A patron saint for difficult marriages

It must have seemed like the answer to a prayer when Albrecht, a well-to-do swordmaker, asked Dorothy's parents for her hand in marriage. Dorothy and her family were poor peasants; she always had expected that she would marry a peasant and continue to live in poverty. Instead, Albrecht took her to his fine house in Marienwerder, (modern-day Kwidzyn, Poland), a prosperous city that was also the seat of the local bishop.

If Dorothy was hoping for a fairy tale marriage, Albrecht proved to be no prince charming. He was verbally and emotionally abusive. The couple had nine children, but only the youngest, a daughter, survived to adulthood, which compounded Dorothy's sorrows.

But their life together was not complete misery. There were periods when the couple got along. They found one activity at least that pleased both of them - going on pilgrimage. Visiting far-off shrines kept Albrecht in a good mood and provided Dorothy with great consolation. They traveled to the shrine of Our Lady in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, and to the shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne, Germany. The pope declared 1390 a holy year, offering a plenary indulgence to pilgrims who prayed in the great basilicas of Rome. Dorothy and Albrecht planned to make the pilgrimage, but as the day of their departure approached, Albrecht fell seriously ill. He insisted that Dorothy go to Rome without him. By the time she walked from Prussia to Rome and back, Albrecht was dead.

With her husband gone and her only child a nun in a Benedictine convent, Dorothy was, for the first time in her life, free to make her own decision about her future. She was drawn to a life of prayer and penance, but rather than enter a religious order, as her daughter had, Dorothy chose a different way, one that was greatly admired at the time. With the permission of her bishop, Dorothy became a recluse. She had a tiny room that measured only 6 feet by 9 feet built for herself off the high altar of St. John's Cathedral. The room had three windows: one looked onto the street, one overlooked the cemetery, and the third opened onto the sanctuary so Dorothy could see Mass and all the liturgical celebrations of the cathedral. Through this window she would receive holy Communion, and from here she could contemplate the Blessed Sacrament. She received her food through the street side window, and here she also greeted visitors, listened to their troubles, and agreed to pray for them. There was no door. The room was completely sealed, and it would not be opened until Dorothy's death.

Death came for Dorothy sooner than anyone had expected. Just as her reputation as a saint, a healer and a mystic was being established in Marienwerder and the surrounding area, Dorothy died, only a year after she entered her cell. She was buried in the cathedral and many people came to light candles, leave flowers and ask for Dorothy's intercession. During the upheavals of the Reformation, Dorothy's tomb was destroyed. No one knows what became of her remains, but her cell has survived and is her shrine. Prussian Catholics venerated Dorothy as a saint, although she was never formally canonized. In 1976, Pope Paul VI confirmed devotion to her and authorized the faithful to venerate her as St. Dorothy of Montau.

Craughwell is the author of numerous books about the saints, including Saints Preserved: an Encyclopedia of Relics (Image Books, 2011) and Saints Behaving Badly (Doubleday, 2006).

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2012