Herman Contractus of Reichenau, (1013-1054) was an eleventh-century polymath―a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning in various, seemingly unrelated areas. But, more importantly, he lived a saintly life.
This particular polymath was also severely disabled.
Blessed Herman Contractus of Reichenau proves God doesn’t make junk. He was a genius born with spina bifida, a cleft palate and cerebral palsy. Some medical historians have suggested that Blessed Herman suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or spinal muscular atrophy.
He was born in AD 1020 and, at the age of seven, his poor farming family gave him over to the care of the abbot of the Benedictine monastery on Reichenau Island in Lake Constance in southern Germany.
Surrounded by other monk-scholars, Herman mastered all of the available knowledge at the time in a variety of different fields, such as history, music, poetry, math, astronomy and theology, within a few years. In addition, he learned to speak, read and write German, Latin, Arabic and Greek. Within his own lifetime, scholars throughout Christendom called him, “The Wonder of His Age.”
Thus, Herman was a scientist, a theologian, a musician, a poet and our brother.
He was a Renaissance man before the Renaissance ever started. In fact, humanity wouldn’t be blessed with an another intellect like his until Blessed Ramon Llull―the 13th century Catalan inventor of the world’s first computer.
Despite Herman’s physical disabilities, he built fine musical instruments and intricate astronomical equipment by hand. When he became blind at the end of his life, he dedicated himself to pray and poetry. Many Catholics are familiar with his music considering he wrote two of the most beautiful prayers the Catholic Church possesses―the Salve Regina and Alma Redemptoris Mater.
In addition to these two songs, Herman also composed the officia for St. Afra and St. Wolfgang. His texts even influenced 20th century Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya―she based three of her symphonies on Herman’s work.
He also wrote a treatise on musicology―the science of music. Herman researched and published his findings on the biological, emotional and psychological effect of music on humans and the brain. Any modern understandings of music in relation to the human condition must acknowledge Blessed Herman’s early contributions to the field.
But his genius wasn’t limited merely to music. He also wrote treatises on geometry, mathematics and astronomy including instructions for the construction of an astrolabe.
Thus, Blessed Hermann contributed to all four arts of the quadrivium―a higher division of the curriculum in a medieval university which included arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy.
Herman also wrote a well-researched and detailed historical chronicle of Western society from the birth of Christ to the 11th century. Berthold of Reichenau, one of his disciples, continued to expand upon it after Herman’s death.
Herman died on September 24, 1054 at the age of 40. He was beatified in 1863.
Source:National Catholic Register