St. Emma

Widow (ca. 980–1045)  
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St. Emma was raised in the court of Henry II, the Holy Roman Emperor, to whom she was related, and was educated by his wife, St. Cunigunde. When Emma came of age, she was married to William, the Landgrave of Friesach. Though it was an arranged marriage, it was evidently a happy one. They had two sons, whom William put in charge of his mines. However, the young counts ruled harshly, provoking a rebellion among the mine workers that resulted in their deaths. Overcome with grief, Emma withdrew in prayer, while her husband threatened to kill all the miners and their families. After Emma dissuaded him from the path of vengeance, William went on pilgrimage to Rome. He died on the return journey, not far from home.  

Alone in the world, Emma resolved to devote the rest of her life to the service of God and the poor. She founded several monasteries, including a double monastery in the Austrian town of Gurk, where the monks and nuns prayed in shifts, maintaining a perpetual recitation of the office. Emma retired to this community, though it is unclear whether she herself took the veil. She died and was buried there in 1045.  

“Saint Emma, with rejoicing now the vales and skies are ringing / Look down upon us now and hear your homeland singing!” —Austrian poet Guido Zernatto 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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