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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume III: March. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

March 1

St. Swidbert, or Swibert, the Ancient, Bishop and Confessor

HE was an English monk, educated near the borders of Scotland, and lived some time under the direction of the holy priest and monk, St. Egbert, whom he accompanied into Ireland. St. Egbert was hindered himself from passing into Lower Germany, according to his zealous desire, to preach the gospel to the infidels: and Wigbert, who first went into Friesland upon that errand, was thwarted in all his undertakings by Radbod, prince of that country, and returned home without success. St. Egbert, burning with an insatiable zeal for the conversion of those souls, which he ceased not with many tears to commend to God, stirred up others to undertake that mission. St. Swidbert was one of the twelve missionaries, who, having St. Willibrord at their head, sailed into Friesland, in 690, according to the direction of St. Egbert. They landed at the mouth of the Rhine, as Alcuin assures us, and travelled as high as Utrecht, where they began to announce to the people the great truths of eternal life. Pepin of Herstal, mayor of the French palace, had conquered part of Friesland, eighteen months before, and compelled Radbod, who remained sovereign in the northern part, to pay an annual tribute. The former was a great protector and benefactor to these missionaries, nor did the latter oppose their preaching. St. Swidbert laboured chiefly in Hither Friesland, which comprised the southern part of Holland, the northern part of Brabant, and the countries of Gueldres and Cleves: for in the middle age, Friesland was extended from the mouths of the Meuse and the Rhine, as far as Denmark and ancient Saxony. An incredible number of souls was drawn out of the sink of idolatry, and the most shameful vices, by the zeal of St. Swidbert. St. Willibrord was ordained archbishop of Utrecht by Pope Sergius I. at Rome, in 696. St. Swidbert was pressed by his numerous flock of converts, and by his fellow-labourers, to receive the episcopal consecration: for this purpose he returned to England soon after the year 697, where he was consecrated regionary bishop to preach the gospel to infidels, without being attached to any see, by Wilfrid, bishop of York, who happened to be then banished from his own see, and employed in preaching the faith in Mercia. Either the see of Canterbury was still vacant after the death of St. Theodorus, or Brithwald, his successor, was otherwise hindered from performing that ceremony, and St. Swidbert had probably been formerly known personally to St. Wilfrid, being both from the same kingdom of Northumberland. Our saint, invested with that sacred character, returned to his flock, and settled the churches which he had founded in good order: then leaving them to the care of St. Willibrord and his ten companions, he penetrated further into the country, and converted to the faith a considerable part of the Boructuarians, who inhabited the countries now called the duchy of Berg, and the county of La Marck.  1
  His apostolic labours were obstructed by an invasion of the Saxons, who, after horrible devastations, made themselves masters of the whole country of the Boructuarians. St. Swidbert, being at length desirous to prepare himself for his last hour, in retirement, by fervent works of penance, received of Pepin of Herstal the gift of a small island, formed by different channels of the Rhine, and another river, called Keiserswerdt, that is, island of the emperor; werdt, in the language of that country, signifying an island. Here the saint built a great monastery, which flourished for many ages, till it was converted into a collegiate church of secular canons. A town, which was formed round this monastery, bore long the name of St. Swidbert’s Isle, but is now called by the old name, Keiserswerdt, and is fortified: it is situated on the Rhine, six miles below Dusseldorp: a channel of the Rhine having changed its course, the place is no longer an island. St. Swidbert here died in peace, on the 1st of March, in 713. His feast was kept with great solemnity in Holland and other parts where he had preached. Henschenius has given us a panegyric on him, preached on this day by Radbod, bishop of Utrecht, who died in 917. His relics were found in 1626 at Keiserswerdt, in a silver shrine, together with those of St. Willeic, likewise an Englishman, his successor in the government of this abbey; and are still venerated in the same place, except some small portions given to other churches by the archbishop of Cologne. 1 See Bede, Hist. l. 5. c. 10. 12. and the historical collection of Henschenius, 1. Mart. p. 84. Fleury, l. 40. Batavia Sacra; and the Roman Martyrology, in which his name occurs on this day. His successor, St. Willeic, is commemorated on the 2nd of March, by Wilson, in his English Martyrology, in the first edition, an. 1608, (though omitted in the second edition, an. 1628,) and is mentioned among the English saints, by F. Edward Maihew, Trophæa Congregationis Anglicanæ Bened. Rhemis, 1625; and F. Jerom Porter, in his Flores Sanctorum Angliæ, Scotiæ, et Hiberniæ. Duaci, 1632.  2
Note 1. The acts of St. Swidbert, under the name of Marcellinus. pretended to be St. Marchelm, a disciple or colleague of the saint, extant in Surius, are a notorious piece of forgery of the fifteenth century. We must not, with these false acts and many others, confound St. Swidbert of Keiserswerdt with a younger saint of the same name, also an Englishman, first bishop of Verden or Ferden, in Westphaly, in 807, in the reign of Charlemagne; whose body was taken up at Verden, together with those of seven bishops his successors, in 1630. St. Swidbert the younger is mentioned in some Martyrologies on the 30th of April, though many moderns have confounded him with our saint. Another holy man, called Swidbert, forty years younger than our saint, whom some have also mistaken for the same with him, is mentioned by Bede, (l. 4. c. 32.) and was abbot of a monastery in Cumberland, upon the river Dacore, which does not appear to have been standing since the Conquest. See Leland, Collect. t. 2. p. 152. and Camden’s Britannia, by Gibson, col. 831. Tanner’s Notitia Mon. p. 73. [back]