Monastic Island of Reichenau, Germany


Today’s the feast of Blessed Herman Contractus, OSB. He had spina bifida, cerebral palsy, and a cleft palate. His parents gave him up to the Benedictines when he was 7. He eventually became known as “The Wonder of the Age” on this monastic island.

Due to his cerebral palsy and spina bifida, he is an unofficial patron of Autism Spectrum Disorder, which includes those two conditions.

Mrs Cloisters OP
Lay Dominican


Was it common for parents to give their disabled children to religious orders at that time? Or did these monks run a hospital or orphanage?


A defined custom, no, but from time to time it occured in germany. We often forget how poor the regions north of the Alps have been. In the rural areas they hoped to save them this way because they wouldn´t have found any work when disabled and would have lived in poverty or even died.


It makes sense, I just wonder sometimes how a monastery would cope with special needs children.


Yes, me too. We know in fact very little about people´s daily life in this era, especially with special needs. Not every monastery was able to take care for all the children the people brought to them, and those who did were often famous for it (the distinction between monasteries for the nobility and for the average people was often very strict).


A hundred years after Blessed Herman, St. Gilbert of Sempringham was born in Lincolnshire, UK. He was so deformed that the manservants refused to eat with him. His mother was extremely attentive to him despite the stigma, though, and despite his learning disability – he was a slow learner – he still went on to earn degrees. He was given two parishes by his father, Sir Joclyn, a Norman knight. One of those parishes is where “one thing led to another” and the only native English monastic order was born. St. Gilbert lived to be over 100.


That’s really interesting. I read some online biographies of him some months ago and none of them mentioned him being deformed. Not doubting you, just wondering why it was omitted.


That’s a really good question. St. Gilbert is also one of the unofficial patrons of autism. The books on him mention it, particularly Dr. Rose Graham. The Seal of the Master of Sempringham shows a tonsured man with a cane.


Thanks @Cloisters, blessed Herman Contratus has to be one of the most impressive persons I’ve heard of. I had no idea about him or this abbey.


Hopefully his prayers will lead to a happy conclusion for the search for Maddox, a 6 year-old non-verbal autistic now missing either in Rankin Lake Park or in its environs. I’m beginning to think he was abducted.


I find personally hard to assume prayer commitments these days, but I will pray for this child.


Day 6, they think they’ve found his body. After 72 hours without food or water, that was the inevitable. They don’t know what the cause of death is yet.


Thankyou for your information on Herman Contractus. But this statement is 100% medically inaccurate. CP, spina bifida, & ASD are 3 conditions that are entirely unrelated.


My son and I were both diagnosed as Aspergers in 2002. Before the Spectrum disorders were clumped into the category of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Spina Bifida and Cerebral Palsy were both on the list. Surprised me, too.


Additionally, after the diagnosis, I decided to homeschool. When I searched online databases for saints on the spectrum, Blessed Herman came up. We named our homeschool “Blessed Herman Academy” with the motto of “By Aspergers, For Aspergers.” In NC, one cannot homeschool without a Bachelor’s degree.


They are totally different conditions, entirely unrelated to each other.


What list?


Here is an article discussing the two and their relationship:


The list we found online 15 years ago when first diagnosed. I’ve read a lot about the Spectrum, and found that CP and Spina Bifida were both included on the Spectrum. Why is beyond me. I honestly couldn’t see the correlation myself.

I’m not making this up. I’m simply relating what we have had going on in our family. I’m sure Blessed Herman doesn’t mind.


Another article about CP and Autism:

Perhaps if the child is born with CP, they have a greater chance of developing autism. Not looking at Autism as a hard-and-fast place in the scheme of things, and including all other co-morbid conditions, would give rise to a long list of conditions and the concept of the Spectrum.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit