Christopher Columbus was nearing the end of his voyage across the Atlantic 525 years ago. He had a deep devotion to the Virgin Mary. Each night he would assemble the crew on his ship to sing the Salve Regina. The hymn was written in the eleventh century by Blessed Hermann the Cripple, a truly fascinating figure.
Born on July 18, 1013, he was a son of Wolverad II, Earl of Altshausen. He entered this world with maladies that would be considered overwhelming in our time and in the eleventh century entirely beyond hope: a cleft palate and cerebral palsy and spina bifida, or perhaps Lou Gehrig’s disease or spinal muscular atrophy. In any event he could barely move, and could hardly speak. He was placed in a monastery at age 7, no doubt his parents fearing that all that would occur for their son for the remainder of his time in this vale of tears was that he would be made as comfortable as possible until his afflicted life came to an end.
Among the monks he flourished. At twenty he took his vows as a Benedictine monk. He spent most of his life at the Abbey of Reichenau. He quickly demonstrated that a keen mind, as well as a beautiful soul, inhabited his wreck of a body. He mastered several languages including Latin, Arabic and Greek. His genius was catholic in its scope: he wrote a treatise on the science of music, several works on geometry, mathematics and astronomy, a chronicle of events from the Crucifixion to his time and composed religious poetry. He built musical instruments and astronomical devices. Students flocked to him throughout Europe, drawn not only by his learning but also by his sweet demeanor. It is impossible to overstate the importance of his role in the scientific renaissance sweeping through Europe in the eleventh century.
Going blind in his later years, he became a noted composer of hymns, including the Salve Regina. Dying in 1054 at age 40, he was beatified by Pio Nono in 1863.