Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Willibald, Bishop of Eichstadt


Saint Willibald of EichstaettSaint Willibald, first bishop of Eichstadt, was born in England, about the year 700. His father was the holy king, Saint Richard, and his mother, Bonna, or Wunna, a sister of Saint Boniface, the great Apostle of Germany; his brother, Saint Wunibald, Abbot of Heidenheim, and his sister, the celebrated holy Abbess Walburgis. When hardly three years old, Willibald became so dangerously ill that the physicians despaired of his recovery. His pious parents sought help in prayer, and promised to consecrate their beloved child entirely to the service of the Most High, if it should be restored to health. God heard the prayer, and the devout parents fulfilled their promise. Having reached his sixth year, he was given in charge of Egbald, Abbot of the monastery of Waltheim, under whose direction he was educated not only in virtue and piety, but also in the liberal arts and sciences. At twenty years of age, he conceived, after the custom of pious people at that period, a fervent desire to visit the Holy Land, and all those places sanctified by the foot-prints of our Saviour. His father, to whom he had disclosed this wish, resolved to make so devout a pilgrimage himself, and departed, accompanied by his two sons, Willibald and Wunibald, and several other youths. Hardly, however, had the pious pilgrims reached Lucca, when it pleased the Almighty to remove Saint Richard from this world, after a short illness. His two holy sons, although deeply grieved at their loss, continued their journey. Arriving at Rome they visited the tombs of the Apostles and other places consecrated to the memory of the many who had shed their blood for the faith of Christ, and thence, after a few months, Saint Willibald set out for the Holy Land, accompanied by seven of the young noblemen of England. During the voyage they lived a most holy life, as Willibald had divided the day in such a manner, that certain hours were given to prayer, others to singing devout canticles, and the rest to pious discourses. They lived on alms, and seldom took anything but water and bread, while the bare ground was their bed at night. The dangers and hardships they encountered upon this long journey cannot be related in few words; hence, we will give only one of the incidents that occurred to them.

When Saint Willibald and his companions had reached Emesa, a city of Phoenicia, where they visited the magnificent Church erected by Saint Helena in honor of Saint John, he was taken by the Saracens for a spy, and, with his companions, was imprisoned. God, however, touched the heart of a Christian merchant, who not only sent them necessary food, but also obtained permission for them to go, every three days, followed by a guard, into the church, to perform their devotions. Meanwhile, they knew not where to look for means to effect their liberation, as they could neither ransom themselves with money, nor yet make the Saracens believe that they had not come as spies, but as pilgrims. Hence they submitted to Providence, and were willing to live and die in chains for Christ’s sake. But God miraculously delivered them when they least expected it. A Spanish merchant, whom business had brought to the city, looked with interest and compassion at the prisoners going to church, and asked them what had brought them into so unfortunate a situation. Having been told, and being convinced of the truth of their words, he represented their innocence so forcibly to the authorities, that they were released without ransom. Their joy on being informed of it was inexpressible, and after giving fervent thanks to the Almighty, they left the city, and proceeded on their way, until they had reached the place of their destination. The devotion with which, on their arrival, they visited all the holy places, cannot be described, neither the heavenly comfort with which their souls were filled. All their sufferings were recompensed a thousandfold. God, however, desired to prove the virtue of his servant in the Holy Land. While assisting at Mass in the Church of Saint Matthew at Gaza, he suddenly lost his sight. This misfortune, which would have plunged others into the deepest misery, or perhaps have made them complain against Providence, the Saint bore with such patient submission to the will of the Almighty, that all his companions were filled with admiration. After two months, while he was performing his devotional exercises in the Church of the Holy Cross, God restored his sight, and the Saint offered humble thanks for the divine favor. Not long after, he became very sick, but bearing his pain with the same heroic patience with which he had borne his imprisonment and blindness, he was soon miraculously restored to health. Having satisfied his pious desires in the Holy Land, he began his journey homeward. Arriving in Italy, he went to the celebrated Benedictine Monastery of Mount Cassino, and desired to receive the habit. At the end of ten years, during which he had been a perfect model of virtue to the whole community, he was sent by the Abbot, with another monk, to Rome to transact some important business.

Gregory III at that time Pope, called him into his presence, and having asked him about his travels in the Holy Land, informed him that Saint Boniface, who labored in Franconia and the neighboring countries, requested him as an assistant in converting the heathens; and hence the holy father commanded Willibald to go to Germany and assist him in disseminating Christianity. Willibald obeyed and was soon on his way. In Bavaria, he visited Uttilo, the reigning duke, who had founded the See of Frisingen: he met there, also, Suitger, one of the richest nobles of the land, who had offered Saint Boniface to found, out of his own means, an episcopal See at Eichstadt. This pious man accompanied Willibald to Saint Boniface, who was not less rejoiced at Willibald’s arrival than at the liberality of Suitger. He immediately sent Saint Willibald to inspect the place where they intended the new bishop’s seat should be erected, and in case he should find everything suitable for it, to begin the necessary preparations for it without delay. Saint Willibald found both place and neighborhood convenient, and the commencement was made for founding the new See.

Soon after, Saint Boniface came to Frisingen, and thence to Eichstadt, where he raised Saint Willibald to the priesthood, charging him not only to convert the people to Christianity, but also to lead them in the path of virtue. In the following year he called him to Thuringia to be assisted by him in his apostolic labors. After the holy priest had thus given sufficient proofs of his zeal, Saint Boniface consecrated him bishop, and installed him in the newly founded See of Eichstadt. During thirty-six years he discharged his high functions, never abating in his fervor to further the honor and glory of God, by converting the heathens and by exhorting the faithful to follow virtue and holiness. It may truly be said of him that he became all to all in order to win souls to Christ Several times God visited him with painful maladies, all which he bore with edifying resignation, until, at length, it pleased the Lord to call him, in his 81st year, to receive his eternal reward. The Almighty honored him with many miracles, both before and after his death.

Practical Considerations

1. Pilgrimages to places specially dedicated to the Almighty, or to churches and chapels dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, or to some Saint, are not of recent origin, but are a very ancient and praiseworthy custom. It is unreasonable to blame or despise them on account of the abuses that sometimes occur. God himself commanded pilgrimages in the old Testament, and though they are not commanded in the New, experience tells us that they are agreeable to the Lord and beneficial to men. The great graces bestowed on many persons at the places of pilgrimage are an undeniable proof of this. The question why God bestows more favors at such places than at others, Saint Augustine has long since answered when he said: “God is everywhere, and He who has created all things, cannot be confined to one place. But who can fathom the divine decree, why at some places miracles are wrought and not at others? As according to the testimony of the Apostle, all the Saints did not possess the gift to heal the sick, or to discern spirits, thus has He, who has given to each one according to His divine will, not desired that such things should happen at all places.” We know that in the Old Testament, God showed Himself more gracious at some places than at others, as for instance, at Jerusalem, at the Ark of the Covenant. Why then should it surprise us if He does the same in the New Testament? It is only to be regretted that not many are worthy of these graces, because their pilgrimage is not what it should be. They are either not actuated by piety in undertaking it, or they conduct themselves in going or coming, or even at the place of pilgrimage, in a manner not pleasing to God. If you will make a pilgrimage beneficial to your soul, make it after the example of Saint Willibald. Undertake it with holy intentions, and avoid on the road and at the place itself, all that may displease God, and prevent you from deriving the desired benefit.

2. God permitted Saint Willibald to be unjustly imprisoned. He also visited him with blindness and painful diseases. Sickness and adversity are not always a punishment for sin committed: heaven sends them also to the pious and innocent. If you suffer innocently, follow the example of Saint Willibald. He did not omit his prayers and other devout exercises during his sickness and blindness, neither did he lose his patience nor his trust in the Almighty. Therefore God released him most miraculously out of his prison, restored his sight, and recompensed him richly for the pious resignation with which he had suffered. The same great, mighty and extremely kind God is still able to free you from your sufferings and afflictions, whatever they may be. If He does not release you, He will richly reward you in heaven, for all you have patiently suffered on earth. Put your trust in Him, and call on Him for grace and assistance. Continue your prayers and other devotions. Do not say: “God will not hear me; He has forgotten me; He burdens me too heavily; He makes my suffering too long.” Take well to heart the words of the pious Judith: “This is not a word that may draw down mercy, but that may rather stir up wrath.” (Judith 13) That you may, however, refrain more surely from such blasphemy, think of your past life. Have you never sinned against your God? What does your conscience say? If it, as I fear, tells you that this has been done often, dare not complain or murmur on account of your suffering: for, all is nothing in comparison with what you deserve. God, whom you have offended, might have taken you away in your sin, and precipitated you into hell. Is your suffering anything compared with hell, which you have deserved? Oh! suffer patiently and be silent; or if you speak, praise the Lord and give thanks to Him, for thus punishing you in mercy. Confess to heaven and earth that you have deserved much more. The innocent Job said: “I have sinned, and indeed I have offended, and I have not received what I have deserved” (Job 33). Oh, how much more reason have you to speak so, than Job. Remember it and suffer patiently.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Willibald, Bishop of Eichstadt”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 13 March 2018. Web. 18 March 2018. <>