A hermit in Bohemia in the eleventh century; b. about 955; d. at Hartmanitz, Bohemia, Oct. 9, 1045
Gunther, BLESSED, a hermit in Bohemia in the eleventh century; b. about 955; d. at Hartmanitz, Bohemia, October 9, 1045. The son of a noble family, he was a cousin of St. Stephen, King of Hungary, and is numbered among the ancestors of the princely house of Schwarzburg. He passed the earlier part of his life at court in the midst of worldly pleasures and ambitious intrigues. He was converted in 1005 at the age of fifty by St. Gotthard, Abbot of Hersfeld, later Bishop of Hildesheim, and resolved to embrace the monastic life in order to do penance for his past faults. With the consent of his heirs, he bequeathed all his goods to the Abbey of Hersfeld, reserving the right to richly endow and maintain the monastery of Gollingen, the ownership of which he persisted in retaining despite all the efforts of St. Gotthard to prevent him. In 1006, the novice made a pilgrimage to Rome, and in the following year made his vows as a lay brother in the monastery of Niederaltaich before the holy Abbot Gotthard. Soon afterwards, Gunther urgently entreated to be allowed to govern his monastery of Gollingen, and St. Gotthard's remonstrances could not turn him aside from his purpose. Shortly after his elevation to the abbacy, the former lay brother fell ill, and, as he could not agree with his monks, the affairs of the monastery were soon in a perilous condition. By his charitable counsels mingled with severe reprimands, St. Gotthard succeeded in dispelling the ambitious delusions of Gunther, who returned once more to his humble condition at Niederaltaich, and there led an edifying life.
In 1008, he withdrew to a wild, steep place near Lalling, to live as a hermit. In 1011 he penetrated farther north in the forest with several companions and settled at Rinchnach, where he built cells and a church of St. John Baptist. Here he lived for thirty-four years a life of the greatest poverty and mortification. The very water was measured out to the brothers, guests alone being free to use it as they would. Although he had never learned more than the psalter, Gunther received from God, in reward for his excessive austerities, profound knowledge of the Holy Scripture, and edified by his teaching all who came to visit him. Wolferus, his biographer, relates that he knew him intimately, and often heard his admirable sermons on his patron, St. John the Baptist—sermons which drew tears from all who heard them. The holy hermit paid many visits to his relative the King of Hungary, obtained from him large alms for the poor, and urged him to build a number of churches and monasteries. Mabillon has reproduced the deed of donation made by King Stephen, June 5, 1009. In 1029 Conrad II richly endowed the monastery of Rinchnach, and in 1040 Henry III affiliated it with the Abbey of Niederaltaich. Gunther died in the arms of Duke Brzetislaw of Poland, and of the Archbishop of Prague. He was buried in the church of Brzevnow, but his remains were destroyed by the Hussites in 1420.
J. M. BESSE