>The Salve Regina is an ancient Marian hymn. Whether Herman of Reichenau (IXth century), Adhemar of Monteil, bishop of Le Puy (XIth) or Pierre of Monsoro, bishop of Compostela, is its author remains unclear. The author of this article attributes the authorship of the Salve Regina to Blessed Herman Contractus, alias Herman of Reichenau, and offers a commentary on the Salve Regina.
In this prayer, we invoke Mary by telling her that “to thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve… mourning and weeping in this valley of tears”.
Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercies
Our life, our sweetness, and our hope
To Thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve
To Thee do we send up our sighs,
Mourning and weeping in this Vale of Tears
Turn, then, Most Gracious Advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy toward us
And after this, our exile,
Show unto us the blessed fruit of thine womb, Jesus
Oh Clement, oh Loving, oh Sweet, Virgin Mary
Pray for us, oh Holy Mother of God,
That we may become worthy of the promises of Christ
Angst and distress – emotions that form part of many experiences in our lives; feeling a new snag in the line just as a knot with which we have been struggling comes free. Caught in a ceaseless tangle, our hearts long for the deliverance from evil and the peace of the Heavenly Kingdom for which we petition in the Lord’s Prayer. Reflecting upon Our Lady, Undoer of knots, we hear these knots addressed in the Marian anthem, Salve Regina.
Not just a metaphor…. the Vale is real…
Blessed Hermanus Contractus captured our struggle with and throb from the knots which pull on us without respite in famous lines from the Salve Regina.
We are children of Eve, beloved by God, yet exiled due to our own sinfulness, cast into the Vale of Tears. In our distress, we cry out to Mary to look upon us with mercy.
To Thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve…. Mourning and weeping in this Vale of Tears!
What a potent image is the Vale of Tears. The narrow way along which we walk, where we feel so small and helpless, — we send up our sighs! — encroached by the steep hills which rise around us. For Contractus, this image was more than a metaphor: it was a real place inspired by the tragedy of a mother in Southern Germany.
Contractus was born in Altshausen, Germany in 1013 and was severely crippled from birth. Despite his painful and partially paralytic infirmities, he had a sharp mind and was a devout Catholic. He became a Benedictine monk at age 20, and was beatified in 1863. While visiting the nunnery in Buchau, Contractus become familiar with the story of Adelindis of Buchau. Her story became his paradigm for the Vale of Tears.
From tragedy to infamy, the lasting story of a grieving mother
Adelindis, who was born in 735, married and bore three sons. One day, her three grown sons left together on a journey. Adelindis, awaiting their return, dreamt one night that all three had been murdered along their way. She left the house with a mother’s worry. Upon finding the place she pictured in her dream, she also found the three dead bodies of her sons… Adelindis was alone, mourning and weeping in the vale…
Adelindis was a pious woman and had a chapel built in the place where her children were murdered. Later a convent was built there as well. Blessed Contractus visited this nunnery near the end of his life, by this time having also gone blind. The history of Adelindis moved him so much that he embedded her tragedy into his hymn, giving one shared name to the place of Adelindis’ affliction and our state of exile. He called it the Vale of Tears.
Mary, the new Eve, held the body of her precious Son at the foot of the Cross upon which He died for our sins. Adelindis, child of sinful Eve, held the bodies of her sons at the foot of the hills where they died from senseless sin. We are called to imitate the holiness of Mary, yet in this life, we find ourselves in the position of Adelindis. We were cast into exile from the Garden of Eden and walk in the shadow of the sins we committed. Mary, with Son in her arms, sits atop one of those very hills and looks upon us with mercy and love. We cry out to her:
Turn then, most Gracious Advocate, Thine eyes of mercy toward us….
Back to metaphor: what does this mean for us?
When we beseech Our Mother to untie a knot in our lives, then, what are we asking?
We are asking her to guide us over the next stumbling block, over the next boulder. From above she sees where we are and knows where we are going. She cannot bring us there by herself, but she can show us the way if we ask.
As when every knot comes undone, there’s another below it, so when we walk in the Vale, there is another boulder or trip root past every stumbling block we climb over. It is tiring, and it is burdensome, but it is not senseless stumbling. With every challenge we overcome, we grow closer to the end of the valley, to the place where the Light shines unobstructed in full glory. We are called to this destination, but we need help getting there.
Thus, we ask Our Father for the strength to persevere and Our Mother to help us through the challenges we face from one day to the next. And should we be blessed at the end of our journey, we will see before us the Blessed Fruit of Our Mother’s womb, Jesus, and we will finally be home.
After this our exile, show unto us the Blessed Fruit of Thine Womb, Jesus!
Mary, Our Mother and Advocate, you are ever clement, loving, and sweet. Look upon us in the vale where we walk and guide our feet that we may cease to trip and fall, but may rise and run with confidence toward the loving embrace of your Son. Please, mother, plead on our behalf that there may always be light upon our path so that we never lose sight of the sweetness and joy which awaits us beyond the cares we carry this day.
Christen Faith Bentz