAUER; KOLBE, Die Verdienste des Bischofs Wolfgang v. R. um das Bildungswesen Suddeutschlands. Beitrag z. Gesch. der Padogogik des X und XI Jahrhunderis (Breslau, 1894);
This page was last edited on 2 May 2024, at 13:58
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