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Walafrid Strabo

Born: c. 808 AD
Birthplace: Swabia
Died: 18-Aug-849 AD
Location of death: Reichenau, Germany
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Religion

Nationality: Germany
Executive summary: Glosa ordinaria

Walafrid Strabo (or Strabus, "squint-eyed"), German monk and theological writer, was born about 808 in Swabia. He was educated at the monastery of Reichenau, near Constance, where he had for his teachers Tatto and Wettin, to whose visions he devotes one of his poems. Then he went on to Fulda, where he studied for some time under Rabanus Maurus before returning to Reichenau, of which monastery he was made abbot in 838. There is a story -- based, however, on no good evidence -- that Walafrid devoted himself so closely to letters as to neglect the duties of his office, owing to which he was expelled from his house; but, from his own verses, it seems that the real cause of his flight to Spires was that, notwithstanding the fact that he had been tutor to Charles the Bald, he espoused the side of his elder brother Lothair on the death of Louis the Pious in 840. He was, however, restored to his monastery in 842, and died on the 18th of August 849, on an embassy to his former pupil. His epitaph was written by Rabanus Maurus, whose elegiacs praise him for being the faithful guardian of his monastery.

Walafrid Strabo's works are theological, historical and poetical. Of his theological works the most famous is the great exegetical compilation which, under the name of Glosa ordinaria or the Glosa, remained for some 500 years the most widespread and important quarry of medieval biblical science, and even survived the Reformation, passing into numerous editions as late as the 17th century. The oldest known copy, in four folio volumes, of which the date and origin are unknown, but which is certainly almost entirely Walafrid's work, gives us his method. In the middle of the pages is the Latin text of the Bible; in the margins are the "glosses", consisting of a very full collection of patristic excerpts in illustration and explanation of the text. There is also an exposition of the first twenty psalms and an epitome of Rabanus Maurus's commentary on Leviticus. An Expositio quatuor Evangeliorum is also ascribed to Walafrid. Of singular interest also is his De exordiis et incrementis rerum ecclesiasticarum, written between 840 and 842 and dedicated to Regenbert 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.

Walafrid's chief historical works are the rhymed Vita sancti Galli, which, though written nearly two centuries after this saint's death, is still the primary authority for his life, and a much shorter life of St. Othmar, abbot of St. Gall (d. 759). Walafrid's poetical works also include a short life of St. Blaithmaic, a high-born monk of Iona, murdered by the Danes in the first half of the 9th century; a life of St. Mammas; and a Liber de visionibus Wettini. This last poem, like the two preceding ones written in hexameters, was composed at the command of "Father" Adalgisus, and based upon the prose narrative of Heto, abbot of Reichenau from 806 to 822. It is dedicated to Wettin's brother Grimald. At the time he sent it to Grimald Walafrid had, as he himself tells us, hardly passed his eighteenth year, 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 be beaten with deserved stripes. In this curious vision Wettin saw Charlemagne suffering purgatorial tortures because of his incontinence. The name of the ruler alluded to is not indeed introduced into the actual text, but "Carolus Imperator" form the initial letters of the passage dealing with this subject. Many of Walafrid's other poems are, or include, short addresses to kings and queens (Lothair, 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 Hortulus, dedicated to Grimald. It is an account of a little garden 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. 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 curious poem De Imagine Tetrici takes the form of a dialogue; it was inspjred by an equestrian statue of Theodoric the Great which stood in front of Charlemagne's palace at Aix-la-Chapelle.

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