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Werner

(1270—1287)


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(1270–87),

young man of the Rhineland. The story of the life and cult of Werner is a curiosity of hagiography and vividly illustrates conflict between a popular cult and the disapproval of the Church authorities.

Werner was a young vagrant, who was the victim of a particularly revolting sexual crime. His body was found with a vine-dresser's tool, which had been used to mutilate him. At once, and quite unjustly, the Jews were held responsible and some of them were massacred without trial or evidence after cures were reported at Werner's grave. The Emperor Rudolf and the archbishop of Mainz opposed the cult and the legend of the Jews' ritual killing of Christian boys: a legend already condemned by Innocent IV in 1247 and by other popes. In spite of this, the cult developed in the 14th century with Lives in German and Flemish and even a liturgical office, not to mention statues and holy wells in his honour. There was no approval of this cult by the papacy. An inquiry was opened in 1428 but was inconclusive. Although the cult ended in the immediate neighbourhood at the Reformation, it persisted in the dioceses of Trèves and Besançon. From there it prospered as a popular cult in the wine-growing regions of Burgundy, Franche-Comté, and Auvergne. Criticized more and more by the clergy, the cult declined in the 19th century and finally collapsed in the phylloxera crisis of 1855, which devastated the vineyards. Werner was now considered impotent and useless by his former devotees. The cult was finally suppressed by the Second Vatican Council and by the local diocesan authorities. It had been of much longer duration than the broadly similar and equally unjustified cult of William of Norwich, but the story illustrates the repeated opposition of popes and bishops to a belief which persisted in popular religion for many generations.

A. Vauchez in H.S.S.C., vii. 257–61 and in La Sainteté en Occident aux derniers siècles du Moyen Cge (1981).

Subjects: Christianity.


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