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Saint Benno of Meissen
Benno of Meissen.jpg
Saint Benno depicted with a fish in hand, two keys between its gills (stained glass from the Church of Saint Benno in Munich)
Confessor and Bishop of Meissen
Born 1010
Hildesheim, Germany
Died 16 June 1106(1106-06-16)
Meissen, Saxony
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Canonized 31 May 1523 by Pope Adrian VI
Major shrine Munich, formerly Meissen
Feast 16 June
Attributes book, fish with keys in its mouth
Patronage fishermen, weavers, Dresden-Meissen, Munich

Saint Benno of Meissen (1010 – 16 June 1106) was a Bishop of Meissen in Germany. Little is known of Benno's early life. It is unlikely that he was the scion of a Saxon noble family, the Woldenburgs.[citation needed]It is also unlikely that in his youth he entered and was educated at the monastery of St. Michael in Hildesheim despite the claims of later hagiographers.

More likely, Benno was a canon of Goslar. In 1066 was nominated by the Emperor Henry IV to the see of Meissen, and appears as a supporter of the Saxon insurrection of 1073, though Lambert of Hersfeld and other contemporary authorities attribute little weight to his share in it.

Henry IV imprisoned Benno, however, but released him in 1078 on his taking an oath of fidelity, which he did not keep. He appeared again in the ranks of the king's enemies, and was accordingly deprived of his bishopric by the Synod of Mainz in 1085. Benno betook himself to Guibert, the antipope supported by Henry as Antipope Clement III, and by a penitent acknowledgment of his offenses obtained from him both absolution and a letter of commendation to Henry, on the basis of which he was restored to his see.

Benno promised, apparently, to use his influence for peace with the Saxons, but again failed to keep his promise, returning in 1097 to the papal party and recognizing Urban II as the rightful pope. With this he disappears from authentic history; there is no evidence to support the later stories of his missionary activity and zeal for church-building and for ecclesiastical music. Benno died of natural causes on June 16, 1106.[1]

Benno did much for his diocese, both by ecclesiastical reforms on the Hildebrandine model and by material developments. Benno enjoyed veneration in his native Saxony throughout the later Middle Ages. The canons of Meissen and George, the duke of Albertine Saxony, coordinated a campaign to achieve Benno's canonization in the last years of the fifteenth century and the first decades of the sixteenth century. The canons sought the prestige of a canonized local bishop, and the duke sought a suitable model bishop for the reform of the church. Adrian VI issued the bull of canonization in 1523. Although Benno's sainthood had little to do with Luther's call for reform, once canonized he became a symbol for both sides of the reforming debate: Luther reviled him in early tracts against the cult of the saints. Catholic reformers turned him into a model of orthodoxy; and after Protestant mobs desecrated Benno's tomb in Meissen in 1539, the Wittelsbach dynasty ultimately made him patron saint of Munich and Old Bavaria.

For his part, the English Protestant John Foxe eagerly repeated the charges which Benno made against Gregory VII during the Investiture Controversy, such as necromancy, torture of a former friend upon a bed of nails, commissioning an attempted assassination, executions without trials, unjust excommunication, doubting the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and even burning it.[2]

Benno's feast day is 16 June. He is the patron-saint of anglers and weavers. His iconographic figures include a fish with keys in its mouth and a book. The reason for the fish is a legend that upon the excommunication of Henry IV the bishop told his canons to throw the keys to the cathedral into the Elbe; later a fisherman found the keys in a fish and brought them to the bishop.[3]


  1. ^ "Saint Benno of Meissen". SQPN. Retrieved 8 January 2012. 
  2. ^ Quoted in "The acts and monuments of John Foxe", Volume 2
  3. ^ Herbert Thurston and Donald Attwater, edd., Butler's Lives of the Saints (New York: P. J. Kennedy, 1963), II, 556.
  • David Collins SJ: Reforming Saints. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. pp. 3–6, 28-39, 45-46.
  • Christoph Volkmar: Die Heiligenerhebung Bennos von Meißen (1523/24). Spätmittelalterliche Frömmigkeit, landesherrliche Kirchenpolitik und reformatorische Kritik im albertinischen Sachsen in der frühen Reformationszeit (Reformationsgeschichtliche Studien und Texte; 146), Münster 2002.
  • David Collins SJ: "Bursfelders, Humanists, and the Rhetoric of Sainthood: The Late Medieval vitae of Saint Benno". Revue Benedictine 111 (2001): 508-556.
  • Philip M. Soergel: Wondrous in his Saints (Berkeley: Univ. Calif. Pr., 1993), 181-191.
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainJackson, Samuel Macauley, ed. (1914). "article name needed". New Schaff–Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (third ed.). London and New York: Funk and Wagnalls. 
  • Public Domain Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Benno". Encyclopædia Britannica 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 743. 


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