Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Kilian and His Companions, Martyrs

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detail of a statue of Saint Kilian; 1890 by Josef Metzger; facade of Knights Chapel, Haßfurt, Lower Franconia, Germany; photographed on 30 August 2012 by Wolfgang Sauber; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsSaint Kilian, the glorious apostle of Franconia, was born in Scotland, the son of noble but not less pious parents. The Almighty, who had destined him to convert many thousand souls, bestowed on him the grace to lead, from early youth, a blameless life, and to make, when more advanced in years, such progress in virtue and divine science, that he was greatly beloved and venerated, as well by the clergy as by the laity. He had deep compassion for those who were yet blinded by idolatry, and felt within himself an irresistible impulse to labor for the salvation of their souls One day, when he was musing on the words of Christ: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me,” he made the resolution to devote himself to the salvation of souls. After he had been ordained priest, he persuaded some intimate friends to accompany him into the heathen countries and illuminate their darkness with the light of Christian faith. They were willing to depart with him, and Kilian left his home and property, crossed the sea, wandered through several provinces, and at length arrived at Wurtzburg, in Franconia. The inhabitants of that city, and indeed of the whole province, worshiped, before all other gods, the goddess Diana. The holy man, pitying their ignorance, went with his companions to Rome, to obtain the Pope’s permission to preach the Gospel in that region, as well as in the neighboring states. The Pope gladly assented, consecrated Kilian bishop, invested him with the power to preach the Gospel to the heathens, and gave him many wholesome instructions for beginning and continuing his holy work. The newly consecrated bishop returned, immediately after receiving the Holy Father’s .blessing, and arrived at Wurtzburg, accompanied by Colman, a priest, and Totman, a deacon, the same who had left Scotland with him. Assisted by these, he began his apostolic labors. He preached the word of Christ and opposed idolatry with so much zeal that, in a few days, many showed themselves ready to embrace the Christian faith. The many miracles which the holy bishop wrought, in testimony of the truth of his words, caused the heathens to recognize their error, and humbly request of him to baptize them. When Gosbert, at that period Duke of Franconia and an intelligent man, heard of this, he called the Saint into his presence and desired to hear the new faith explained by him. The holy bishop, accepting the invitation, spoke with such wisdom and eloquence, that the duke, after some more conversations with him, was convinced of the truth of his words, and promised to receive holy baptism publicly on the coming Easter festival. He kept his promise, and Kilian received him and a great many of the nobility, on the appointed day, into the bosom of the Christian Church, to the great joy of his heart. The example of the duke was soon imitated by thousands of his subjects, and Kilian entertained the hope soon to see the whole province come under the sweet yoke of the Saviour.

The duke grew daily in piety and virtue, and endeavored to be an example to his subjects. There was, however, one dark spot in his life that overshadowed all his goodness. Geila, or, as others write, Geilana, his brother’s wife, lived with him. When Saint Kilian heard of this, he begged God’s aid in prayer, and then went to the duke and told him that, according to the laws of the Church, his conduct was very sinful, and exhorted him to dismiss Geila. Gosbert, who deemed it impossible to part with Geila, was at first greatly troubled, but promised the Saint that he would consider his words, and think of the best way to send Geila from his Court, after the war was ended, to which he was just making preparations to go. Geila was informed of this, and, almost beside herself with rage, sought to revenge herself on the Saint, and determined to despatch him, before the return of the duke. Hiring two assassins, she promised them a large sum of money, if they would murder the bishop and his companions. The night on which this crime was to be committed had come, and Saint Kilian, having said his prayers, had just lain down to rest, when an angel appeared to him, ‘saying: “Rise, Kilian, thy work is done: only one contest more, and thou shalt gloriously reign with me.” The Saint immediately arose, and awakening his companions, he exhorted them to be faithful; after which they prayed together, thus preparing themselves for the approaching struggle. While they were still on their knees, the assassins rushed into the room, but Kilian, going towards them, said: “Friends, what purpose brought you hither? You may execute the command of the duchess: we are ready to end our lives.” Without uttering a word, the hirelings drew their swords and murdered Saint Kilian and his two holy companions on the spot. Then, making a deep hole, they cast into it the holy relics, the vessels of the church, the books and everything they found belonging to the holy martyrs. This the wicked Geila had ordered them to do, in order that the criminal deed should never be revealed. The just God, however, soon made it known all over the land, by means of those who had endeavored to hide it. One of the assassins became possessed of the devil, and ran raving and howling through the streets, crying in fearful tones: “Oh! Kilian, how thou dost persecute me! I see the sword, stained with thy blood, above my head.” Having repeated these words many times, he at last tore his limbs with his own teeth, and thus died a horrible death. The other murderer also became raving, and in despair killed himself with his own dagger. The godless Geila, the author of so wicked and cruel a deed, ended her life in the same manner. She also became possessed of the Evil One, and was terribly tormented. She herself – so was it ordained by God – had to confess her wickedness publicly; for she was heard crying:

“It is just and right that I am tortured, for I have caused the holy men to be tortured. You persecute me too much, O Kilian! Colman, you are lighting the fire, and you, Totman, increase it! Your vengeance is too great” After having thus raved for a long time, she expired with dreadful suffering. According to the testimony of Baronius, Saint Kilian and his companions received the crown of martyrdom in the year 689. The Almighty revealed to the world, in the course of time, the holy relics of these faithful servants, and glorified them by many miracles. Baronius also ascribes to the powerful intercession of these holy martyrs the fact that the true Faith has remained in the province of Franconia, and that heresy, which, long after their glorious death, came to plant its seeds, was happily destroyed there, while other states of Germany lost the Faith almost entirely, to the irreparable damage of their inhabitants.

Practical Considerations

1. Saint Kilian reproved the duke for his unlawful conduct, and endeavored to reform him, although he had to fear his wrath and the rage of a wicked woman. You have not to fear anything like this, and yet you are silent when you might prevent many wrongs by kind expostulations or by proper punishment. For example, you are silent or laugh when another makes unchaste remarks in your presence or slanders his neighbor, or curses. You might prevent him, but you neglect it. Is this a sign that true love to God fills your heart? “Christ is crucified before our very eyes,” cries Saint Thomas of Villanova, “and we are silent.” Where is our love to God? If some one speaks disparagingly of your friends in your presence, you are not silent, and why? Because you love them. How then can I believe that you have one spark of love for God, if you listen in silence when He is offended, and do not endeavor to prevent it? Endeavor to do this in future, and try to prevent others from offending the Almighty. As far as those under you are concerned, as for instance, your children and domestics, you are under still greater obligations not to neglect it. It is quite certain that parents and all those who possess authority over others may commit great sin, and even make themselves guilty of everlasting condemnation, if they silently pass over the faults of those under them, or do not punish them properly. They make themselves guilty of all those iniquities which those in their charge commit on account of their silence, or which they commit more freely on account of not being reproved. The punishment which parents have to expect from God for this we may learn from what happened to Heli, because he was too indulgent to his children, and did not duly punish their faults, as Holy Writ testifies. (1st Kings 2).

2. Almighty God punished in this world the murderers of Saint Kilian, and the unchaste woman who instigated them to the criminal deed. And yet they had only deprived him of his bodily, his temporal life. How terrible will be the punishment that awaits those who have deprived their neighbor of his spiritual, his eternal life; who have been the murderers of his soul? And who are these? All those who advise their neighbors to do wrong, or who incite them to it, either by words or bad example. Christ Himself calls the devil a murderer from the beginning, because he incited Eve to sin; and Saint Augustine adds: “Do not suppose that you are no murderer, when you lead your neighbor to commit sin. You murder him by doing so,” as Satan deprived Eve of her spiritual life, and hence became a murderer. “You have been guilty of as many murders as you have given occasion to sin,” says Saint Gregory. You deprive him also of eternal life, if he dies in his iniquities and is damned. What can you expect of divine justice? Certainly not heaven, if you do not repent. A murderer is already sentenced: “No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him” (John 3); “The murderers and the unclean shall receive their reward in the pit filled with fire and burning brimstone.” (Acts 21) These words, addressed to those who murder the body, indicate that no less punishment will await those that murder the soul; for, a murder committed on the soul of any one, by leading him into sin which will deprive him of eternal life, is infinitely more deserving of punishment, than a murder committed on the body. If a temporal murder is a sin that cries to heaven and deserves hell, what sentence ought to be spoken against a spiritual murder? Saint Thomas of Villanova hesitated not to say, that if he were certain that he had caused the ruin of one single soul, he would depart this life with greater fear than if he had murdered the bodies of a hundred persons. Be careful that you do not die, and appear before the judgment-seat of the Most High, with cause for such fear and trembling.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Kilian and His Companions, Martyrs”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 14 March 2018. Web. 28 May 2018. <>