What a remarkable man Severinus must have been. He so impressed the Huns that they stopped their march when he stood in their way. On another occasion, violent, ruthless Odoacer sought the saint out to ask his blessing.
Severinus is one of the patron saints of Austria. Yet he was not Austrian: he was born in North Africa. Hungry for God, he gave away his wealth and became a hermit. But conscience would not let him live a life of seclusion. People needed the Gospel.
And so one day, after the death of Attila the Hun, he appeared in Noricum (near Vienna). With the death of their leader, the barbarians had broken into lawless bands who inflicted much misery on middle Europe. Despite this desperate situation, Severinus sought to turn men to Christ. By and large, his message was rejected. However, he put backbone into the demoralized Christian community and they founded monasteries along the Danube.
Through self-discipline, prophecy and useful service, Severinus slowly won the respect of local Christians and of their barbarian enemies. His austerity was notable. Summer and winter he walked barefoot, even when ice frosted the Danube. He refused to own a second tunic. At sunset he ate his one meal of the day. During the weeks of Lent, he cut back even more, to one meal a week. His tight reign on his appetites amazed the heathen hordes who lacked such self-control.
Severinus prophesied that Vienna would be captured. Trusting their walls and martial ardor, the Viennese scoffed. Nonetheless, Vienna was taken. Severinus set about providing relief for the starving city. He coaxed a rich widow to release her hoard of food. He called the people to repentance. When they listened, the ice on the Danube broke and ships were able to bring in supplies. He heartened the city to strengthen its defenses and negotiated with the barbarians so that they turned away from their evil behavior.
Even after the force of the invasion had diminished, Severinus continued his relief efforts, which were now directed at redeeming captives, providing poor relief and building churches.
Severinus stayed simple. He refused to become bishop, preferring the lifestyle of a hermit. Suffering from pleurisy, he died on this day, January 8, 482. It was remarked that on his deathbed, he sang the words of a psalm, "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord."
- Butler, Alban. Lives of the Saints. Westminster, Maryland: Christian Classics, 1981, 1956.
- "Severinus of Noricum." Catholic Forum. (www.catholic-forum.com/saints/saints54.htm)
- "Severinus of Noricum, Hermit." Saint Patrick's Church. http://www.saintpatrickdc.org/ss/0108.htm
- "Severinus, St." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Various internet articles.