Since the thirteenth century, both lay and religious Catholics have concluded each day with one of four seasonal Marian antiphons at the close of Compline, known as the "Night Prayer" of the Liturgy of the Hours. Though the daily recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours is, unfortunately, not as common among lay Catholics as it was in earlier eras, many Catholics still know at least one Marian antiphon by heart. Salve Regina is perhaps the most well-known prayer to Blessed Mother after the "Hail, Mary". Known in English as "Hail, Holy Queen", the Salve Regina is commonly recited at the end of the Rosary, and sung or chanted as the final prayer of Compline from the day after Pentecost Sunday until the start of Advent. From that point until February 1st, which precedes the Feast of the Presentation, the Alma Redemptoris Mater ("O Loving Mother of Our Redeemer") is recited as the concluding prayer of the Divine Office. These two antiphons, while known to millions across the centuries, have a certain shared feature that remains unknown to many today --- they were written by the same composer, a Benedictine monk named Hermann.
Blessed Hermann of Reichenau (1013 - 1054) is not a household name, and his cause for canonization has not advanced since his beatification in 1863, but his life story is one that should have global recognition. Some details of his upbringing are difficult to corroborate, but the following account relies on the most widely accepted information available. Blessed Hermann was born in an affluent family as the son of a Count and Countess in Swabia (a historic region in southwest Germany). Since infancy, he struggled with numerous health challenges, which left him disabled and in need of constant care. He was crippled at birth, had a cleft palate, and cerebral palsy. Some earlier sources indicate that he also had spina bifida, while later investigations suggest he had either amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or spinal muscular atrophy. Despite his physical disabilities, Hermann showed signs of superior intellect at an early age, having learned to read and write before most children. When he was seven years old, his parents entrusted him to the Benedictine monks in the Abbey of Reichenau, located on a small island on Lake Constance, where he spent the rest of his life.
To say that Hermann thrived under the care of the monks would be an understatement. He lived among learned and virtuous men, whose influence set him on the path to become a saintly intellectual. Hermann gained distinction as a polymath, excelling in theology, history, music, mathematics, and astronomy. Not only did he succeed in the scholarship of these subjects, but he contributed to each branch of study. He wrote prayers; religious poetry, notable for his clever use of metres; and is credited with the composition of Veni, Sancte Spiritus ("Come, Holy Spirit"). He is responsible for the written world history from the birth of Christ to his present day, which still remains on record as the earliest chronicle of medieval times. He wrote treatises on the science of music, mathematics, geometry, and astronomy. Hermann's writings on astronomy include instructions for building an astrolabe, a handheld medieval instrument for navigators, and he is sometimes cited as its inventor, which would not be surprising because he was known to build musical instruments. He also became fluent in Latin, Greek, and Arabic, and when he lost his vision in his later years, he focused on writing Catholic hymns.
In the midst of these vast accomplishments, he professed his monastic vows in 1043 at the same Abbey where he was raised. Writings about him note his delightful personality which, along with his wisdom and virtue, earned him recognition among his contemporaries and drew people from faraway places to learn from him. What more can be said about a man who, though physically limited and living in an obscure location, shone with the grace of God using the unique gifts entrusted solely to him!
It's hard to believe that almost 160 years have passed since Hermann's beatification, and no further elevation has been made in his cause for canonization. Regardless, his status as "Blessed" assures us of his virtue and place in Heaven, so we may remember Blessed Hermann and ask for his intercession, especially for those who suffer from afflictions that he bore while on Earth. Blessed Hermann of Reichenau, pray for us!
Schlager, P. (1910). Hermann Contractus. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.