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Saint Godfrey of Cappenberg was born into the wealth and prestige of the counts of Cappenberg. In his early adulthood he played an active role in supporting the cause of the Roman Pontiff against Emperor Henry IV.
In 1121 he encountered St. Norbert at Cologne and was so struck by his lifestyle and preaching that he immediately made plans to give away all his possessions and enter the infant Norbertine Order. Together with his brother Otto and his wife Judith, he handed over Cappenberg Castle to St. Norbert on May 31, 1122, thus establishing the first foundation of the Order in Germany. Both Otto and Judith followed Godfrey’s example and embraced the religious life of the new Order. The further donation of his estates at Varlar and Ilbenstadt to St. Norbert caused an uproar among the local nobility who viewed it as a threat to their established aristocracy. Under the leadership of Godfrey’s hostile father-in-law, Frederick of Arnsberg, an unsuccessful military assault was made upon the new monastery at Cappenberg. Through all of these trials Godfrey remained steadfast in his desire to be a Norbertine.
When things calmed down, Godfrey received the habit from the hand of St. Norbert. He especially loved to care for the poor and sick in the hospital attached to the abbey. St. Norbert wanted to have him by his side at Magdeburg, but Godfrey felt out of place in the noisy northern metropolis and was granted permission to return to Cappenberg. It was on his way back to Mt. Cappenberg that Godfrey fell sick at Ilbenstadt. Surrounded by his brethren and his brother Otto, he made peace with them all: “My brothers, through love for the Order, through zeal for the glory of God, I have occasionally reprimanded some of you a bit too harshly. I beg pardon from you now.”
Moments later, seeing a vision of angels, Godfrey exclaimed, “How beautiful! How beautiful! The messengers of my Creator and God have finally come!” With that he fell asleep in the Lord. It was January 13, 1127. He is pictured with the crown of nobility which he rejected for the sake of Christ’s kingdom, with the skull of penitence recalling his severe trials and with one of the poorest of the poor whom he loved to serve so much.
From Norbertine Vocations