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Saint of the week

The Austrian ruler who used his power to advance peace and virtue

St Leopold of Austria (November 15) was accorded the title Leopold the Good by his people and reigned for 40 years

By on Thursday, 15 November 2012

Leopold’s wife dropped a veil on the site that became Klosterneuburg Abbey

Leopold’s wife dropped a veil on the site that became Klosterneuburg Abbey

Leopold III, Margrave of Austria, who lived between 1073 and 1136, was a ruler who steered clear of the challenges of glory, which so often lead to disaster. Rather, he used his power for the maintenance of peace and the advance of religion and virtue.

He was born at Babenberg Castle, in Gars am Kamp, near Melk in lower Austria, and was educated under the influence of St Altman of Passau, who led the movement for the reform of the Church in the area.

In 1096, still only 23, Leopold succeeded his father as Margrave, a position he would hold for the next 40 years. The title Leopold the Good, accorded to him by popular affection, was earned by his unstinting dedication to the welfare of his subjects.

Evidently he also believed that the world must be peopled. His first wife died soon after their marriage, but not before she had had a son, who became known as Adalbert the Devout.

His second wife, Agnes, was the widow of Frederick I, Duke of Swabia, and the daughter of Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor from 1111 to 1125. Agnes already had two children by her first marriage; with Leopold she reputedly produced another 18, at least 10 of whom survived into adulthood.

Two of their sons became celebrated, one as Archbishop Conrad of Salzburg, the other as the historian Otto of Freising. The connection with Henry V involved Leopold in the investiture dispute between Emperor and Pope, ultimately an argument over who should control the Church. 

Possibly Leopold played some part in persuading his father-in-law to accept the decision of the Concordat of Worms (1122), whereby Henry renounced the right to bestow the ring and crozier upon bishops.

At the same time the Emperor undertook to restore Church property and to guarantee the right of cathedral canons to elect their bishop.

In Austria Leopold’s quiet rule enabled his principality at once to prosper and to grow in godliness. In particular, it was a period for the expansion of town life, especially in Vienna.

Leopold also founded or reformed several monasteries, of various orders. The most important was at Klosterneuburg, near Vienna, for Augustinian canons. 

The story goes that Leopold’s wife, Agnes, had lost a veil, and that, years later, the Virgin Mary led him to a place where it was found. In gratitude he founded the monastery of Klosterneuburg there.

On the death of the Emperor Henry V there was some suggestion that Leopold might succeed him. Leopold, however, showed no interest in this prospect. 

In history he is a somewhat shadowy figure. The memory of his goodness, however, lived on, leading to his canonisation in 1485.

He is patron saint of Austria (since 1663), and of Vienna.

  • Shaun K

    They don’t make state rulers like they used to!