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Walafrid Strabo

Walafrid Strabo Carolingian priest

Carolingian priest
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Carolingian priest
Countries Germany
Occupations Hagiographer Poet Historian Botanist Writer
Gender male
Birth (Swabia, Bavaria, Germany)
Death (Reichenau Island, Reichenau, Konstanz, Freiburg Government Region)
The details

Walafrid, alternatively spelt Walahfrid, surnamed Strabo (or Strabus, i.e. "squint-eyed") (c. 808 – 18 August 849), was an Alemannic Benedictine monk and theological writer who lived on Reichenau Island.


Walafrid Strabo's works are theological, historical and poetical.

Theological works

There is an exposition of the first 20 psalms (published by Pez. in Thes. Anecdota nova, iv.) and an epitome of Rabanus Maurus's commentary on Leviticus. An Expositio quatuor Evangeliorum is also ascribed to Walafrid.

His De exordiis et incrementis quarundam in observationibus ecclesiasticis rerum was written between 840 and 842 for Reginbert the Librarian.

It deals in 32 chapters with ecclesiastical usages, churches, altars, prayers, bells, pictures, baptism and the Holy Communion. Incidentally, he introduces into his explanations the current German expressions for the things he is treating of, with the apology that Solomon had set him the example by keeping monkeys as well as peacocks at his court. Of special interest is the fact that Walafrid, in his exposition of the Mass, shows no trace of any belief in the doctrine of transubstantiation as taught by his famous contemporary Radbertus; according to him, Christ gave to his disciples the sacraments of his Body and Blood in the substance of bread and wine, and taught them to celebrate them as a memorial of his Passion.

In the last chapter, Walafrid describes a hierarchical body of both lay and ecclesiastical officers, using Pauline metaphors (1 Cor 12:11-27) to underline the importance of such a body as an organic unity. In so doing, he articulates a view on the nature of public office, ideally based on a sense of responsibility with respect to society as a whole. While Johannes Fried is wary of associating this idealised scheme too much with current ideas about state and court in Louis' reign, Karl Ferdinand Werner and Stuart Airlie are rather more sympathetic to its relevance for contemporary thought at court: what gives the text added interest is that it was written by a courtier (Walafrid), representing a "view from the centre".

Historical and poetical works

Walafrid's chief historical works are the rhymed Vita sancti Galli (The Life of Saint Gall), which, though written down nearly two centuries after this saint's death, is still the primary authority for his life, and a much shorter life of Saint Othmar, abbot of St. Gall (died 759).

Walafrid's poetical works also include a short life of Saint Blathmac, a high-born monk of Iona, murdered by the Danes in the first half of the 9th century; a life of Saint Mammes; and a Liber de visionibus Wettini. This last poem, written in hexameters like the two preceding ones, was composed at the command of "Father" Adalgisus and was based upon a prose narrative by Haito, abbot of Reichenau from 806 to 822. It is dedicated to Grimald, brother of Wettin, his teacher. As Walafrid tells his audience, he was only eighteen when he sent it, and he begs his correspondent to revise his verses, because, "as it is not lawful for a monk to hide anything from his abbot", he fears he may deserve to be beaten. In the vision, Wettin saw Charlemagne suffering torture in Purgatory because of his sexual incontinence. The name of the ruler alluded to is not directly stated in the text, but "Carolus Imperator" form the initial letters of the relevant passage. Many of Walafrid's other poems are, or include, short addresses to kings and queens (Lothar, Charles, Louis, Pippin, Judith, etc.) and to friends (Einhard; Grimald; Rabanus Maurus; Tatto; Ebbo, Archbishop of Reims; Drogo, bishop of Metz; etc.).

His most famous poem is the Liber de cultura hortorum which was later published as the Hortulus, dedicated to Grimald. It is an account of a little garden in Reichenau Island that he used to tend with his own hands, and is largely made up of descriptions of the various herbs he grows there and their medicinal and other uses, including beer brewing. Sage holds the place of honor; then comes rue, the antidote of poisons; and so on through melons, fennel, lilies, poppies, and many other plants, to wind up with the rose, "which in virtue and scent surpasses all other herbs, and may rightly be called the flower of flowers."

The poem De Imagine Tetrici takes the form of a dialogue; it was inspired by an equestrian statue depicting a nude emperor on horseback believed to be Theodoric the Great which stood in front of Charlemagne's palace at Aachen.

Codex Sangallensis 878 may be Walafrid's personal breviarium, begun when he was a student at Fulda.

Ascribed works

Johannes Trithemius, Abbot of Sponheim (1462-1516), credited him with the authorship of the Glossa Ordinaria or Ordinary Glosses on the Bible. The work dates, however, from the 12th century, but Trithemius' erroneous ascription remained current well into the 20th century. The work is now attributed to Anselm of Laon and his followers.

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