Father Donatus Leicher O.P.
given on the Feast of the Four Crowned Martyrs on 08.11.2014 in
I greet you in the name of our three-fold God; Father, Son and Holy
Spirit, and of our Blessed Mother Mary and the Four Crowned Martyrs,
who we venerate as the patron saints of stonemasons.
These very same words can be found at the beginning of the ancient
constitution for the Strasbourg stonemasons’ guild that was compiled in
1459, and which all stonemasons throughout the Occident were bound to
observe. Thus, masons and sculptors from all over Europe have gathered
this evening, inside the splendid cathedral of Strasbourg, in honour of
their heavenly patron saints.
I also greet all those gathered here
who adhere to the ethical values that are expressed in this Strasbourg
One thousand years ago, the foundation stone for this building was
laid: here we are celebrating this service of thanksgiving. Thousands
of our stonemason colleagues contributed the work of their hands, minds
and hearts to accomplish this marvellous Gothic structure. In their
work, they observed the correct measurements and the right discipline
in such a way that this beautiful cathedral could arise.
though, who gives a thought to the stonemasons, when they are admiring
the wonderful rose window on the West front of the Cathedral, and the
way it lights up in the evening sunshine? It was their blessed hands
that created it. Many of them suffered untimely deaths, their lungs
affected and calcified by stone dust. Let us thank God for them at this
hour; may they find their reward in Him. We, who are still living, wish
to place ourselves under the protection of the four crowned martyrs.
Their names are Claudius, Castorius, Symphorianus and Nicostratus. They
were Roman stonemasons who worked in the Pannonian quarries which are
now in Southern Hungary. Because they were Christians, they refused to
obey Emperor Diocletian’s command to carve the stone from the quarry
into heathen statues, although they were well aware that this refusal
would bring about their deaths.
As Christians, they held firm to
their faith, thereby providing an example of Christian steadfastness
that has continued to shine brightly though all the darkness of the
past centuries, right down to our times. This is why the masons of
Occident selected them to be their patron saints.
My dear sisters
and brothers in faith!
In the stone workshops which still adhere
to the ancient traditions, it is still the custom today, when a
stonemason requires the help of his colleagues, for him to approach
them and say these ancient words “you are addressed”. The person who is
addressed in this way will lay his own work aside without a murmur and
help his colleague, regardless of how much time it takes. Once this
assistance is over, he is dismissed with these words: “MAY THE LORD BE
OBLIGED AND THANKED”, which means, “I am also obliged to help you, with
This is exactly how our Master JESUS CHRIST addresses us in his joyful
summons when he says: “You are the light of the world ! … You are the
salt of the earth!”
The stonemasons who built this cathedral lived
and worked in the spirit of this message. The airy forms of the nearby
pillar of angels proclaim this, and this broad, high, light-filled
space turns human voices raised in song into a heavenly celebration.
sound. Let us absorb the message of the Gospel and become beacons of
light in the darkness of our age.
I was able to meet two such
beacons of light of our era when I was a French prisoner of war in the
seminary behind barbed wire as theologian in Chartres. One of them was
the German priest Abbé Franz Stock. He was parish priest to the German
congregation in Paris, and he tirelessly laboured with all his physical
and spiritual forces to secure the reconciliation between Germany and
France. In 1945, he was commissioned by the French government of the
time to establish a barbed wire seminary in Chartres, which he then
spent the last two years of his life directing it. He died a few months
after the seminary was closed. The second beacon of light that I met as
a prisoner of war was the Paris Nuncio of the time, Angelo Roncalli,
who visited us behind the barbed wire on many occasions; he was
declared a saint only a few months ago, as Pope John XXIII. Both men
have deeply influenced my life. Thus I am able to stand before you this
evening, in the 94th year of my life, to tell you the message that
JESUS gave us: … you too are lights of the world, … you too are the
salt of the earth. What a high calling: to be a LIGHT in the darkness
of our age.
My dear people; I stand before you as a priest and a
stonemason. My hands too have sought to make the stone speak. So I know
how hard stone can be and how much skill, sensitivity and patience is
needed to make it capable of speech. But I have also learnt what a
joyful moment it is to see that the piece made with own hands is well
done. The stones that surround us are ready to speak. Let’s listen to
them; they have so much to tell us.
*The Roman Emperor
Diocletian (ca. 243-305) ordered an effigy of Asclepius, the god of
medicine and healing, to be made. When the four masons refused the
Emperor was furious and commanded that they be shut up in lead coffins
and cast into the river, which was done on 8 November.