Saints and Blesseds
Sacred Norbertine ancestors cross many ages and nationalities — from the early members of the original community at Prémontré in France to the martyrs of the order in the Holy Land, and from the challenges of the reformation to the crises of the modern era.
Throughout and beyond the centuries-old existence of their order, outstanding Norbertine men and women of heroic virtue remain sources of edification, inspiration and models for daily life.
Many disciples of Norbert attained sanctity and were drawn to his way of life, helping to further his ideals and values. Some followers left their high status as nobility and humbled themselves to found new houses of the order. Others used their talents as administrators, scholars, preachers and teachers, and still others simply served with generosity and humility.
Godfrey was born in 1097. His father was Count Godfrey of Cappenberg and his mother Beatrice of Schweinfurt. He married Jutta, daughter of the Count of Arnsberg.
In a quarrel between the bishop of Münster and the emperor, Godfrey sided with the bishop. But when Münster was beleaguered and destroyed in 1121, Godfrey was deeply disillusioned, partly on account of the behavior of his own soldiers, and he decided to turn his castle into a monastery. In the same year, he and his brother Otto met Norbert of Xanten, and Godfrey was deeply impressed by the apostolic life preached and lived by Norbert.
In the beginning, Godfrey’s wife, Jutta, and his brother Otto were opposed to his intentions. The greatest opposition, however, came from Godfrey’s father-in-law, the Count of Arnsberg. At a gathering in Utrecht, Count Frederick of Swabia joined Godfrey, who sold him two castles. On May 31, 1122, Godfrey was able to give Norbert the castle of Cappenberg.
The bishop of Münster blessed the monastery on August 15 the same year. This was the first foundation of the Order in Germany. Additional provostries were founded on Godfrey’s properties in Varlar and Ilbenstadt. Neither of the brothers, however, could enter “their monasteries” until 1124 because they first had to fulfill their duties of defense and, in Godfrey’s case, obtain the consent of his wife, Jutta. She later entered the monastery of canonesses in the lower monastery in Cappenberg. Godfrey stayed for the time being in Cappenberg, where he founded a hospital for the poor and served the poorest with great humility.
Norbert called both brothers to Prémontré in 1125 and they were ordained acolytes. When Norbert became archbishop of Magdeburg, he called Godfrey to his side in 1126. It was a great trial for Godfrey because he could not get used to life at the episcopal court and became ill. With the approval of Norbert, he went to Ilbenstadt. He died a few days after his arrival on January 13, 1127, scarcely 30 years old. Godfrey was a man of peace. During the altercation with his father-in-law, he expressed his wish to die as a martyr. In the last months of his life he often expressed his wish to die.
His relics were divided between Ilbenstadt and Cappenberg in 1148. Pope Paul V approved his veneration at Cappenberg in 1614 and Pope Benedict XIII extended it to the whole order on January 22/March 8, 1728. After the secularization, Emmanuel von Ketteler, bishop of Mainz, began promoting the veneration of Godfrey anew in 1862.