Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Virgil, Bishop of Saltzburg

statue of Saint Virgilius of Salzburg, Salzburg Cathedral, Salzburg, Austria; photographed by Karin Rager, 6 June 2005; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

The Roman Martyrology also commemorates today Saint Virgil, Bishop of Saltzburg, who was born in Ireland, of illustrious parents. He made so much progress in learning, by his unwearied industry, that he was accounted one of the best scholars of his time. Going to France, he was most graciously received by King Pepin, who kept him at Court for some time, and showed him great favor; but afterwards sent him to the Duke of Bavaria, who intended to honor him with the bishopric of Saltzburg, in order to keep so wise and holy a man in his dominions. But Virgil, not less humble than learned, opposed the design of the duke with the greatest energy, until he was compelled by the prelates of the Church and the people to consent. No sooner, however, had he taken possession of the Episcopal chair than all his thoughts and cares were directed towards showing his flock, by his example, the way that leads to heaven. Hence he preached almost daily to them, and admonished them with a father’s love and solicitude, to conduct themselves according to the precepts of the Gospel; but, at the same time, endeavored to do himself all that he demanded of those whom he exhorted.

To further the honor of God and of the Saints, he built a magnificent church in memory of Saint Rupert, the first apostle of Bavaria, and placed in it the relics of that Saint. The Duke of Carinthia, having heard of the apostolic zeal of our holy bishop, sent an embassy to request him most earnestly to come into his State, not only to convert the heathens, but also to animate the faithful to constancy and true devotion. Virgil first sent him some priests and deacons, and shortly after went to Carinthia himself, and did all that could be expected of a true apostle, so that he won the glorious name of Apostle of Carinthia. Having labored incessantly for twenty years, he returned to Saltzburg; and had no sooner arrived there than he became sick. Though his malady did not seem to be at all dangerous, yet he looked upon it as a messenger of death, and prepared himself most carefully for his last hour. He desired and received the holy sacraments with great devotion, and spent his last hours in the most fervent exercises of piety. His death took place in 785. At his shrine the blind recovered their sight, the deaf their hearing, and many sick persons were restored to their former health. A deacon, who doubted and despised the miracles that were wrought there, was immediately possessed by the Evil One, and long tormented, until going for refuge to the shrine of the Saint, he humbly prayed to be forgiven for his unbelief.

Practical Considerations

Saint Virgil showed his flock the road to heaven, both by precepts and by example. Parents, masters, magistrates, preachers, pastors and confessors, are obliged to show the way to heaven to their children, domestics, and all those over whom they are placed or who look to them for instruction. The same every Christian owes, in a certain manner, to his neighbor. If this be done in words only, it will have little or no effect. The example must give strength to the words. We must practise ourselves the good to which we exhort others, and avoid that from which we endeavor to restrain them. We must walk ourselves in that way to heaven which we point out to others. In this manner, we can do much more good than by continual admonitions; “for,” as Saint Leo says, “examples are much more powerful than precepts.” The lesson which we inculcate by good works goes deeper, and is of greater benefit, than that which we impart by words only. “Therefore,” says Saint Gregory, “I know of no better advice than that you endeavor to teach your brother by your example, the good you desire him to learn.” Among other good examples, by which Saint Virgil showed others the road to heaven, was that, in his sickness, he himself asked to receive the Sacraments of penance, the Holy Eucharist and Extreme Unction. Elsewhere I have already told you that, when you are sick, you should not delay to receive the first two of these Sacraments. I will here make only a few remarks about the third. Extreme Unction is a Sacrament which the Saviour instituted for the salvation, comfort and strength of the sick. Those who receive it worthily, obtain, besides other graces, pardon for those sins, which they have, unknowingly, still on their conscience. They receive also particular grace to bear their pains patiently; they are strengthened against the temptations of Satan; and they are even restored to health, should this be conducive to their salvation. Should God visit you with a severe sickness, do not neglect to ask for so salutary a Sacrament, and receive it with great devotion. There are persons who fear to receive it, because they imagine that, after it, they will surely die; hence they will not receive it so long as they are conscious. How senseless, how absurd is this idea! It is nothing but a deceit of the devil! Do we not daily see that people recover after receiving Extreme Unction? This holy Sacrament has not been instituted to cause us to die sooner, but, on the contrary, one of the ends for which it has been instituted is to restore man to health, if his salvation requires it. Some ignorant people again imagine, that if God restores their health after Extreme Unction, they are no longer allowed to dance, or to put their bare feet on the ground; and hence they defer the Sacrament to the very last moment. Although it would doubtless be very beneficial for those who recover after receiving Extreme Unction, if they were no longer allowed to dance, yet it is not more forbidden to them, for that reason, than it is to those who have not been anointed; while to touch the ground barefoot is not forbidden at all. Satan is the author of such thoughts, to prevent men from receiving this holy Sacrament; because he knows how beneficial its effects are. Lend not your ear to Satan, but hesitate not, in any dangerous sickness, to ask, not only for the holy Communion, but also for Extreme Unction; because when you receive it with devotion, while still in possession of all your mental faculties, you will derive much greater benefit from it. Should you have care of a sick person, see that he receive this Sacrament in time, and, if necessary, instruct him that one who is about to be anointed, must not, knowingly, have any mortal sin on his conscience, and that if he is burdened with any such sin, he must confess it, if he is still able to do so. On the observance of this instruction, depends more than many imagine; for, it may happen that a man, by not receiving the graces which Extreme Unction imparts, may go to eternal ruin, although the omission of Extreme Unction is in itself not a mortal sin. “Is any man sick among you? let him bring in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil, in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him.” (James 5)

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Virgil, Bishop of Saltzburg”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 31 May 2018. Web. 20 September 2018. <>