Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Corbinian, Bishop of Frisingen

illustration of Saint Corbinian commanding the bear to carry his luggage, date and artist unknown; from a panel in the crypt of the cathedral in Freising, Germany; photographed on 3 April 2006 by Mark Somoza; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Saint Corbinian was born in the department of Melun, in France. He was the son of wealthy parents, and passed his youth in great innocence and piety. Desiring to serve God and also to induce others to do the same, he built a cell near the Church of Saint Germain, in which he spent fourteen years in great holiness. The fame of his virtue and wisdom drew a great many persons to him, who either sought his advice in matters of difficulty, or who came to request his prayers. This greatly displeased the Saint, who desired to serve God in solitude and quiet. Hence he went to Rome, and requested the Pope to give him a place not far from Saint Peter’s, where he might live unknown to the world. The Holy Father concluded, from his manner and address, that he was a man of great virtue and abilities; and was no sooner convinced of this, than he made Corbinian priest and afterwards bishop. After this, the Pope bade him return, and exercise his episcopal functions for the salvation of souls wherever he was needed.

Corbinian submitted to the decrees of Providence, obeyed the Pope, and journeyed home through Lombardy and a great part of France, preaching everywhere with eminent success. The holiness of Corbinian, and the miracles which the Almighty wrought through him, caused everybody to esteem and honor him. To avoid this, he returned to his former dwelling and remained there several years. When, however, it became known where he was, and the people again commenced to come to him, he undertook a second journey to Rome. God led him this time through Bavaria, to the great benefit of its inhabitants; for, when the holy bishop perceived the ignorance of the people in matters of faith, he immediately began to instruct them. The pious Duke, Theodore, who at that period reigned in Bavaria, was greatly rejoiced at the good results of the Saint’s apostolic labors, and desired him to remain in his domains. The same was also desired by Grimoald, a son of the Duke, whose residence was at Frisingen. Corbinian, hastening to Rome, besought the Pope to release him from his episcopal dignity, which request, however, was not granted, and the holy father admonished him to continue zealously in his labors for the salvation of souls. Hence, Corbinian returned to Bavaria. At Mais, a borough and castle not far from Meran, which at that time belonged to Bavaria, he remained several days at the tomb of Saint Valentine, who had been bishop of Passau. Grimoald, who had been informed of his arrival, sent messengers to meet him and invite him to Frisingen. The Saint accepted the invitation, but hearing afterwards, that the Duke lived unlawfully with Pilitrudis, the wife of his deceased brother, he sent one of his companions to say that he would not set foot in the palace, until so enormous a scandal was removed. He added that the words of the Apostle were and would be eternally true: “Neither fornicators nor adulterers shall possess the kingdom of heaven.” Pilitrudis, greatly incensed at the holy bishop’s fearless message, resolved, like another Herodias, to hire an assassin and secretly murder him. But the exhortations of the priest, whom the Saint had sent to Grimoald, made so deep an impression upon the Duke and Pilitrudis, that both, recognizing and repenting of their fault, threw themselves at the feet of Corbinian and promised to reform their lives. The Saint received them kindly and earnestly advised them to do penance and give alms.

After this, the bishop officiated for some time in the Church of Frisingen, converting the wicked, inducing the lukewarm and slothful to be more solicitous for their salvation; and animating the pious and zealous to still greater fervor, by his sermons, admonitions and exhortations. Pilitrudis, however, returned to her former vicious life, and, not to be disturbed in her misdeeds, she ordered one of her minions, named Ninus, to kill Corbinian. But before Ninus had surrounded the palace of the bishop with his soldiers in order to execute his design, Corbinian, having been informed of it, made his escape. Arrived at Mais, the holy prelate announced to Grimoald and Pilitrudis, the divine punishment that would soon overtake them. His prophecy was soon fulfilled. Grimoald was assassinated by one of his subjects, and Pilitrudis, deprived of rank and wealth, ended her life in misery, which she had drawn upon herself by her vicious conduct. Ninus, also, who intended to assassinate the Saint, received his deserts; he was stabbed, and thus unprepared was called before the Judgment-seat of the Almighty. Hugibert, a younger son of the pious Duke Theodore, who succeeded Grimoald in the government, besought the holy bishop most earnestly to return to his see, and to forgive the wrongs done to him. The Saint consented, returned to Frisingen, and was received with universal rejoicing by the inhabitants of the city. Hardly had he arrived, when God revealed to him his last hour. After having satisfactorily arranged all the affairs of his See, he clothed himself in his episcopal robes, on the day which was to be his last upon earth, went to Church, and said Mass. Returning home, he took some slight repast, blessed himself, and calmly expired, in the presence of some priests, without having been sick, and without giving any signs of pain or suffering. His holy body was buried, with great solemnities, in the Cathedral; but as the Saint had desired to have his tomb erected at Mais, the Almighty plainly manifested that this wish should be fulfilled; for, soon after the funeral, the rain began to fall in torrents, and ceased not, until the sacred relics of Corbinian had been carried to the spot which he had chosen as his resting place. When, fifty years later, the Lombards made an inroad into Tyrol, and devastated the land, the pious bishop Aribo exhumed the holy body again and brought it back to Frisingen, where it is still greatly venerated.

This Saint is generally represented with a bear at his side, the reason of which is as follows: When the Bishop made his second journey to Rome, and was obliged to remain one night in the open air, with those who accompanied him a bear attacked his horse which was laden with what the Saint needed on his journey. Corbinian, who did not arrive at the place where this happened until the horse was partly devoured, commanded the bear, in the name of the Most High, to take the burden which the horse had carried, and bring it to Rome. The animal obeyed and patiently carried the burden laid upon his back, to the end of the journey. Numerous persons witnessed this. It was evidently the desire of the Almighty to glorify His faithful servant by this, as well as by several other not less remarkable events.

Practical Considerations

• Saint Corbinian admonished Grimoald and Pilitrudis on account of their criminal conduct. He did this, without doubt, from love to God, and also from love to these two sinners, whose destruction he foresaw and pitied. At first, both appeared to receive the admonition willingly and to repent, but soon they returned to their vicious life and endeavored to repay good with evil. If you have an opportunity to exhort others, do it from love to God and to your neighbor, to prevent the offense of God, and your neighbor’s destruction. Should anyone give you an admonition, receive it kindly, especially when it comes from your confessor and pastor, who are obliged to admonish you, and who in so doing, seek only your welfare. Why then should you complain of it, why be offended? “It is better to be corrected by a wise man, than to be deceived by the flatteries of a fool,” says the Holy Ghost. Saint Chrysostom writes; “A sick man acts foolishly when he complains of a physician who prescribes to him some remedy, useful or necessary for his health.” Much more foolishly do you act, when you complain of your confessor, spiritual advisor or pastor, who corrects your faults, out of love for you, and the desire to save your soul. You may well believe that Grimoald and Pilitrudis have, for a long time, repented in the other world, for not having followed Saint Corbinian’s admonition. Many suffer in hell because they heeded not the exhortations of their confessors. Take care that you do not find yourself among them.

• Saint Corbinian died happily, because he was always prepared to die. There are a great many persons who defer their preparations for death and their penance until the last hour has come. They think that the best time to do penance will be when they are sick. How blind they are! Who has promised that a sickness should be the forerunner of their death? Is it then impossible that they should die suddenly, as has happened to so many? But even if they should become sick, may it not be a disease that will rob them of their reason, or be so painful that they will be unable to remember their sins and to confess them rightly? How will they, under such circumstances, prepare themselves for death? And furthermore, who knows if they will at that time, desire to prepare themselves? Satan will whisper to them that there is no danger, that they will soon be restored to health. Their relatives and acquaintances, actuated by false compassion, will speak in a similar manner. Many have thus been deceived. Be this as it may, one thing is certain: a late repentance is seldom a true repentance. The time of death, the time of sickness, is not the proper time for so great, so important an act as the preparation for death, on which depends all eternity. If you wish to be sure, prepare yourself in time, and defer not your penance until your end. The words of Saint Augustine are true: “The penance of a sick person, is a sick penance, and that of a dying I fear, is a dying or a dead one. Hence, whoever would seek the mercy of God, let him do penance while his body and mind are in a state of health, that he may find salvation in the world to come.” Elsewhere this great and holy teacher says: “As it is unknown to us at what hour we shall be called away, let us without delay, hasten from the left hand to the right. We must neither trust to health nor to age. Whoever is uncertain of his life, must not defer using the means that will assure his salvation. He who assures us that a sinner will receive pardon for his iniquities whenever he repents, warns us at the same time when he says: “Delay not to- be convened to the Lord and defer it not from day to day.” (Eccles. 5) Let us therefore hasten to convert ourselves while the means are still in our power.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Corbinian, Bishop of Frisingen”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 30 April 2018. Web. 26 September 2018. <>