One of the fun things about genealogy is you may discover you are related to important figures of politics, history, literature or religion. Recently, I blogged about famous American writers I was related to such as Henry David Thoreau and Harriet Beecher Stowe. They are both cousins. I am also related to some people designated as saints, both men and women. I am going to focus on the women, though, since some of the male relatives participated in violence and military campaigns against opponents. Since I don’t consider that saintly behavior, I am only going to focus on saintly female relatives. I will feature five of them in a chronological order, from most far back in time to most recent.
First there is Saint Begga of Landen, Belgium. Said to be born in 613 and died in 693, Begga was the daughter of Pepin of Landen, mayor of the palace of Austrasia, and his wife Itta of Metz. She is the grandmother of Charles Martel, who is the grandfather of Charlemagne. According to Wikipedia, she married Ansegisel, son of Arnulf, Bishop of Metz, and had three children: Pepin of Heristal, Martin of Laon, and Clotilda of Heristal. Ansegisel was killed before 679 in a feud by his enemy Gundewin. After that, Begga made a pilgrimage to Rome and upon her return, she took the veil. She had seven churches built at Andenne on the Meuse river in Belgium. She spend the rest of her life as an abbess. She is my grandmother 37 generations removed, according to ancestry.com records. Her feast day in the Catholic Church is December 17. Here is a portrait of her.
Next is Saint Olga, Regent of Kiev. She was born around 890 and died in 969. Her feast day is July 11. According to Britannica online, Olga was the first recorded female ruler in Russia and the first member of the ruling family of Kiev to adopt Christianity. She was canonized as the first Russian saint of the Orthodox Church and is the patron saint of widows and converts. Olga was widow of Igor I, prince of Kiev, who was assassinated in 945 by his subjects. Because Igor’s son Svyatoslav was a minor, Olga became regent of Kiev from 945 to 964. She is my grandmother 30 generations removed, according to ancestry.com records.
Living around the same time as Saint Olga is Saint Matilda of Ringelheim, Germany. Born around 892 and died March 14, 968, Matilda was a Saxon noblewoman. Because of her marriage to Henry I in 909, she was the first queen of the Ottonian Empire. Her eldest son, Otto I, re-established the Holy Roman Empire in 962. Mathilda reportedly founded several spiritual institutions and convents. She was also considered “extremely pious and charitable.” She is my grandmother 31 generations removed, according to ancestry.com records. Her feast day is March 14.
Next in time is Saint Agnes of Bohemia. Agnes was born January 20, 1211 and died March 2, 1282. She was a Bohemian princess who chose a life of charity and piety over one of wealth and comfort. Although venerated soon after her death, Agnes was not canonized for over 700 years. Here is a portrait of her. She is my great aunt 22 generations removed. She never married. Her feast day is March 2.
Saint Elizabeth of Aragon is my grandmother 22 generations removed. Born January 4, 1271 in Spain, she died July 4, 1336 in Portugal. She was reportedly very enthusiastic about her faith, even at a young age. She attended choral masses twice a day. She married King Denis of Portugal at 17 but was still very devoted to the poor and sick despite her lofty social status. After Denis’ death in 1325, Elizabeth retired to the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha (which she had founded in 1314) in Coimbra, Portugal. She joined the Third Order of St. Francis, devoting the rest of her life to the poor and sick. According to Wikipedia, during the great famine in 1293, she donated flour from her cellars to the starving in Coimbra. She was also known for providing lodging for pilgrims, paying the dowries of poor girls, and educating the children of poor nobles. Venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church, her feast day is July 4.
I am not a Catholic but I do believe in God. I think it’s great that I am related to these five women saints. Like these ancestors, I try hard to be a kind and compassionate person devoted to making the world a better place. Perhaps our shared DNA has guided me in this direction. Who can say? I did have a dream the other night where I woke myself up saying out loud the phrase, “the calendar of saints.” I took that to be a message to write this blog post. You may call me crazy but I pay attention to signs like this. Perhaps my ancestors were calling to me from the spirit world, asking me to highlight their good works to inspire others to be helpful during this difficult time of loss and suffering in all our lives because of the Covid-19 pandemic.