Today is the feast day of Saint Cunegunda, Empress and wife of Holy Roman Emperor, Saint Henry II. Saint Cunegunda had taken a vow of virginity and Henry respected that vow, living celibately himself as well. Although Henry at times interfered with the canonical rights of German bishops, he defended the papacy and always deferred to the pope in his efforts to restore unity and discipline to his empire. The Church in Germany blossomed during the years of his reign. (1014-1024). He and Empress Cunegunda gave with much largesse to the care of the poor and the sick. Even when sick himself he betook himself to travel throughout the empire to heal divisions and establish peace between feuding lords and nobles. After his death Cunegunda entered a Benedictine convent where she spent the rest of her life. She died in 1040 and was canonized in the year 1200.
Other husband and wife saints are:
Saints Joachim and Anne
Saints Zachary and Elizabeth
Saints Gregory the Elder and Nonna (parents of Saint Gregory Nazianzen)
Saints Basil the Elder and Macrina (parents of Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory of Nyssa and other sibling saints from the same Cappadocian family).
Saints Aquila and Priscilla (mentioned as friends of Saint Paul in Acts, chapter 18)
Saints Philemon and Appia (Saint Paul greets them in his Epistle to Philemon).
Saints Isidore the Farmer(1070-1130) and his wife Maria de la Cabeza
Blesseds Louis and Zelie Martin (parents of Saint Thérèse).
Blesseds Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi (beatified by Pope John Paul II)
Blessed Emperor Karl and Servant of God Empress Zita (whose cause for beatification is progressing)
Here is sheer speculation, nevertheless I offer it: Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, the Austrian farmer, who was executed by beheading for following his conscience and refusing to fight in Hitler’s army. Villagers testified that it was his wife Franziska who urged him to take the strong stand that he did. She was the strength of the family, they said. Canonizable? Perhaps. A certain Father John Dear who met her in her later years at her home in St. Radagund, Austria, said of her: “She looks like Georgia O’Keefe,” Dear wrote, “has the sparkling eyes of Mother Teresa, a warm, gentle soul with an infectious joy and loving kindness. She carries herself with humility, a hint of shyness. But beneath lies strength, a solid faith, deep peace, towering Gospel conviction. She stands, to my mind, as much a saint as her martyred husband. After Franz died, she took up his job as sacristan and set about to raise their three girls and keep his memory alive.”
Franziska was present at her husband’s beatification in 2007. She died last year this month in 2013 at the age of 100. Perhaps there is some truth to a saying by some anonymous wag: ‘a martyr is someone who is married to a saint.’
I end with one more husband and wife team of holiness, although they were not simultaneously so. And this offering is in honor of the Sorrows of Mary and the Stations of the Cross:
I have just read this. It is an interesting fact about Jacopone da Todi (1230-1306), the Franciscan friar and poet who composed the Stabat Mater, which is sung almost everywhere during the Stations of the Cross. The hymn originated from his first great sorrow, which was the immediate cause of his conversion, the tragic death of his young wife. When he rushed to her aid after she had fallen from a collapsed balcony, he was unable to revive her. He found beneath her gown, as he tried to restore her breathing, that she was wearing a hair shirt. She was doing penance for his wayward soul. Jacopone ever afterwards led a life of extreme penance. He has never been beatified but his works were second only to Dante in Christendom.