St. Virgil of Salzburg, Bishop
(Feargal, Fearghal, Fergal, Virgilius)

27 November

Born in Ireland; died in Salzburg, Austria, November 27, c. 781-784.

Virgil was an Irish monk, possibly of Aghaboe, who went abroad about 740 intending to visit Palestine. With him were Dobdagrec, later abbot of a monastery at Chiemsee, and Sidonius, afterwards bishop of Passau. His learning and ability attracted the attention of Blessed Pepin the Short (f.d. February 21), who kept him at the Merovingian court for two years. About 743, Pepin sent Virgil with letters of recommendation to his brother-in-law, Duke Odilo of Bavaria, who, c. 745, appointed Virgil abbot of Saint Peter's Monastery at Salzburg, with jurisdiction over the local Christians, while Dobdagrec served its episcopal functions.

Instead of visiting Palestine he remained in Bavaria to help Saint Rupert (f.d. March 27), the apostle of Austria. For 40 years he laboured to convert Teutons and Slavs, founded monasteries, churches, and schools. (In 774, the council of Bavaria issued its first pronouncement on the establishment of schools.)

Virgil appears to have been a somewhat difficult character and he incurred the strong disapproval of Saint Boniface (f.d. June 5), who seems to have detested him. (Perhaps because of differences in the interpretations of Roman observance or jurisdiction, or because Virgil succeeded John whom Boniface had as abbot of Saint Peter's, or just personal differences.) Boniface twice delated him to Rome. On the first occasion Pope Saint Zachary (f.d. March 22) decided in Virgil's favour. Through carelessness or ignorance, a priest had used incorrect Latin wording during a baptism. Virgil and Sidonius ruled that the baptism was valid and need not be repeated; Boniface of Mainz disagreed. Zachary was surprised that Boniface should have questioned it and issued a statement to that effect.

The other case concerned Virgil's cosmological speculations and their implications, which, as reported to Zachary by Boniface, the pope found very shocking. In 748, the pope directed Boniface to convene a council to investigate the questionable views, but the council was never convened. The incident has been the subject of much discussion and has been used and exaggerated for polemical purposes, but in fact it is far from clear what Virgil's ideas really were. It appears that Virgil postulated that the world was round and that people might be living in what would now be called the Antipodes. He was both a man of learning and a successful missionary, and even after his cosmological views were called into question, he was consecrated bishop of the see of Salzburg (c. 766), whose cathedral he rebuilt.

Saint Virgil brought relics and the veneration of Saints Brigid (f.d. February 1) and Samthann of Clonbroney (f.d. December 19) to the areas he evangelized. In fact, Saint Samthann, who may have provided Virgil with his early education, is better known in Austria than in her homeland.

Among his other good works, Virgil sent fourteen missionary monks headed by Saint Modestus (f.d. February 5) into the province of Carinthia, of which he is venerated as the evangelizer. He baptized two successive dukes of Carinthia at Salzburg (Chetimar and Vetune). His influence is revealed by the issuance during the time of duke Chetimar of a Carinthian coin, an old Salzburg rubentaler, with the images of Saint Rupert, who built Saint Peter's monastery, and Virgil. He fell ill and died soon after making a visitation in Carinthia, going as far as the place where the Dravo River meets the Danube.

His feast is kept throughout Ireland, although he is buried at St. Peter's in Salzburg. Virgil is widely venerated in southern Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, and northern Italy (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, Coulson, D'Arcy, Encyclopaedia, Farmer, Fitzpatrick, Gougaud, Healy, Husenbeth, Kenney, Montague).

Sometimes he is paired with Saint Rupertus in artwork (Roeder). Virgil is the patron of Salzburg, Austria (Farmer).

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