Catholic Encyclopedia – Oil of Saints


(Manna Oil of Saints) An oily substance, which is said to have flowed, or still flows, from the relics or burial places of certain saints; sometimes the oil in the lamps that burn before their shrines; also the water that flows from the wells near their burial places; or the oil and the water which have in some way come in contact with their relics. These oils are or have been used by the faithful, with the belief that they will cure bodily and spiritual ailments, not through any intrinsic power of their own, but through the intercession of the saints with whom the oils have some connection. In the days of the Saint Paulinus of Nola (died 431) the custom prevailed of pouring oil over the relics or reliquaries of martyrs and then gathering it in vases, sponges, or pieces of cloth. This oil, oleum martyris, was distributed among the faithful as a remedy against sickness. According to the testimony of Paulinus of Pétrigeux (written about 470) in Gaul this custom was extended also to the relics of saints that did not die as martyrs, especially to the relics of Saint Martin of Tours. In their accounts of miracles, wrought through the application of oils of saints, the early ecclesiastical writers do not always state just what kind of oils of saints is meant. Thus Saint Augustine mentions that a dead man was brought to life by the agency of the oil of Saint Stephen.

The oil of Saint Walburga

At present the most famous of the oils of saints is the Oil of Saint Walburga (Walburgis oleum). It flows from the stone slab and the surrounding metal plate on which rest the relics of Saint Walburga in her church in Eichstädt in Bavaria. The fluid is caught in a silver cup, placed beneath the slab for that purpose, and is distributed among the faithful in small vials by the Sisters of Saint Benedict, to whom the church belongs. A chemical analysis has shown that the fluid contains nothing but the ingredients of water. Though the origin of the fluid is probably due to natural causes, the fact that it came in contact with the relics of the saint justifies the practice of using it as a remedy against diseases of the body and the soul. Mention of the oil of Saint Walburga is made as early as the ninth century by her biographer Wolfhard of Herrieden.

The oil of Saint Menas

In 1905-8, thousands of little flasks with the inscription: EULOGIA TOU AGIOU MENA (Remembrance of Saint Menas), or the like were excavated by C.M. Kaufmann at Baumma (Karm Abum) in the desert of Mareotis, in the northern part of the Libyan desert. The present Bumma is the burial place of the Libyan martyr Menas, which during the fifth and perhaps the sixth century was one of the most famous pilgrimage places in the Christian world. The flasks of Saint Menas were well known for a long time to archeologists, and had been found not only in Africa, but also in Spain, Italy, Dalmatia, France, and Russia, whither they had been brought by pilgrims from the shrine of Menas. Until the discoveries of Kaufmann, however, the flasks were supposed to have contained oil from the lamps that burned at the sepulchre of Menas. From various inscriptions on the flasks that were excavated by Kaufmann, it is certain that at least some, if not all, of them contained water from a holy well near the shrine of Saint Menas, and were given as remembrances to the pilgrims. The so-called oil of Saint Menas was therefore in reality, water from his holy well, which was used as a remedy against bodily and spiritual ailments.

The oil of Saint Nicholas of Myra

This is the fluid which emanates from his relics at Bari in Italy, whither they were brought in 1087. It is said to have also flowed from his relics when they were still in Myra.

Other saints

Saint Gregory of Tours testifies that a certain substance like flour emanated from the sepulchre of John the Evangelist. The same Gregory writes that from the sepulchre of the Apostle Saint Andrew at Patræ emanated manna in the form of flour and fragrant oil.

Following is a list of other saints from whose relics or sepulchres oil is said to have flowed at certain times:

  • Saint Antipas, Bishop of Pergamum, martyred under Emperor Domitian
  • Saint Babolenus, Abbot of St-Maur-des-Fossés near Paris, died in the seventh century
  • Saint Candida the Younger of Naples, died 586
  • Saint Demetrius of Thessalonica, martyred in 306 or 290
  • Saint Eligius, Bishop of Noyon, died 660 or soon after
  • Saint Euthymius the Great, abbot in Palestine, died 473
  • Saint Fantinus, confessor, at Tauriano in Calabria, died under Constantine the Great
  • Saint Felix of Nola, priest, died about 260
  • Saint Franca, Cistercian abbess, died 1218
  • Saint Glyceria, martyred during the reign of Antoninus Pius
  • Blessed Gundecar, Bishop of Eichstädt, died 1075
  • Saint Humilitas, first abbess of the Vallombrosian Nuns, died 1310
  • Saint John the Almsgiver, Patriarch of Alexandria, died 620 or 616
  • Saint John on Beverley, Bishop of York, died 721
  • Saint Luke the Younger, surnamed Thaumaturgos, a hermit in Greece, died 945-6
  • Saint Paphnutius, bishop and martyr in Greece, died probably in the fourth century
  • Saint Paul, Bishop of Verdun, died 648
  • Saint Perpetuus, Bishop of Tongres-Utrecht, died 630
  • Saint Peter González, Dominican, died 1246
  • Saint Peter Thaumaturgus, Bishop of Argos, died about 890
  • Saint Rolendis, virgin, at Gerpinnes in Belgium, died in the seventh or eighth century
  • Saint Reverianus, Bishop of Autun, and Companions, martyred about 273
  • Saint Sabinus, Bishop of Canosa, died about 566
  • Saint Sigolena, Abbess of Troclar, died about 700
  • Saint Tillo Paulus, a Benedictine monk at Solignac in Gaul, died 703
  • Saint Venerius, hermit on the Island of Palamaria in the gulf of Genoa, died in the seventh century
  • Saint William, Archbishop of York, died 1154

and a few others.

MLA Citation

  • Michael Ott. “Oil of Saints”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. CatholicSaints.Info. 24 October 2014. Web. 20 October 2020. <>