Stories of the Saints - Grace Hall

St Herman-Joseph's Apple

In Cologne, in the thirteenth century, there lived a poor woman, mother of one dear child whose name was Herman. Though she was so poor, she cared greatly, like all good mothers, that her boy should grow up to be wise and good, and to that end expended as much as she could upon his education. Daily she sent him off to school in the morning, though often she had but one piece of bread to put into his pocket to eat in all the day.

Always he started early schoolward, that there might be time to linger awhile in the Church of St Mary which was on his way, for Herman loved that brief pause in the quiet dusk of the church, kneeling in prayer before the image of the Blessed Mother enthroned with the Holy Child on her knees. He would remain as long as he dared before the altar, reflecting upon her goodness and her deep love and sorrow, and upon the holiness and the sufferings of her Divine Son. As he looked at them both sitting there above, bending benign glances upon him, his heart would go out to them and he longed to do something that should be pleasing in their sight, that should express the fullness of his loyalty and devotion to them both.

Herman loved his own mother above all people on earth, and his feeling for her made him the more ardent in his worship of the Mother of his Lord.

One day in autumn Herman was starting off as usual to school; as he left her, his mother embraced him and gave him not the customary piece of dry, black bread, but an apple, large, ruddy, and smooth, with three glossy leaves attached to the stem. It was all she had to give him that day, and not really so valuable for the day's food as the humble piece of daily bread, but Herman's eyes shone as he took the glowing fruit; it was so wonderful to look at and it would be so good to eat. A thing so perfect and so joyously beautiful!

He ran off dancing, and soon arrived at the door of the church. With one last look at his treasure he put it into his little buckled leathern pouch, and entered. Soon he was kneeling on his accustomed step before the altar, with his head bowed over his joined fingers. Raving finished his prayer he settled back upon his heels and let his clasped hands sink, while with lifted head he looked at the Two above.

How lovely and how glorious was the Queen of the Skies in her white robe and her sapphire, star-sown mantle! The light of many tapers made to gleam and sparkle the gold embroidery of her cloak and the gems of her crown. Her hair waved sweetly against her snowy forehead, her eyes were kindness itself, and her hands looked made to soothe and comfort; one of them held the Saviour of the World upon her knee, the other was raised in a gesture of tenderest benediction.

"Oh, thrice blessed Mother of God," sighed Herman, "would that I had something besides my heart to offer thee! That belongs to thee and to thy beloved Son already. I give it to you both over again every day! I have nothing but my life to give—nothing worthy of thy queenly acceptance!"

A sudden thought came to him; reaching into his pouch, Herman drew forth the crimson and golden fruit; then, with questioning eyes and a hesitating gesture, he held it out in humble offering.

The gracious Lady of Heaven, stretching out her hand, took the apple, and gave it to her Son, while both divinely smiled upon the little boy.

There was at that time an Order of Brothers founded by St Norbert, who built his monastery in the valley of Coucy, in a lonely meadow which the Blessed Virgin herself pointed out to him in a vision—hence the name Premontre from which the Order took its name of Premonstratensian.

To this Order Herman afterward belonged, and years later the Virgin again smiled upon him. On this occasion it was she who made him a most precious gift. Herman saw her in an ecstatic vision descend from Heaven, and taking his hand place upon his finger a ring, calling him her spouse.

After his vision the brotherhood added the name of Joseph to his own, wherefore he is known as St Herman-Joseph.