Saint of the Day – 27 November – Saint Virgilius of Salzburg (c 700-784) Bishop, Abbot, early Astronomer, Architect, Writer, Poet, Patron of the Arts – he was called “the Apostle of Carinthia” and “the Geometer.” He is also known as Fergal, Fearghal, Ferghil, Vergil, Virgiel, Virgil. Patronages – against birth complications, of Salzburg, Austria and of the Slovenes.
Despite the city attached to his name, St Virgilius of Salzburg was actually an Irish Priest and Pilgrim on his way to the Holy Land, who stopped in Salzburg on his journey and stayed as its Bishop.
As abbot of a monastery in Ireland in the eighth century, Virgilius was one of the most learned men in Europe (he even gained the sobriquet the “The Geometer” for his knowledge of geometry). Virgilius decided to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and he and his fellow companions sailed to France. He spent two years wandering and travelling throughout Europe but did not get any farther east than Bavaria.
During a stay in Salzburg, Virgilius was appointed Abbot of St Peter’s Monastery (where St Rupert too, had previously been a monk and then the Abbot), a role that included administrative duties for the Bishop of that diocese. He performed these duties admirably and when the Bishop died, he found himself compelled to accept an appointment as Bishop of Salzburg.
He encountered a difficult situation with St Boniface (c 675-754), who disagreed with some of his decisions and teachings and complained to the pope. These inter-saint disagreements came to nothing, however and Virgil continued on his tenure as a fantastically effective Bishop, without further disruption from saint or sinner.
St Rupert (c 660-710) was the first Bishop of Salzburg and also the Abbot of St Peter’s in Salzburg. He is said to have laid the foundations of the Salzburg Cathedral which St Virgilius completed. It became an even larger and grander building than St Rupert had originally envisaged. St Virgilius together with St Rupert, are the Patrons of Salzburg Cathedral. The Statue at the bottom is displayed at the Cathedral.
St Rupert’s biography, whose Memorial is on 27 March, is here: https://anastpaul.com/2019/03/27/saint-of-the-day-st-rupert-of-salzburg-c-660-710/
The images below show St Virgilius with the Architects in discussion of the Cathedral.
St Virgilius sent Missionaries to the surrounding areas and he, himself travelled to preach the Gospel to new people, as far as Hungary and is known as the Apostle to the Slovenians. When he returned from one such journey, Virgilius, fell ill and died on this date in 784.
When the Salzburg Cathedral was partly destroyed by a fire in 1181, St Virgilius’ grave was discovered and an “astounding series of miracles” generated a widespread cult. This led to his Canonisation by Pope Gregory IX in 1233.
Although he has become known as St Virgilius of Salzburg, Virgilius was very much a person of his place and time. He was an Irish scholar and Priest inspired by that unique Irish passion for his faith; the almost fanatical love of literature, learning and art that marked Ireland’s Golden Age and, was enflamed, by the Irish spirit of wanderlust which drove the Irish monks to re-educate and evangelise Europe. Virgil did things “the Irish way” and was, as one Austrian writer says, “a stiff-necked Irishman.” Although, he achieved many of his greatest accomplishments on the eastern frontier of European civilisation, he remained a son of that bastion of learning and enlightenment on the farthest west. Virgilius’s Irish character shaped most of what he did in Austria.
St Virgilius was truly an amazing person. He was the most learned man of his age but sadly, all of his writings were destroyed. He was hailed for his great knowledge and his holiness and his feast is celebrated both in Ireland and throughout central Europe.