God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. (1 Cor 1:28)

A Christian is supposed to intimately and intuitively understand that no human being is worthless―no one should be thrown away. To use a modern turn of phrase, the Church is a "big tent." That is, it takes all sorts to make God's Heavenly Kingdom. 

Bl. Notker "the Stammerer" (c. 840―April 6, 912) was an author, musician and poet of St. Gall Abbey―a famous center of learning and culture in medieval Switzerland. He was said to have been afflicted with several speech impediments including stuttering. Thus, he serves as an inspiration to us all―whether clearly-spoken, tongue-tied, periodically feeling stymied, censored or otherwise simply ignored.

Perhaps I just like the pre-"Age of Political Correctness" moniker this saint has been given.  Bl. Notker stammered, thus, he's known to us as Bl. Notker "the Stammerer", which is translated directly from the Latin: Notcerus Balbulus.

Ekkehard IV, a biographer of several of the monks of Saint Gall monastery, wrote that Bl. Notker was "delicate of body but not of mind, stuttering of tongue but not of intellect, pushing boldly forward in things Divine, a vessel of the Holy Spirit without equal in his time." [1]

In his iconography, he's often depicted as holding a broken rod which he uses to strike at the Devil. He is the patron saint of musicians and those afflicted with speech impediments…which only makes sense.

Notker was born to a distinguished family in Jonschwil on the River Thur, south of Wil, in the modern canton of St. Gall in Switzerland. He studied with Tuotilo at St. Gall's monastic school and was taught by Iso of St. Gallen, the Irish monk Moengall and Grimald von Weissenburg, the Abbot of St. Gall from AD 841 to AD 872. [2]

He became a monk and initially served as the abbey's librarian (AD 890) and later as its guestmaster (AD 892–894). Bl. Notker was a pupil of Alcuin and, soon afterwards, served his community as a professor. It was during this period that Bl. Notker developed his writing skills and became an accomplished poet, author, researcher and organist. He's best known for the liturgical music he created for the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. [3]

Bl. Notker wrote De Carolo Magno, a two-volume set of anecdotes and accolades about the Emperor Charlemagne, as a present for Charles the Fat, the monarch's great-grandson, during a visit to the Abbey of St Gall in AD 883. [4] Though the book isn't considered sufficiently fact-checked by modern scholars, Bl. Notiker does reference the tale of the nine rings of the Avar (i.e., Hungarian) stronghold which inspired ultimately J.R.R. Tolkien to write his Lord of the Rings legendarium.

He also compiled an important martyrology, a listing of saints and their holy deeds and characters. He helped modern researchers disprove a prophetic utterance said to have come from the Irish monk St. Columba. Apparently, he prophesized, or perhaps was only said to have prophesized, the destruction of an Italian port city. Unfortunately, or should I say, fortunately, there is no record of such a conflagration. Thus, we modern Christians are indebted to Bl. Notker for his due diligence.

Bl. Notker wrote his Liber Hymnorum sometime between AD 881 and AD 887. It's considered his magnum opus. It's a collection of musical sequences―mnemonic poems meant to remind a monastic choir of the series of pitches sung during a melisma in plainchant, especially in the Alleluia―which the author called "hymns." They were used during Mass and choir recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours. [5] Bl. Notker personally contributed over fifty sequences to the collection. [6]

Dr. Caroline Bowen, an Australian Speech-Language Pathologist, has written about Bl. Notker. She explains that the musical sequences were derived from the monastic singing tradition of prolonging the last syllable in the Alleluia (i.e., Allelu-iaaaaaaa) of the Gradual―the short prayer at the Mass between the Epistle and the Gospel.) This long, variegated stretching out of the final sound is called a jubilus, meaning "joyousness." It might have been originally a means of setting a tempo or even timing the Mass itself. Though Bl. Notker didn't invent the sequence, he was successful in introducing it throughout German-speaking monasteries and churches. (Next time your celebrant or choirmaster sings out this complex, multisyllabic Alleluia just before the Gospel, or the last line of the Salve Regina, pause to thank Bl. Notker.)

Dr. Bowen has suggested in her writings that St. Notker created these sequences as a form of early Medieval speech therapy which is a tantalizing idea as the drawing out of sounds is an essential part of modern speech therapy. The Church has always been on the forefront in terms of scientific and pedagogic research. Louis Braille, the inventor of the Braille writing system and Valentin Haüy, an early advocate for the blind, were both devout Catholics. Haüy, in fact, was a Premonstratensian seminarian but chose to leave before being ordained. So it's not inconceivable that Dr. Bowen is correct. 

There are dozens of saints and beati who are excellent patrons for those who feel religious voices in our nation are being trounced, but none as poignant and clear as Bl. Notker "the Stammerer." He had incredible intellectual and artistic gifts that, despite his physical limitations, were brought to its fullest flower by the Church. 

Bl. Notker "the Stammerer," Ora pro nobis. Allelu-iaaaaaaa! Allelu-iaaaaaaa! Alle―lu―iaaaaaaa!


[1] Ekkehard of St. Gall. "Three Monks of St. Gall". Fordham.edu. Retrieved 17 September 2014. 

[2] "The Monk of Saint Gall", Medieval Sourcebook, Fordham University. i, Postscript. 

[3] Adomnan of Iona. Life of St Columba. Penguin books, 1995.

[4] Kampers, Franz, and Klemens Löffler. "Notker." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 11 February 2016 

[5] Ekkehard of St. Gall. "Three Monks of St. Gall". Fordham.edu. Retrieved 17 September 2014. 

[6] Innes, M. (1998) "Memory, orality and literacy in an early medieval society", Past and Present, 158, pp. 3-36.