Saint Virgil of Salzburg
Scholar and Saint, Scientist and Bishop
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The Story of St. Virgil
Virgil was born Fergil between 700-710 to the clan Loeghaire, Trim, County Meath. He was the son of the clan chief and descendant of high kings. Virgil embodies the Golden Age of Ireland: he revered literature and learning, called the most learned man of his age and the Geometer for his mastery of classical mathematics; and he was a writer, poet and patron of the arts.
Virgil was abbot of Aghaboe Abbey, County Lois, for a few years before joining the wandering Irish saints who educated and converted much of Europe. He was advisor to Pepin, King of the Franks, who sent him to be abbot of St. Peter’s Monastery in Salzburg. Virgil ran the abbey in the Irish tradition where an abbot is superior to a bishop, before being named bishop.
Virgil was a stubborn Irishman: he challenged local nobility for the ownership of church property and was involved in two major disputes with Boniface, papal legate and the leading churchman outside of Rome.
The second of these involved Virgil’s teaching that there was the possibility of life on the other side of the globe – the antipodes. This was potentially heretical, and Virgil could have been excommunicated. Instead, he was made a bishop, and nearly 1,000 years later the Enlightenment honored him for his commitment to science over doctrine.
Virgil built the first Salzburg cathedral, evangelized much of southwestern Europe and made Salzburg into the leading diocese of the area.
He died in 784. Later his coffin was moved and buried unmarked in the wall of the cathedral, his writings and works disappeared, and his memory was forgotten.
When his tomb was accidentally uncovered in 1181, his body was moved to a place of honor in the cathedral and an “astounding” series of more than 100 miracles generated a cult of Virgil throughout much of Europe. He was canonized in 1233.
Virgil was an amazing man, whose memory was largely erased. Read his story, and explore the mystery and controversies surrounding this little-known Irish saint. The Story of Virgil of told twice: for the full text of the book with controversies, discussion, and references, link to The Story of Virgil, for a shorter version, without the added elements, link to The Virgil Story.