Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Notburga, Virgin

Blessed NotburgaArticle

Notburga, a pious, faithful and holy maid-servant, was called by God, in the month of September, in the year of our Lord 1313, to receive in heaven the reward of her virtues. Her example should be followed by all who are placed in a similar station. She was born at Rottenburg, in 1266, of very pious, though indigent parents. At the age of eighteen years, she went to live with the people of the castle, from which Rottenburg derived its name. She was placed in the kitchen, and fulfilled her duties with so much fidelity and ability, that at last she was charged with the care of the entire household. She was perfectly satisfied with her situation, although it was but low in the eyes of the world, and only thought how she could worthily serve God in it and gain her salvation. She began each day with fervent prayer, and if it had to be short, on account of her work, she yet said it with heartfelt devotion. Early in the morning she offered to God all her labor, all the sufferings she might have to endure through the day, and humbly prayed to be guarded from even the smallest sin. She obeyed her master and mistress in everything, after the admonition of Saint Paul. She was never seen impatient, ill-humored or discontented when she was at her work, and every moment she could spare she gave to prayer, or to reading a pious book. She never desired to visit the places where others of her station passed their time in dancing or other amusements, which so easily become dangerous; as she was convinced that no one returns from them more pious, but generally more frivolous and wicked. In one word, she lived in such a manner, that she might have been held up as an example to all servants. She had the most intense pity for the poor, and therefore asked leave to give them what was left from the table. The permission was given her, and Notburga, greatly rejoiced, made use of it without in the least overstepping the bounds set to her, as she was scrupulously honest. She never took the least thing; for herself, nor gave away anything without the knowledge and consent of her master. Although she had greatly to suffer through this account from the other domestics, she respected more the commandments of God and the orders of her master than the unrighteous requests of her fellow-servants; she feared to offend God more than man. In consequence of this and of her other good qualities, Notburga was very much esteemed by her master and mistress. They intended to keep her always with them, and advised their son Henry, if he desired to have the blessing of God in his house, not to part with Notburga, nor to oppose her in her charity to the poor. No sooner, however, had Henry’s parents closed their eyes, than Ottilia, Henry’s spouse, forbade Notburga to give her usual alms to the poor, commanding her to cast all that was left from the table to the swine. The pious girl took this very much to heart, but obeyed her new mistress; and in order to leave the poor some little comfort, she took, on some days, nothing but a crust of bread and some water, and gave her own food away, as this had not been forbidden her. But at length even this was not allowed by her hard-hearted young mistress, under the pretext that it was drawing all kinds of vagabonds to the castle, who sooner or later might do a great deal of mischief. She also told Henry that Notburga carried more out of the house than she was permitted, and ought therefore to be dismissed for dishonesty. Henry desired to convince himself personally of this, and one day saw Notburga in the act of carrying in her apron the little she had saved from her own victuals for the poor. When he asked her what shf was carrying away, she opened her apron, in which he saw nothing but shavings, whilst in the jar, which she also carried, he tasted strong lye. He related this to his wife, desiring to shield the innocent girl; but Ottilia believed that this was all done to deride her, and after having overwhelmed Notburga with abuse, she gave her notice to quit the house.

The uncharitable lady was soon visited with divine punishment. She became dangerously sick on the same day, and Notburga, forgetting every wrong done to her, nursed her with unwearied kindness. As the physicians pronounced the sickness fatal, the pious servant spoke most kindly to her mistress, exhorting her to receive the holy Sacraments, encouraged her to bear her sufferings patiently, and did not leave her until she expired. A terrible noise, which was heard during the following night in the stalls of the swine, prevented every one in the castle from sleeping. A priest was called, who asked the restless spirit, with the usual exorcism, who he was and why he made such disturbance. The following answer was received: “I am the soul of Ottilia; and although I have escaped hell by partaking of the holy Sacraments, I have been condemned to remain some time here, on account of my want of charity to the poor, and because I ordered the food that was left from my table to be given to the swine rather than to the needy.” The dismay and fear which this event excited in all who heard of it, may be easily imagined.

Notburga did not wish to remain longer in the castle, and as she had been notified to leave before Ottilia became sick, she hired herself to a farmer who lived about a mile from Rottenburg. The farm, called Eben, was very lonely, situated between mountains and cliffs. Not far from it was a small chapel, dedicated to Saint Rupert, where Notburga passed many an hour after having finished her daily toil, especially on vigils, Sundays and holidays. She led, in all other respects, the same life which she had led for many years at the castle. Henry, the lord of the castle, soon perceived that the blessing of God had departed from his dwelling with Notburga. One misfortune after another befell him, his fields and his cattle. Hence, he endeavored to bring the pious girl back to her old place. Going to her, he begged her to pardon the wrong which had been done her, and entreated her to return to the castle, promising that in regard to the poor, she should have the same privileges she enjoyed while his parents were living. Notburga refused to leave the farm without the consent of her master; but when Henry had obtained leave for her to return, she hesitated, no longer; and the blessings of heaven returned to the castle with her. She remained until her end the same pious, industrious, obedient, charitable servant she had always been.

When forty-seven years of age, she felt that her end was approaching, and having prepared herself carefully, she ended her holy life, after a short struggle, on the 14th day of this month, in the year 1313. Being asked by Henry, before her death, where she wished to be buried, she replied: “In the place to which two oxen, without a driver, shall carry my body.”

As soon as she was dead, Henry ordered that her body, in a coffin, should be placed upon a wagon to which two oxen were yoked. The gates of the castle were then opened, and the oxen, leaving the court-yard, proceeded on the high road. Having walked onward for some time, they turned suddenly towards the river Inn, and as there was no bridge across it, they stepped into the water and brought the body safely to the other side. Henry, who had followed with some servants, crossed the river in a boat. The oxen went quietly on, until they came to a cross-road, where they stood still and rested tor a short time. The coffin was about to be taken from the wagon, but the oxen moved forward on the road to Cassbach, and thence to Eben, the farm where Notburga had lived for some time. At the wall which encloses the chapel of Saint Rupert, they again stood still. Here, then, it was thought, was the place where Notburga wished to be buried; but the oxen, with a quick movement, went into the chapel and re-appeared, a few minutes later, with the empty wagon. Henry and the others went into the chapel, where, to their astonishment, they found the coffin before the altar, placed there without the aid of human hands. No one could understand how the animals could have turned the wagon in the narrow chapel and draw it out again; and all acknowledged that the hand of God had wrought this miracle in order to glorify His faithful servant among men. As there could now be no doubt as to the resting-place of the holy body, a tomb was prepared in the chapel, in which the remains of the Saint were laid with due reverence. The chapel was afterwards enlarged, and Saint Notburga was placed among the guardian Saints of the country.

Saint Notburga is represented with a sickle in her hand, for the following reason. When, as related above, she hired herself to a farmer, she made the condition that, on all vigils, she might stop her work when the bells of the church rang, to prepare herself, by prayer and other devout exercises, for the next day’s feast. T he farmer had consented to this; but when, one Saturday, after the bells had rung, some corn remained to be cut, he would not allow Notburga to leave the field, saying that she should first finish her work, and that it would not be displeasing to God, if in such a trifle she departed from her usual custom. She answered: “You may think so, but I think differently. Heaven shall decide who is right. I will hang my sickle in the air. If it falls down, it shall be a sign that you are right; but if it does not fall, we will believe that 1 am right.” The farmer acceded to this. Notburga hung her sickle in the air, where it remained suspended, to the great astonishment of all present, who henceforth esteemed still more highly the pious hand-maid of the Lord. As well this, as the other event, related above, was seen by many, and after having been severely tested, was found to be true. In regard to the latter miracle, it is proper to add that Notburga had made the condition above stated, by special inspiration from God; otherwise her act might seem to have been a presumptuous tempting of the Almighty.

Practical Considerations

• All domestics may learn from the life of Saint Notburga, how they must conduct themselves if they wish to live piously in their station, and gain salvation. Before all things they ought to be satisfied with the station in which it has pleased God to place them. Early in the morning, daily, they should piously say a prayer, if only a short one, and offer to God everything they will do, and all that will happen to them during the day, begging the Almighty to guard them from all sin. They should be faithful in their work, as well as in the management of that which has been entrusted to them. Without the permission of their masters, they ought not to take anything for themselves or for others, no matter how much they may suffer from their fellow-servants. If, during the day, they have time left from their work, they should employ it profitably in praying or reading devout books. They should also sometimes, while at work, for instance when the clock strikes, raise their thoughts to God, renew their good intentions, and pray God to bless them. To the poor, they ought not only to be kind in their heart, but also in deeds, though never without their master’s permission. They should also mortify themselves voluntarily in eating and drinking. Sundays and holidays they ought to spend piously; and not only abstain from all unnecessary work on these days, but also exercise themselves in good works. There is no law which obliges us to abstain from work on the eves of great festivals, as Saint Notburga did, to prepare for the following day. We may without transgressing the laws of the church, work until 12 o’clock at night, for at that hour begins the next day, which lasts until 12 o’clock the next night. If, during these twenty-four hours – the entire holy-day – we should, without necessity, perform menial labor for any length of time, whether during the day or night, before or after mass, we commit great sin. Masters do not less wrong if they permit such work, and they become still more guilty if they command it. I have already spoken of this elsewhere, and have advised servants how to act on such occasions. No servant ought to let himself be persuaded that it is allowed to work as he pleases on Sundays or holy-days. This doctrine emanates from the spirits of hell, and from the enemies of the Church; not from the Almighty.

• Besides other striking characteristics of Saint Notburga, it is well deserving of remark that she never desired to go to places where persons passed the time in dancing and other dangerous amusements. This time she employed much more usefully in praying and devout reading. A servant, who perhaps neglecting a sermon, or other devotional exercises, spends the time on Sundays and holy-days in walking, especially with those of the other sex, or delights to go to dancing parties, and other questionable places of amusement, puts himself in much greater danger than he is perhaps aware of. They who desire to live piously and to save their souls, should guard themselves against it. One does not return more pious from such amusements. Many, on such occasions, have lost their piety and innocence, have come to grief and shame, have made themselves hateful to God and men, and have forfeited their temporal and eternal happiness. I have not found, in the lives of the Saints, that youths and maidens, who loved chastity, or that pious Christians in general were frequenters of balls, especially in public houses or other suspicious places. But that they carefully avoided such places, I have read very often. I have also observed that they did not even look at frivolous dancing out of curiosity, fearing that the sight of it would awaken sinful thoughts and desires in them: as unhappily experience shows that such curiosity has led many to great vices against purity. “Dancing,” says Saint Francis of Sales, “draws many to great sin.” The same may truly be said of looking at it. If, therefore, we seek danger, and wantonly expose ourselves to it, is it a wonder that we fall? If you value your salvation, avoid such clangers, especially on Sundays and holy-days. By dancing, or looking at it, we surely do not keep those days as it is commanded to Christians. Saint Charles Borromeo, who was not less zealous for the honor of God than for the salvation of those under his charge, left these memorable words: “To pass the holy-days, which are instituted to meditate upon the mysteries of God and the benefits He bestows on mankind, in drinking, gaming, and dancing, which tempt to sensuality and give the devil great delight, is a vice, a horrible infamy.” Understand it well. To dance, especially on Sundays and holy-days, is to prepare a pleasure for the Devil; it tempts man to gross sensuality; it is a vice, a horrible infamy. When we observe how improperly dancing is practiced in the public houses, I may well ask: Is Saint Charles right, or is he wrong in what he says about dancing?

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Notburga, Virgin”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 6 May 2018. Web. 20 February 2019. <>