Saint of the Day – 7 July – St Willibald of Eichstatt (c.700 – 787) Bishop of Eichstätt, Prince, Missionary Born on 21 October 700 in Wessex, England and died on 7 July 781 of natural causes. Also known as Willebald. Patronages – Diocese and City of of Eichstätt, Germany.
Information about his life is largely drawn from the Hodoeporicon (itinerary) of Saint Willibald, a text written in the 8th century by Sister Huneberc, an Anglo-Saxon Nun from Heidenheim am Hahnenkamm who knew Willibald and his brother personally. The text of the Hodoeporicon was dictated to Huneberc by Willibald himself, shortly before he died.
Willibald was born in Wessex on 21 October around the year 700. His mother, Saint Wuna of Wessex, was a sister of Saint Boniface. His father,, Saint Richard the Pilgrim, was a |King of Wessex. His brother was Saint Winibald and his sister was Saint Walburga.
St Walburga here:
St Winibald here:
At the age of three, Willibald suffered from a violent illness. His parents prayed to God, vowing to commit Willibald to a monastic life if he was to be spared. Willibald survived and at the age of five entered the Benedictine monastery at Waldheim) and was educated by Abbot Egwald. At the monastery he became accustomed to the Irish and Anglo-Saxon monastic ideal of peregrinatio religiosa, or pious rootlessness
In 721 Willibald set out on a pilgrimage to Rome with his Father and Brother. After departing by ship, the group arrived in Rouen, France visiting Shrines and spending much of their time in prayer. Eventually they arrived in Lucca, a City in northern Italy. It was here that Willibald’s Father became gravely ill and died. After burying their Father, Willibald and Winibald continued on their journey, travelling through Italy until they reached Rome. Here they visited the Lateran Basilica and St. Peter’s. They spent some time in Italy, strengthening in devotion and discipline but soon the two brothers became ill with the Black Plague.
Sr Hunebrec recounts the disease and miraculous recovery:
“Then with the passing of the days and the increasing heat of the summer, which is usually a sign of future fever, they were struck down with sickness. They found it difficult to breathe, fever set in and at one moment they were shivering with cold, the next burning with heat. They had caught the black plague. So great a hold had it got on them, that, scarcely able to move, worn out with fever and almost at the point of death, the breath of life had practically left their bodies. But God in His never failing providence and fatherly love deigned to listen to their prayers and come to their aid, so that each of them rested in turn for one week whilst they attended to each other’s needs.“
Willibald left Rome in 724, heading for Naples. From there, accompanied by two unnamed companions and his Brother, he departed by sea, visited Sicily and Greece along the way, and eventually arrived in Asia Minor. Winnebald had, after the departure of his Brother for Palestine, lived in a Monastery at Rome. In Palestine, Willibald visited all the Holy places of the life of Christ.
He then visted Constantinople and finally arrived at Monte Cassino where he joined he Benedictine Monks. Willibald would spend over ten years (c 729–739) at Monte Cassino, helping Saint Petronax restore the Monastery, learning their monastic discipline and administration and acting, dyring those years as a Sacristan, a porter and a auxiallary to the Abbot, It happened that in 738 Saint Boniface, visiting Rome, asked of Pope Gregory III if Willibald might be sent to assist him in his missions in Germany. The Pope desired to see the Monk,and was much delighted with the history of his travels and acquainted him with Boniface’s request.
Upon arriving at Eichstätt, Willibald was Ordained a Priest by Boniface on 22 July 741and asked to begin missionary work in the area. A year later, Boniface summoned him to Thuringia. While travelling, Willibald encountered his brother, Winibald, whom he had not seen for over eight years.
Shortly thereafter, he returned to Eichstätt to begin his work. In 742 he and Winibald founded the double Monastery of Heidenheim. Winibald served as the first Abbot. Following his death, Willibald’s sister, Saint Walburga, was appointed the first Abbess of the Monastery. In 746 Boniface Consecrated Willibald Bishop of Eichstätt.
Eichstätt was the site of Willibald’s most successful missionary efforts, although specific details like the means of conversion and number of converts are not known. The Monastery was one of the first buildings in the region and served as an important centre, “not only for the Diocesan apostolate but also for the diffusion and development of monasticism.” Willibald served as the Bishop of the region in Franconia for over four decades, living in the Monastery and entertaining visitors, from various countries throughout Europe ,who would come to hear of his journeys and monasticism.
Willibald died on 7 July 781. His relics are kept in a marble reliquary urn in Saint Willibald Cathedral, Eichstätt, Germany, which was completed in 1269. He was Canonised in 938 by Pope Leo VII.