Of the various holy women bearing the name of Bertha, five are more particularly worthy of notice.
I. BERTHA, QUEEN OF KENT
Died c. 612. She was a Frankish princess, daughter of Charibert and the pious
Ingoberga. In marrying the pagan King Ethelbert of Kent, she brought her
chaplain Liudhard with her, and restored a Christian church in Canterbury, which
dated form the Roman occupation, dedicating it to St. Martin. The present St.
Martin's at Canterbury occupies the same site. St. Augustine, who was sent by
Gregory the Great to preach the Gospel in England in 596, no doubt owed much of
his favourable reception to the influence of Bertha. St. Gregory in 601
addressed to her a letter of thanks, which is still preserved. It is printed in
Haddan and Stubbs, III, 17. Ethelbert himself was baptized on Whitsunday in 597,
and Canterbury became the mother-church of England. Bertha was sometimes styled
Saint, but there is no clear evidence of cultus. (See, on this point, the
poems of Reginald of Canterbury in the
Neues Archiv, xiii.) Fuller accounts of
Bertha will be found in Lingard,
Dict. Nat. Biog.,
Bede, and Routledge,
Church of St. Martin.
II. ST. BERTHA (VIRGIN AND MARTYR)
Abbess of Val d'Or, near Avenay, Reims, d. about 690. She was wife of St. Gumbert, Lord of Champenois, a nobleman of royal blood. He built a nunnery for his wife and her maidens at Avenay, and retired himself to a monastery on the coast, where he was soon afterwards put to death by pagan marauders. When the people of Avenay suffered form lack of water, St. Peter appeared to Bertha and showed her a field where there was a good spring. This she bought for a pound of silver. It became a holy well which cured diseases and supplied both her own nuns and the hamlet of Avenay with water. Bertha was martyred by Gumbert's relatives, who were indignant at the distribution of his money to the poor. Whether the abbey founded at Avenay followed the Benedictine or the Columban Rule, does not seem certain even to Mabillon. The whole legend in fact is very late and unreliable. St. Bertha's feast is on the 1st of May. (See Acta SS. for that day.)
III. ST. BERTHA (ABBESS OF BLANGY IN ARTOIS)
Died about 725. She was the daughter of Rigobert, Count of the Palace under
Clovis II, and married Siegfried, a relation of the king. After twenty years,
when he died, she determined to found a nunnery. Two buildings which she
constructed fell down, but an angel in a vision guided her to another spot, and
there after many difficulties a nunnery was built, which she entered with her
two elder daughters, Deotila and Gertrude. A still later legend represents this
Gertrude as much persecuted by the attentions of a great noble, Roger, who
wished to marry her by force, but she was saved from his violence by her
mother's firm courage and trust in God. Some time before her death Bertha is
said to have resigned her office of abbess and to have shut herself up in a
little cell built against the church wall. But the whole story of Bertha, as
Mabillon and the Bollandists agree, is of very late date and historically
worthless. Her feast is kept on the 4th of July. (See Acta SS. for that day, and
Ste. Berthe et son Abbaye de Blangy, Lille, 1892).
IV. BLESSED BERTHA DE BARDI (ABBESS)
Born in Florence, date uncertain; died 24 March, 1163. She was the daughter
of Lothario di Ugo, Count of Vernio, and is ordinarily called Bertha de Bardi,
but the name should probably be d'Alberti. She joined the order of Vallombrosa,
a branch of the Benedictines, at Florence, but she was soon sent to govern and
reform a convent of the order at Cavriglia in Valdarno, where she lived famous
for miracles until her death. (See Acta SS. for that day, and Soldani,
S. Berta, Florence, 1731.)
V. BLESSED BERTHA DE MARBAIS
Died 1247. She was a Cistercian nun, who became the first abbess of a convent which was founded by Jane, Countess of Flanders, in 1127 at Marquette or Marchet, near Lille. She died on 18 July, and is briefly noticed on that day in the Acta SS. Bertha is called Blessed by the Cistercian chronicler, Henriquez, but the evidence of cultus is very slight.
Dunbar, Dictionary of Saintly Women (London, 1904); Chevalier, Repertoire des sources historiques: Bio-Bibliographie (Paris, 1905).
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