People who have visited monasteries or who have seen television broadcasts of Masses from Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome have very likely heard the beautiful hymn Salve Regina. This hymn is one of the most famous Gregorian chants in the world.
Salve Regina is the Latin version of the Catholic prayer Hail, Holy Queen. It is not known who wrote this prayer. Some people say it was Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), others Saint Anselm of Lucca (1036-1086). It is generally agreed, however, that the Hail, Holy Queen was written sometime during the 11th century.
The prayer usually concludes the recitation of the rosary. As a hymn, the Salve Regina is one of the four Marian Antiphons. This hymn was composed by a little Benedictine monk named Herman Contractus.
Herman Contractus was born on February 18, 1013 on Reichenau Island in southern Germany. He received the nickname “contractus” because he was crippled from birth. He also had several other serious health problems including a cleft palate and, possibly, cerebral palsy.
His father was Count Wolverad II von Altshausen. There are conflicting accounts of how he and his wife felt about their son. Some say they were amazed by his obvious intelligence while others say they were disgusted by his appearance and were not willing to care for him. Either way, they placed him in a local Benedictine monastery when he was just seven years old.
Although Herman could barely talk and could not even sit up without help, he learned to read and write. He eventually was able to speak Latin, Greek, and Arabic and became learned in theology, mathematics, and even astrology. He also loved music and designed musical and astronomical instruments.
In 1033, Herman became a fully professed Benedictine monk. He would remain in the monastery until his death.
Towards the end of his short life, Herman was robbed of his eyesight. He did not, however, lose his cheerful disposition. Herman began writing hymns. Some historians argue that he wrote the words as well as the music to Salve Regina. This cannot, however, be verified. He also composed the music for another Marian Antiphon titled Alma Redemptoris Mater.
Herman Contractus died on September 21, 1054. He was beatified in 1863 and is now known as Blessed Herman the Cripple. His feast day is September 25.