Notker the Stammerer

notker Notker

Did you know people who stutter have a patron saint?

Blessed Notker of St. Gall, called Balbulus (“The Stutterer”) lived in the 10th century in St Gall, a famous centre of learning and culture in medieval Switzerland.

St. Notker was born in Jonswil, Switzerland in about 850 A.D. to a distinguished family. He became a monk, musician, organist, librarian, teacher and poet, and is best known for the liturgical music he created for worship services.

Because he appears to have struggled with stuttering, he is considered the patron saint of people who stutter. Notker depicted himself as “a toothless man with stammering speech, have tried to describe, not as I ought but slowly and with labyrinthine phrase.” His biographer was kinder, characterizing him as being “delicate of body but not of mind, stuttering of tongue but not of intellect, pushing boldly forward in things Divine.” The musician and monk died in 912, and was beautified in 1512.

St. Notker of St. Gall is most famous for writing the Liber Hymnorum, a collection of medieval musical sequences performed during worship services. Caroline Bowen, a speech therapist, writes about him on her website, Webwords. She explains that the Sequences emerged from the custom of prolonging the last syllable in the Allelu-iaaaaa of the Gradual, in the Mass between the Epistle and the Gospel. This long, variegated, non-meaningful aaaaa, called a jubilus, was sustained while the deacon climbed from the altar to the organ loft, where he would sing the Gospel of the day. The name Sequence was applied to these chants, and also to regular metrical and rhymed hymns.

Is it possible that chanting was a type of speech therapy for St. Notker? From the sounds of it, the drawing out of syllables is very much like some modern fluency techniques. In any case, if you are of the praying type, you now know who to supplicate before that dreaded presentation!


Two lives of Charlemagne: Einhard and Notker the Stammerer.  By Lewis G. M. Thorpe, Einhard, Notker (Balbulus)
Caroline Bowen, Webwords