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Saint Odile in <a href="/content/Avolsheim" style="color:blue">Avolsheim</a>, <a href="/content/Alsace" style="color:blue">Alsace</a>
Saint Odile in Avolsheim, Alsace

Saint Odile of Alsace, also known as Odilia and Ottilia, born c. 662 - c. 720 at Mont Sainte-Odile), is a saint venerated in the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. The current Roman Catholic liturgical calendar does not officially commemorate her feast day of 13 December, but she is commemorated on this day in the Orthodox Church. She is a patroness saint of good eyesight, and of Alsace.

Biography


Odile was the daughter of Etichon (also known as Athich, Adalrich or Aldaric), Duke of Alsace and founder of the Etichonid noble family. By tradition she was born blind. Her father did not want her because she was a girl and handicapped, so her mother Bethswinda had her brought to Palma (perhaps present day Baume-les-Dames in Burgundy), where she was raised by peasants there.[2]

A tenth-century legend relates that when she was twelve, Odile was taken into a nearby monastery.

She fled across the Rhine to a cave or cavern in one of two places (depending on the source: the Musbach valley near Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, or Arlesheim near Basel, Switzerland.) Supposedly, the cliff face opened up in order to rescue her from her plight. In the cave, she hid from her father. When he tried to follow her, he was injured by falling rocks and gave up.

When Etichon fell ill, Odile returned to nurse him.

St. Odile died about 720 at the convent of Niedermünster.

Veneration


The cult of St. Odile spread rapidly, and spread outside France to Germany.

By the 14th century, Odile's cult had grown so strong that her relics were split and removed to Corbie, Prague and Einsiedeln. She enjoyed especial popularity in Strasbourg. The strength of her cult is supposed to have been a result of her patronage of the blind and partially sighted, which was especially pertinent in a time before the invention of spectacles.

St. Odile was long considered the patron of Alsace and eye patients, at least since before the 16th century; however, this was made official in 1807 by pope Pius VII. Her feast day is 13 December.

Cultural representations


As the patroness of ocular afflictions and ear diseases, St. Odile is often depicted with a pair of eyes on a book - particularly fine examples of such images can be found from the 14th-16th centuries.[3] A notable sculpture of her exists at the Bavarian National Museum in Munich, which portrays the event of her baptism. The larkspur is connected to St. Odile as well and is believed to cure eye diseases in popular medicine and superstition.

A Life of St. Odilia was written about the 10th century, mostly dedicated to the retelling of her legend, the antagonism of her father, and the death of her brother Hughes. From internal evidence, it seems that it was based upon an earlier, 8th century Life;[4] however, as an account of her life, it cannot be considered to have much historical validity.[3]

Places dedicated to Saint Odile


In the valley of the Musbach, a small river that runs near Freiburg im Breisgau, pilgrims have venerated St. Odile for centuries. In ca. 1300 a chapel was built; the present church was started in 1503 and finished in the 18th century. The church is built adjacent to a spring whose water contains radon, which is supposedly beneficial to eyesight. In the 18th century the spring became part of the church building: in 1714 the source was included by enlarging the building, in 1780 the cave with the source in it was renovated and decorated in the fanciful style of the time.[5]

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