Saint Ansgar, Bishop

February 3

Today is the feast day of Saint Ansgar.  Ora pro nobis. 

Saint Ansgar (or Anskar or Oscar.) was born near Amiens in Picardy, France. Born into a noble family, Ansgar lacked for nothing as a child, but was drawn to a life of poverty and service nonetheless. He entered the Benedictine monastery at Old Corbie Abbey in Picardy, becoming a monk. Ansgar was educated under the direction of Saint Abelard, and upon ordination, volunteered for the dangerous activity of missionary work to the Danes.

Many attempted to dissuade him, as this work meant certain death, given the pagan beliefs and reported cruelty of the invaders who had swept through most of Scandinavia. Nevertheless, when King Harold returned to Denmark, Saint Ansgar and another monk accompanied him. Living in tents, and brining only holy books with them, the two monks established a school. He worked for some time, with great success, both educating and converting the local Danes, until his companion died, and he was invited by King Bjørn to continue his work in Sweden. (1)

Following his success in Sweden, Saint Ansgar was appointed the first Archbishop of Hamburg, Germany and the abbot of New Corbie, to which he returned. He was subsequently ordained Papal Legate to Scandinavia by Pope Gregory IV. As based upon this position the souls of Scandinavians fell to his care, Saint Ansgar spent the next 14 years evangelizing, assisting the poor and sick, and building churches in Norway, Denmark, and northern Germany. (1)

He was eminent for his piety, mortification, and observance of the monastic rule, he built hospitals, ransomed captives, sent immense alms abroad, and regretted only that he had not been found worthy of martyrdom.

Though he wrote several works, very little of them remains. He had added devotional phrases to the psalms, which, according to Fabricius, in his Latin Library of the Middle Ages, are an illustrious monument to the piety of the holy prelate. He had also compiled a life of St. Willehad, first Bishop of Bremen, and the preface which he wrote was considered a masterpiece for that age. It is published by Fabricius among the works of the historians of Hamburg. Some letters of his are also extant. (2)

Image: Statue of Saint Ansgar in Hamburg. Artist: Engelbert Joseph Peiffer (3)

Research by REGINA Staff


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