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St. Fridolin

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Missionary, founder of the Monastery of Säckingen, Baden (sixth century). In accordance with a later tradition, St. Fridolin is venerated as the first Irish missionary who laboured among the Alamanni on the Upper Rhine , in the time of the Merovingians. The earliest documentary information we possess concerning him is the biography written by Balther, a Säckingen monk, at the beginning of the eleventh century (Mon. Germ. Hist.: Script. rer. Merov., III, 350-69). According to this life, Fridolin (or Fridold) belonged to a noble family in Ireland (Scottia inferior), and at first laboured as a missionary in his native land. Afterwards crossing to France, he came to Poitiers, where in answer to a vision, he sought out the relics of St. Hilarius, and built a church for their reception. St. Hilarius subsequently appeared to him in a dream, and commanded him to proceed to an island in the Rhine, in the territories of the Alamanni. In obedience to this summons, Fridolin repaired to the "Emperor" Clovis, who granted him possession of the still unknown island, and thence proceeded through Helion, Strasburg, and Coire, founding churches in every district in honour of St. Hilarius. Reaching at last the island of Säckingen in the Rhine, he recognized in it the island indicated in the dream, and prepared to build a church there. The inhabitants of the banks of the Rhine, however, who used the island as a pasturage for their cattle, mistook Fridolin for a cattle-robber and expelled him. On his production of Clovis's deed of gift, he was allowed to return, and to found a church and monastery on the island. He then resumed his missionary labours, founded the Scottish monastery in Constance, and extended his mission to Augsburg. He died on 6 March, and was buried at Säckingen. The writer of this legend professes to have derived his information from a biography, which he discovered in the cloister of Helera on the Moselle, also founded by Fridolin, and which, being unable to copy from want of parchment and ink, he had learned by heart.

This statement sounds very suspicious, and makes one conclude that Balther was compelled to rely on verbal tradition for the information recorded in his work. Not a single ancient author mentions Fridolin, the life has no proper historical chronological arrangement, and the enumeration of so many wonders and visions awakens distrust. Consequently, most modern historians justly reject the life as unauthentic, and as having no historical foundation for the facts recorded, while the older historians believed that it contained a germ of truth. In the early Middle Ages, there was certainly some connection between Säckingen and Poitiers, from which the former monastery received its relics, and this fact may have made the author connect Fridolin with the veneration of St. Hilarius of Poitiers, and the churches erected in his honour. The only portion of the life that can be regarded as historically tenable, is that Fridolin was an Irish missionary, who preached the Christian religion in Gaul, and founded a monastery on the island of Säckingen in the Rhine. Concerning the date of these occurrences, we have no exact information. The monastery, however, was of great importance in the ninth century, since the earliest extant document concerning it states that on 10 February, 878, Charles the Fat presented to his wife Richardis the Monasteries of Säckingen, of St. Felix and of Regula in Zurich.

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