Skip to main content

Feast day: 2 May

St Wiborada was born sometime in the ninth century, to a wealthy noble Swabian family in what is now the Canton of Aargau, Switzerland. She nursed the sick and poor that her family invited into the house. Her brother Hatto was inspired by a pilgrimage to Rome and became a monk at the abbey of St Gall, a decision which Wiborada supported. After their parents died Wiborada joined her brother at St Gall, as a Benedictine nun. Hatto taught her Latin so that she could chant the Liturgy of the Hours. She made Hatto’s clothes and helped to bind many of the books in the monastery library.

It seems that she was accused of some wrong-doing and had to undergo the medieval ordeal by fire, possibly having to walk over hot coals. She was exonerated but the experience left its mark and she decided to become an anchoress. The bishop of Konstantz arranged for her to stay in a cell next to the church of St George, near the monastery. She remained there for four years and then moved to a cell adjoining the church of Magnus of Fussen.

She became famous for her austerity and for her gift of prophecy. She attracted a following including students, one of whom - Ulrich of St Gall - visited her often. She predicted his becoming bishop of Ausberg. She cured a young woman called Rachildis who joined her as an anchoress.

In 925 she foresaw the Hungarian invasion of her region. Her warning gave the priests and religious of St Gall and St Magnus to hide the books and wine and escape into the caves. The most precious manuscripts were transferred to the monastery of Reichenau Island. Wiborada’s abbot urged her to flee as well but she refused. In 926 the Magyars reached St Gall. They burnt down the church of St Magnus and broke into the roof ofWiborada’s cell. They split her skull with an axe as she knelt in prayer.

Wiborada was the first woman to be formally canonized. This happened in 1047. In Switzerland she is the patron saint of libraries and librarians. The information we have about her life come from two biographies; one was written by Hartmann, a monk of St Gall between 993 and 1047, and the other between 1072 and 1076 by another monk of the Abbey of St Gall called Herimannus. The famous library at St Gall houses many precious Irish manuscripts.

St Wiborada, pray for us.