Oct 032018

Today is the Day of German Unity (Tag der Deutschen Einheit) commemorating the anniversary of German reunification in 1990 when the goal of a united Germany, that originated in the middle of the 19th century, was fulfilled again. The name addresses neither the re-union nor the union, but the unity of Germany. Today is a two-fer, however, because it is also the saints’ day of the two Ewalds, Ewald the Black and Ewald the Fair, who were reportedly martyred on this date in Old Saxony, now Westphalia, in 692.

The Day of German Unity on 3 October has been the German national holiday since 1990, when the reunification was formally completed. An alternative choice to commemorate the reunification could have been the day the Berlin Wall came down, 9th November 1989, which coincided with the anniversary of the proclamation of the German Republic in 1918, and the defeat of Hitler’s first coup in 1923. However, 9th November was also the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the first large-scale Nazi-led pogrom against Jews in 1938, so the day was considered inappropriate as a national holiday. Therefore, 3rd  October 1990, the day of the formal reunification, was chosen instead and replaced the “Day of German Unity” on 17th June, the national holiday of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1954.

The Day of German Unity is celebrated each year with a ceremonial act and a citizens’ festival (Bürgerfest), hosted by a different major city each year, usually the state capital, in the German state presiding over the Bundesrat in the respective year (a sequence determined by the Königstein Agreement). After Bonn in 2011, Frankfurt am Main was the second non-state capital to host the celebrations in 2015; however, both cities bear a significance for German history (Bonn as former capital of West Germany and Frankfurt Parliament of 1848/49).

The Two Ewalds, Saint Ewald the Black and Saint Ewald the Fair, were companion missionaries with the same name, and distinguished by the color of their hair. They both priests, and both natives of Northumbria in England, but of Saxon heritage. As was common at the time, they spent several years as students in schools in Ireland. Ewald the Black was the more learned of the two, but both were equally renowned for their holiness. They were apparently acquainted with St. Willibrord, the Apostle of Friesland, and were inspired by his zeal for the conversion of Germanic peoples. Some sources number them among the eleven companions of that saint. More probably, however, they set out from England after St. Willibrord’s departure, in an attempt to convert their own compatriots in Old Saxony.

They entered upon their mission about 690 in an area covered by the dioceses of Münster, Osnabrück, and Paderborn. At first the Ewalds took up lodgings in the house of the steward of a Saxon earl or ealdorman (satrapa). Bede remarks that “the old Saxons have no king, but they are governed by several satrapas who during war cast lots for leadership, but who in time of peace are equal in power.” The steward entertained his two guests for several days, and promised to conduct them to the chieftain, whom they intended to Christianity.

Local Saxons, witnessing these activities, suspected that the Ewalds intended to destroy their temples and supplant their religion, and decided to kill them. An uprising followed and both priests were seized. Ewald the Fair was killed quickly by sword; Ewald the Black was tortured and torn limb from limb, after which both their bodies were cast into the Rhine. This is understood to have happened on 3rd October at a place called Aplerbeck, today a district of Dortmund, where a chapel still stands. When the ealdorman heard of what had been done, he became angry and fearful of reprisals, and punished the murderers by putting them to death and burning their villages.

Christian sources describe various miracles after the priests’ deaths, including their martyred bodies being miraculously carried against the stream for the space of forty miles to the place where their companions were residing. “As they floated along,” says the Catholic Encyclopedia, “a heavenly light, like a column of fire, was seen to shine above them.” Even the murderers are said to have witnessed the miraculous brightness. Moreover, one of the martyrs appeared in a vision to the monk Tilmon (a companion of the Ewalds), and told him where the bodies would be found: “that the spot would be there where he should see a pillar of light reaching from earth to heaven”. Tilmon arose and found the bodies, and interred them with the honors due to martyrs. From that time onwards, the memory of the Ewalds was annually celebrated in those parts. A spring of water is said to have gushed forth in the place of the martyrdom. The Saxons were eventually converted to Christianity by force in the 8th century by Charlemagne. The two Ewalds are honored as patrons in Westphalia. Their feast is celebrated in the dioceses of Cologne and Münster.

Westfälisches Blindhuhn is a well known Westphalian soup. It literally means “Westphalian blind fowl” but is actually a bean soup with bacon and fruit. Recipes vary greatly from cook to cook, but this one is reasonably standard.

Westfälisches Blindhuhn


1 cup dried white beans
½ lb slab bacon, cut in large pieces
1½ lb cooking apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1½ lb cooking pears, peeled, cored, and diced
1 lb fresh green string beans, trimmed, and cut into 2-inch lengths
1 cup coarsely diced carrots
1 lb potatoes, peeled and diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper


Place the beans in a large pot, cover with 1 quart of water, bring to a boil and cook, uncovered for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the beans soak for one hour.

Drain the beans and discard the soaking water. Add a fresh quart of water, add the bacon, and bring to a simmer Cover the pot and simmer very slowly for at least an hour or until the beans are just tender.

Add the apples, pears, green beans, carrots, and potatoes to the pot. Season with pepper to taste, and additional salt if needed. Partially cover the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes longer, or until the vegetables and fruit are tender and the beans fully cooked.

Serve hot in deep bowls with sliced pumpernickel.