Ulrich of Augsburg

Saint Ulrich of Augsburg

Saint Ulrich depicted on the coat of arms of Zeismannsbrunn, a suburb of Vienna, Austria
Bishop of Augsburg
Born 890
Kyburg, Zurich, now Switzerland
Died 4 July 973(973-07-04)
Augsburg, Germany
Venerated in Eastern Orthodox Church
Roman Catholic Church
Canonized 4 July 993 by Pope John XV
Feast 4 July
Attributes Bishop holding a fish; at dinner with Saint Wolfgang; rewarding a messenger with a goose leg, which turns into a fish on Friday morning; giving a garment to a beggar; with Saint Afra; riding through a river on horseback as his companion sinks; with a cross given him by an angel
Patronage Against birth complications; against faintness; against fever; against mice and moles; diocese of Augsburg, Germany; happy death; weavers; San Dorligo della Valle

Saint Ulrich of Augsburg (c. 890 – 4 July 973), sometimes spelled Uodalric or Odalrici, was Bishop of Augsburg and a Christian leader in Germany. He was the first saint to be officially canonized.


Early years

Much of the information concerning Ulrich is derived from the Life of St Ulrich written by Gerhard of Augsburg sometime between 982 and 993. Ulrich was born in 890 at Kyburg, Zurich in present-day Switzerland. He was the son of Hupald, Count of Dillingen (d. 909) and Dietpirch of Swabia (also known as Theoberga).[1] His maternal grandfather was Burchard I, Duke of Swabia. Burchard was reportedly the second husband of Liutgard, who was the widow of Louis the Younger.[2] The siblings of Dietpirch included Burchard II, Duke of Swabia. His family was connected with the dukes of Alamannia and the Ottonian dynasty. An unnamed sister served as a nun in Buchau.

As was customary, his parents presented him as an oblate (offering) to the church while he was still a child. When he was old enough, he was sent to the monastery of St. Gall, where he proved to be an excellent scholar. While there, he became friends with St. Wiborada, a recluse who lived near the monastery and foretold that her young friend was destined to become a bishop.[3] He resolved to enter the priesthood, but was in doubt whether to enter the Benedictine Abbey of St. Gall or to become a secular priest. Sometime before April 910, he was sent for further training to a kinsman, Adalbero, Bishop of Augsburg, who made him chamberlain. Upon Adalbero's death (28 April 910) Ulrich returned home.[1] The Duke of Swabia presented him at the court of Henry I of Germany, where Ulrich became one of household retainers.

Bishop of Augsburg

Through the influence of his maternal uncle, Burchard II, Duke of Swabia, and other relatives, Ulrich was appointed bishop of Augsburg by Henry I of Germany, and was consecrated on 28 December 923. He sought to improve the low moral and social condition of the clergy. The See of Augsburg reached the period of its greatest splendor under Ulrich; he raised the standard of training and discipline among the clergy by the reformation of existing schools and the establishment of new ones, and by canonical visitations and synods; he provided for the poor, and rebuilt decayed churches and monasteries. He built churches in honor of St. Afra and St. John, and founded the monastery of St. Stephen for Benedictine nuns.[4] For purposes of obtaining relics he went on two journeys to Rome, in 910, and in 952 or 953.[1] German emperor Otto I the Great granted Ulrich the right to mint coins.

During the struggle between Otto I and his son Liudolf, Duke of Swabia, Ulrich remained loyal to Otto.[5] When in the summer of 954 father and son were ready to attack each other at Illertissen in Swabia, at the last moment Ulrich and Bishop Hartbert of Chur were able to mediate between Otto and Liudolf. Ulrich succeeded in persuading Liudolf and Conrad, Duke of Lorraine, Otto's son-in-law, to ask the king's pardon on 17 December 954.

Against the Magyars

Statue of S. Ulrich in a church in Gora Oljka (Slovenia)

Magyars repeatedly attacked in the territories of Bavaria and Swabia. Ulrich served as general in the defense of Augsburg. He built a stone wall fortification around the city. During these attacks many churches and buildings were destroyed, which Ulrich later rebuilt. Ulrich attended several imperial meetings and synods, such as at Ingelheim in 948, Augsburg 952, Rome in 972 and again at Ingelheim in 972.

Soon after, the Magyars entered Germany, plundering and burning as they went, and advanced as far as Augsburg, which they besieged. It was due to Ulrich's ability and courage that Augsburg was able to hold out against the besiegers until the Emperor Otto arrived. During the siege of Augsburg (955), he sustained the courage of the citizens, compelled the Hungarians to withdraw, and contributed much to the decisive victory at the Battle of Lechfeld (10 August 955), where the invaders were finally defeated.[4]

His character

Ulrich demanded a high moral standard of himself and others. A hundred years after his death, a letter apparently written by him, which opposed celibacy, and supported the marriage of priests, suddenly appeared. The forger of the letter counted on the opinion of the common people, who would regard celibacy as unjust if St. Ulrich, known for the rigidity of his morals, upheld the marriage of priests.[6]

Ulrich was also steadfastly loyal, as a prince of the empire, to the emperor. He was one of the most important props of the Ottonian policy, which rested mainly upon the ecclesiastical princes. He constantly attended the judicial courts held by the king and in the Imperial Diets. He even took part in the Diet held on 20 September 972, when he defended himself against the charge of nepotism in regard to his nephew Adalbero, whom he had appointed his coadjutor on account of his own illness and desire to retire to a Benedictine abbey.

As morning dawned on 4 July 973, Ulrich had ashes strewn on the ground in the shape of a cross; the cross sprinkled with holy water, and he was placed upon it. His nephew Richwin came with a message and greeting from the Emperor Otto II as the sun rose, and immediately upon this, while the clergy sang the Litany, Saint Ulrich died. He was buried at the St. Afra church he had rebuilt in Augsburg; the burial was performed by Bishop Wolfgang of Ratisbon. Later the St. Ulrich and Afra church was built in the same spot. He was succeeded by Henry.


When Ulrich was too old and weak to say Mass, angels are said to have come to him to assist him. Places that were named after him are said to be host to healing abilities. Attesting to his early cultus, there is a very beautiful miniature from the tenth century in a manuscript now in the library of Einsiedeln.[7] Other miniatures are at the Royal Library of Munich, in manuscripts dating from the year 1454.[8]

Many miracles are said to have been wrought at his grave; only 20 years after his death, Ulrich was one of the first saints to be officially canonized by Pope John XV on July 4, 993 (the first saint to be canonized "officially" by the Vatican, rather than solely by public accord).[9] Walter of Pontoise was the last saint in Western Europe to have been canonized by an authority other than the Pope; he was canonized by Hugh de Boves, the Archbishop of Rouen in 1153.[10][11]

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Sources and references

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Bishop of Augsburg
923 – 973
Succeeded by
Henry I
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