I hope those of you who celebrate are returning after the happiest of Christmases! I started this holiday season by watching one of my favorite movies…Love Actually and I have been thinking about the final phrase of the movie, ‘love actually is all around.” It’s true. For instance, when visiting the Cathedral of St. Peter & St. George in Bamburg, Germany I did not expect to be inspired by romance. But, after gazing at a striking double sarcophagus with the images of Cunigunde of Luxembourg (sometimes spelled Kunigunde) and her husband Henry II (also spelled Heinrich) carved earth-colored marble, I knew I had to know more.
Henry and Cunigunde ruled the Holy Roman Empire just after the turn of the first millennium and are one of the only historical couples to be sainted. Cunigunde was her husband’s closest political adviser, was crowned Empress in her own right and was the first woman to take an active role in imperial councils. Together Henry and Cunigunde founded monasteries and abbeys as well as the Diocese of Bamburg and the Cathedral itself. On her husband’s death, she ruled as regent until a new Emperor was appointed. Although the dry facts of their story are extraordinary, the real intrigue is in the many legends about the couple.
According to one Legend, they took a daily evening stroll in the courtyard adjacent to the Cathedral (awww). The cathedral contained a bell dedicated Cunigunde and one dedicated to Henry. When Henry discovered his bell had a better tone than hers, he took off his golden ring and threw it onto the bell to deaden the sound. (Gallant, no?) A darker legend says when enemies within the court accused her of infidelity, she voluntarily walked barefoot over hot plowshares and was unharmed…the ‘miracle’ proved her innocence. (Courage! Fortitude! Fidelity!) Although some have speculated that their marriage remained unconsummated (rather unromantic, if you ask me), several historians cast doubt on the claim.In a 1757 English translation of Travels through Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, Switzerland, Italy and Lorrain, Johann George Keyssler reports that the emperor referred to Cunigunde in his letters as “Empress, my beloved wife” and “we who are two in one flesh.” (sigh) Keyssler also says their devotion to one another was so renown, that even in the 17th century, visitors to Bamburg believed “if a man puts on the emperor’s robes he may promise himself success among the ladies and if a woman puts on that of the empress, she may expect the love of the other sex.” How romantic is a love so deep that after 800 years, people still wished don the couple’s robes in the hope that such a love will touch them in their own lives?
And so, at the foot of a tomb, I was inspired by love. I hope, dear readers, you find the story of Henry and Cunigunde interesting as well and, if you’ve been touched by a story of love in an unexpected place, please, do tell!