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Medieval Sourcebook:
Rudolf of Fulda:
Life of Leoba (c.836)


[Talbot Introduction]

The author of the following Life was Rudolf, a monk of Fulda and a pupil of Rhabanus Maurus, probably the most learned man of his age We do not know the exact year of his birth, but by 821 he was a sub deacon. After his ordination to the priesthood he was placed in charge of the school at Fulda in succession to Rhabanus and carried on the traditions for which the school had become so famous. One of his pupils, Ermenric, Abbot of Elwangen, tells us, in the preface to a work which he dedicated to Rudolf, that his scholarship was of a high order and that he was no less talented than Rhabanus. Louis, King of Germany, impressed by his attainments, took him from Fulda to become his chaplain, preacher and confessor, and in recognition of his services gave him certain revenues which Rudolf left after his death for the benefit of his school.

The Life of Leoba, Abbess of Bischofsheim in the diocese of Mainz, was composed by him on the orders of Rhabanus Maurus, and was probably finished by the year 836. He tells us that Mago, one of the priests from whom he had obtained some of his details, had been dead five years; and as Mago is recorded as having died in 831, this enables us to fix the date of the composition fairly accurately. It was certainly written before 837, for in that year was made the translation of the relics of Leoba, a fact which Rudolf passes over in silence. As Leoba died in 779, Rudolf could not write from first­hand knowledge, and therefore he gives us the sources of his information, the memoirs of four nuns of Bischofsheim and the written notes of Mago, the monk of Fulda.

In his life of Rhabanus Maurus, who died in 856, Rudolf recalls this biography of Leoba.

Sources: The Life of St. Leoba was first published by Surius, De Probatis Sanctorum Historits (Cologne, 1574), vol. v, pp. 396-406. The best edition, upon which this translation is based, is found in Monutnenta Gerrnaniae Historica, Scriptores, ed. Waitz (Hanover, 1887), vol. xv, I, pp. 127-31. There has been no previous complete translation into English of this biography, though Serenus Cressy (Church History of Brittany, bk. xxiv, 4) translated much of it.


THE LIFE OF SAINT LEOBA
BY RUDOLF, MONK OF FULDA

THE SMALL book which I have written about the life and virtues of the holy and revered virgin Leoba has been dedicated to you, O Hadamout, virgin of Christ, in order that you may have something to read with pleasure and imitate with profit. Thus by the help of Christ's grace you may eventually enjoy the blissful reward of him whose spouse you now are. Most earnestly do I beg you and all the nuns who unceasingly invoke the name of the Lord to pray for me, so that I, Rudolf, a monk of Fulda and a wretched sinner, in spite of my unworthiness to share the fellowship of the elect of God, may through the merits of those who are pleasing to Him receive pardon of my sins and escape the penalties due to them.

PROLOGUE

Before I begin to write the life of the blessed and venerable virgin Leoba, I invoke her spouse, Christ, our Lord and Saviour, who gave her the courage to overcome the powers of evil, to inspire me with eloquence sufficient to describe her outstanding merits. I have been unable to discover all the facts of her life. I shall therefore recount the few that I have learned from the writings of others, venerable men who heard them from four of her disciples, Agatha, Thecla, Nana and Eoloba. Each one copied them down according to his ability and left them as a memorial to posterity.

One of these, a holy priest and monk named Mago, who died about five years ago, was on friendly terms with these women and during his frequent visits to them used to speak with them about things profitable to the soul. In this way he was able to learn a great deal about her life. He was careful to make short notes of everything he heard, but, unfortunately, what he left was almost unintelligible, because, whilst he was trying to be brief and succinct, he expressed things in such a way as to leave the facts open to misunderstanding and provide no basis for certainty This happened, in my opinion, because in his eagerness to take down every detail before it escaped his memory he wrote the facts down in a kind of shorthand and hoped that during his leisure he could put them in order and make the book more easy for readers to understand. The reason why he left everything in such disorder, jotted down on odd pieces of parchment, was that he. died quite suddenly and had no time to carry out his purpose.

Therefore it is not from presumption but in obedience to the command of my venerable father and master, Abbot Rhabanus that I have tried to collect together all the scattered notes and papers left by the men I have mentioned. The sequence of events which I have attempted to reconstruct for those who are interested in knowing them, is based on the information found in their notes and on the evidence I have gathered from others by word of mouth. For there are several religious men still living who can vouch for the facts mentioned in the documents, since they heard them from their predecessors, and who can add some others worthy of remembrance. These latter appeared to me suitable for inclusion in the book and therefore I have combined them with material from the written notes. You will see, then, that I have not only reorganized and completed the work set on foot by others but have written something on my own account. For it seems to me that there should be no doubt in the minds of the faithful about the veracity of the statements made in this book, since they are shown to be true both by the blameless character of those who relate them and by the miracles which are frequently performed at the shrine of the saint.

But before I begin the narration of her remarkable life and virtues, it may not be out of place if I mention a few of the many things I have heard about her spiritual mistress and mother, who first introduced her to the spiritual life and fostered in her a desire for heaven. In this way the reader who is made aware of the qualities of this great woman may give credence to the achievements of the disciple more easily the more dearly he sees that she learned the elements of the spiritual life from so noble a mistress.

In the island of Britain, which is inhabited by the English nation, there is a place called Wimbourne, an ancient name which may be translated "Winestream ". It received this name from the clearness and sweetness of the water there, which was better than any other in that land. In olden times the kings of that nation had built two monasteries in the place, one for men, the other for women, both surrounded by strong and lofty walls and provided with all the necessities that prudence could devise. From the beginning of the foundation the rule firmly laid down for both was that no entrance should be allowed to a person of the other sex. No woman was permitted to go into the men's community, nor was any man allowed into the women's, except in the case of priests who had to celebrate Mass in their churches; even so, immediately after the function was ended the priest had to withdraw. Any woman who wished to renounce the world and enter the cloister did so on the understanding that she would never leave it. She could only come out if there was a reasonable cause and some great advantage accrued to the monastery. Furthermore, when it was necessary to conduct the business of the monastery and to send for something outside, the superior of the community spoke through a window and only from there did she make decisions and arrange what was needed.

It was over this monastery, in succession to several other abbesses and spiritual mistresses, that a holy virgin named Tetta was placed in authority, a woman of noble family (for she was a sister of the king), but more noble in her conduct and good qualities. Over both the monasteries she ruled with consummate prudence and discretion. She gave instruction by deed rather than by words, and whenever she said that a certain course of action was harmful to the salvation of souls she showed by her own conduct that it was to be shunned. She maintained discipline with such circumspection (and the discipline there was much stricter than anywhere else) that she would never allow her nuns to approach clerics. She was so anxious that the nuns, in whose company she always remained, should be cut off from the company of men that she denied entrance into the community not merely to laymen and clerics but even to bishops. There are many instances of the virtues of this woman which the virgin Leoba, her disciple, used to recall with pleasure when she told her reminiscences. Of these I will mention but two examples, so that from these the rest may be conjectured.

In that convent there was a certain nun who, because of her zeal for discipline and strict observance, in which she surpassed the others, was often appointed prioress and frequently made one of the mistresses. But as she was too incautious and indiscreet in enforcing discipline over those under her care, she aroused their resentment, particularly among the younger members of the community. Though she could easily have mollified them and met their criticisms, she hardened her heart against taking such a course of action and went so far in her inflexibility that even at the end of her life she would not trouble to soften their hearts by asking their pardon. So in this stubborn frame of mind she died and was buried; and when the earth had been heaped over her, as the custom is, a tomb was raised over her grave. But this did not appease the feelings of the young nuns who hated her, and as soon as they saw the place where she was buried they reviled her cruelty and even climbed on to her tomb, as if to stamp upon her corpse, uttering bitter curses over her dead body to assuage their outraged feelings. Now when this came to the ears of the venerable abbess of the community she reprehended the young nuns for their presumption and vigorously corrected them. She went to the grave and noticed that in some extraordinary way the earth which had been heaped over the corpse had subsided and lay about six inches below the surface of the surrounding ground. This sight struck her with great fear. She understood from the subsidence of the ground how the dead woman had been punished, and judged the severity of God's sentence upon her from the sinking of the grave. She therefore called all the sisters together and began to reproach them for their cruelty and hardness of heart. She upbraided them for failing to forgive the wrongs they had suffered and for harbouring ill feelings on account of the momentary bitterness caused by harsh discipline. She told them that one of the fundamental principles of Christian perfection is to be peaceable with those who dislike peace, whereas they, far from loving their enemies as God had commanded, not only hated their sister whilst she was alive but even pursued her with their curses now that she was dead. She counselled them to lay aside their resentment, to accept the ill­treatment they had received and to show without delay their forgiveness: if they wished their own sins to be forgiven by God they should forgive others from the bottom of their hearts. She begged them to forget any wrongs infticted by the dead woman before her death and to join with her in prayer that God, in His mercy, would absolve her from her sins. When they had all agreed to follow her advice, she ordered them to fast for three days and to give themselves earnestly to watching, prayer and the recitation of psalms for the repose of her soul.

At the end of the fast on the third day she went with all the nuns into the church, singing litanies and invoking the Lord and His saints; and after she had prostrated herself before the altar she prayed for the soul of the deceased sister. And as she persevered in prayer, the hole in the grave, which previously had appeared to be empty, suddenly began to fill in and the ground rose, so that the moment she got up from her knees the grave became level with the surface of the ground. By this it was made clear that when the grave returned to its normal state the soul of the deceased sister, through the prayers of Tetta, had been absolved by divine power.

On another occasion it happened that when the sister who looked after the chapel went to close the door of the church before going to bed after Compline she lost all the keys in the darkness. There were very many of them belonging to various things locked away in the treasury of the church, some of silver, others of bronze or iron, all fastened together with a metal clasp. When she rose at the sound of the bell for Matins and could not find the keys for opening the doors of the church, she lit a candle and carefully searched all the places in which there was any hope of finding them; and as if one search was not enough, she went over the same ground again and again looking for them. When she had done this several times without success, she went to the abbess, who as usual had anticipated the hour for the night office and was deep in prayer, whilst the others were still at rest. Trembling with fear, the nun threw herself at the feet of the abbess and humbly confessed the negligence of which she was guilty. As soon as the abbess heard it she felt convinced that it was the work of the devil, and, calling the sisters together, she recited Matins and Lauds in another building. When this was ended, they all gave themselves to prayer. At once the wickedness of the old enemy was brought to light, for, whilst they were still at prayer, a little dead fox was suddenly seen at the doors of the chapel holding the keys in his mouth, so that what had been given up as lost was found. Then the venerable mother took the keys and ordered the doors to be opened; and going into the church accompanied by the nuns, who at that time were about fifty in number, she gave thanks to God in hymns and praise for mercifully hearing His servants who had trusted in Him and for putting the wicked spirit to confusion. For he who had said " I will set my throne higher than God's stars " was transformed for his pride into a beast, and he who would not humbly submit to God was unmasked as a fox through the prayers of the nuns and made to look foolish.

Let these instances of the virtues of the venerable mother Tetta suffice. We will now pursue our purpose of describing the life of her spiritual daughter, Leoba the virgin.

*

As we have already said, her parents were English, of noble family and full of zeal for religion and the observance of God's commandments. Her father was called Dynno, her mother Aebba. But as they were barren, they remained together for a long time without children. After many years had passed and the onset of old age had deprived them of all hope of offspring, her mother had a dream in which she saw herself bearing in her bosom a church bell, which on being drawn out with her hand rang merrily. When she woke up she called her old nurse to her and told her what she had dreamt. The nurse said to her: " We shall yet see a daughter from your womb and it is your duty to consecrate her straightway to God. And as Anna offered Samuel to serve God all the days of his life in the temple, so you must offer her, when she has been taught the Scripture from her infancy, to serve Him in holy virginity as long as she shall live." Shortly after the woman had made this vow she conceived and bore a daughter, whom she called Thrutgeba, surnamed Leoba because she was beloved, for this is what Leoba means. And when the child had grown up her mother consecrated her and handed her over to Mother Tetta to be taught the sacred sciences. And because the nurse had foretold that she should have such happiness, she gave her her freedom.

The girl, therefore, grew up and was taught with such care by the abbess and all the nuns that she had no interests other than the monastery and the pursuit of sacred knowledge. She took no pleasure in aimless jests and wasted no time on girlish romances, but, fired by the love of Christ, fixed her mind always on reading or hearing the Word of God. Whatever she heard or read she committed to memory, and put all that she learned into practice. She exercised such moderation in her use of food and drink that she eschewed dainty dishes and the allurements of sumptuous fare, and was satisfied with whatever was placed before her. She prayed continually, knowing that in the Epistles the faithful are counselled to pray without ceasing. When she was not praying she worked with her hands at whatever was commanded her, for she had learned that he who will not work should not eat. However, she spent more time in reading and listening to Sacred Scripture than she gave to manual labour. She took great care not to forget what she had heard or read, observing the commandments of the Lord and putting into practice what she remembered of them. In this way she so arranged her conduct that she was loved by all the sisters. She learned from all and obeyed them all, and by imitating the good qualities of each one she modelled herself on the continence of one, the cheerfulness of another, copying here a sister's mildness, there a sister's patience. One she tried to equal in attention to prayer, another in devotion to reading. Above all, she was intent on practising charity, without which, as she knew, all other virtues are void.

When she had succeeded in fixing her attention on heavenly things by these and other practices in the pursuit of virtue she had a dream in which one night she saw a purple thread issuing from her mouth. It seemed to her that when she took hold of it with her hand and tried to draw it out there was no end to it; and as if it were coming from her very bowels, it extended little by little until it was of enormous length. When her hand was full of thread and it still issued from her mouth she rolled it round and round and made a ball of it. The labour of doing this was so tiresome that eventually, through sheer fatigue, she woke from her sleep and began to wonder what the meaning of the dream might be She understood quite clearly that there was some reason for the dream, and it seemed that there was some mystery hidden in it. Now there was in the same monastery an aged nun who was known to possess the spirit of prophecy, because other things that she had foretold had always been fulfilled. As Leoba was diffident about revealing the dream to her, she told it to one of her disciples just as it had occurred and asked her to go to the old nun and describe it to her as a personal experience and learn from her the meaning of it. When the sister had repeated the details of the dream as if it had happened to her, the nun, who could foresee the future, angrily replied: " This is indeed a true vision and presages that good will come. But why do you lie to me in saying that such things happened to you ? These matters are no concern of yours: they apply to the beloved chosen by God." In giving this name, she referred to the virgin Leoba. " These things," she went on, " were revealed to the person whose holiness and wisdom make her a worthy recipient, because by her teaching and good example she will confer benefits on many people. The thread which came from her bowels and issued from her mouth signifies the wise counsels that she will speak from the heart. The fact that it filled her hand means that she will carry out in her actions whatever she expresses in her words. Furthermore, the ball which she made by rolling it round and round signifies the mystery of the divine teaching, which is set in motion by the words and deeds of those who give instruction and which turns earthwards through active works and heavenwards through contemplation, at one time swinging downwards through compassion for one's neighbour, again swinging upwards through the love of God. By these signs God shows that your mistress will profit many by her words and example, and the effect of them will be felt in other lands afar off whither she will go." That this interpretation of the dream was true later events were to prove.

At the time when the blessed virgin Leoba was pursuing her quest for perfection in the monastery the holy martyr Boniface was being ordained by Gregory, Bishop of Rome and successor to Constantine, in the Apostolic See. His mission was to preach the Word of God to the people in Germany. When Boniface found that the people were ready to receive the faith and that, though the harvest was great, the labourers who worked with him were few, he sent messengers and letters to England, his native land, summoning from different ranks of the clergy many who were learned in the divine law and fitted both by their character and good works to preach the Word of God. With their assistance he zealously carried out the mission with which he was charged, and by sound doctrine and miracles converted a large part of Germany to the faith. As the days went by, multitudes of people were instructed in the mysteries of the faith and the Gospel was preached not only in the churches but also in the towns and villages. Thus the Catholics were strengthened in their belief by constant exhortation, the wicked submitted to corrrection, and the heathen, enlightened by the Gospel, flocked to receive the grace of Baptism. When the blessed man saw that the Church of God was increasing and that the desire of perfection was firmly rooted he established two means by which religious progress should be ensured. He began to build monasteries, so that the people would be attracted to the church not only by the beauty of its religion but also by the communities of monks and nuns. And as he wished the observance in both cases to be kept according to the Holy Rule, he endeavoured to obtain suitable superiors for both houses. For this purpose he sent his disciple Sturm, a man of noble family and sterling character, to Monte Cassino, so that he could study the regular discipline, the obsevance and the monastic customs which had been established there by St. Benedict. As the future superior, he wished him to become a novice and in this way learn in humble submission how to rule over others. Likewise, he sent messengers with letters to the abbess Tetta, of whom we have already spoken, asking her to send Leoba to accompany him on this journey and to take part in this embassy: for Leoba's reputation for learning and holiness had spread far and wide and her praise was on everyone's lips. The abbess Tetta was exceedingly displeased at her departure, but because she could not gainsay the dispositions of divine providence she agreed to his request and sent Leoba to the blessed man. Thus it was that the interpretation of the dream which she had previously received was fulfilled. When she came, the man of God received her with the deepest reverence, holding her in great affection, not so much because she was related to him on his mother's side as because he knew that by her holiness and wisdom she would confer many benefits by her word and example.

In furtherance of his aims he appointed persons in authority over the monasteries and estab]ished the observance of the Rule: he placed Sturm as abbot over the monks and Leoba as abbess over the nuns. He gave her the monastery at a place called Bischofsheim, where there was a large community of nuns. These were trained according to her principles in the discipline of monastic life and made such progress in her teaching that many of them afterwards became superiors of others, so that there was hardly a convent of nuns in that part which had not one of her disciples as abbess. She was a woman of great virtue and was so strongly attached to the way of life she had vowed that she never gave thought to her native country or her relatives. She expended all her energies on the work she had undertaken in order to appear blameless before God and to become a pattern of perfection to those who obeyed her in word and action. She was ever on her guard not to teach others what she did not carry out herself. In her conduct there was no arrogance or pride; she was no distinguisher of persons, but showed herself affable and kindly to all. In appearance she was angelic, in word pleasant, dear in mind, great in prudence, Catholic in faith, most patient in hope, universal in her charity. But though she was always cheerful, she never broke out into laughter through excessive hilarity. No one ever heard a bad word from her lips; the sun never went down upon her anger. In the matter of food and drink she always showed the utmost understanding for others but was most sparing in her own use of them. She had a small cup from which she used to drink and which, because of the meagre quantity it would hold, was called by the sisters " the Beloved's little one ". So great was her zeal for reading that she discontinued it only for prayer or for the refreshment of her body with food or sleep: the Scriptures were never out of her hands. For, since she had been trained from infancy in the rudiments of grammar and the study of the other liberal arts, she tried by constant reflection to attain a perfect knowledge of divine things so that through the combination of her reading with her quick intelligence, by natural gifts and hard work, she became extremely learned. She read with attention all the books of the Old and New Testaments and learned by heart all the commandments of God. To these she added by way of completion the writings of the church Fathers, the decrees of the Councils and the whole of ecclesiastical law. She observed great moderation irl all her acts and arrangements and always kept the practical end in view, so that she would never have to repent of her actions through having been guided by impulse. She was deeply aware of the necessity for concentration of mind in prayer and study, and for this reason took care not to go to excess either in watching or in other spiritual exercises. Throughout the summer both she and all the sisters under her rule went to rest after the midday meal, and she would never give permission to any of them to stay up late, for she said that lack of sleep dulled the mind, especially for study. When she lay down to rest, whether at night or in the afternoon, she used to have the Sacred Scriptures read out at her bedside, a duty which the younger nuns carried out in turn without grumbling. It seems difficult to believe, but even when she seemed to be asleep they could not skip over any word or syllable whilst they were reading without her immediately correcting them. Those on whom this duty fell used afterwards to confess that often when they saw her becoming drowsy they made a mistake on purpose to see if she noticed it, but they were never able to escape undetected. Yet it is not surprising that she could not be deceived even in her sleep, since He who keeps watch over Israel and neither slumbers nor sleeps possessed her heart, and she was able to say with the spouse in the Song of Songs: " I sleep, but my heart watcheth."

She presened the virtue of humility with such care that, though she had been appointed to govern others because of her holiness and wisdom, she believed in her heart that she was the least of all This she showed both in her speech and behaviour. She was extremely hospitable. She kept open house for all without exception, and even when she was fasting gave banquets and washed the feet of the guests with her own hands, at once the guardian and the minister of the practice instituted by our Lord.

Whilst the virgin of Christ was acting in this way and attracting to herself everyone's affection, the devil, who is the foe of all Christians, viewed with impatience her own great virtue and the progress made by her disciples. He therefore attacked them constantly with evil thoughts and temptations of the flesh, trying to turn some of them aside from the path they had chosen. But when he saw that all his efforts were brought to nought by their prayers, fasting and chaste lives, the wily tempter turned his attention to other means, hoping at least to destroy their good reputation, even if he could not break down their integrity by his foul suggestions.

There was a certain poor little crippled girl, who sat near the gate of the monastery begging alms. Every day she received her food from the abbess's table, her clothing from the nuns and all other necessities from them; these were given to her from divine charity. It happened that after some time, deceived by the suggestions of the devil, she committed fornication, and when her appearance made it impossible for her to conceal that she had conceived a child she covered up her guilt by pretending to be ill. When her time came, she wrapped the child in swaddling clothes and cast it at night into a pool by the river which flowed through that place. In this way she added crime to crime, for she not only followed fleshly sin by murder, but also combined murder with the poisoning of the water. When day dawned, another woman came to draw water and, seeing the corpse of the child, was struck with horror. Burning with womanly rage, she filled the whole village with her uncontrollable cries and reproached the holy nuns with these indignant words: " Oh, what a chaste community ! How admirable is the life of nuns, who beneath their veils give birth to children and exercise at one and the same time the function of mothers and priests, baptising those to whom they have given birth. For, fellow­citizens, you have drawn off this water to make a pool, not merely for the purpose of grinding corn, but unwittingly for a new and unheard of kind of Baptism. Now go and ask those women, whom you compliment by calling them virgins, to remove this corpse from the river and make it fit for us to use again. Look for the one who is missing from the monastery and then you will find out who is responsible for this crime." At these words all the crowd was set in uproar and everybody, of whatever age or sex, ran in one great mass to see what had happened. As soon as they saw the corpse they denounced the crime and reviled the nuns. When the abbess heard the uproar and learned what was afoot she called the nuns together, told them the reason, and discovered that no one was absent except Agatha, who a few days before had been summoned to her parents' house on urgent business: but she had gone with full permission. A messenger was sent to her without delay to recall her to the monastery, as Leoba could not endure the accusation of so great a crime to hang over them. When Agatha returned and heard of the deed that was charged against her she fell on her knees and gazed up to heaven, crying: " Almighty God, who knowest all things before they come to pass, from whom nothing is hid and who hast delivered Susanna from false accusations when she trusted in Thee, show Thy mercy to this community gathered together in Thy name and let it not be besmirched by filthy rumours on account of my sins; but do Thou deign to unmask and make known for the praise and glory of Thy name the person who has committed this misdeed."

On hearing this, the venerable superior, being assured of her innocence, ordered them all to go to the chapel and to stand with their arms extended in the form of a cross until each one of them had sung through the whole psalter, then three times each day, at Tierce, Sext and None, to go round the monastic buildings in procession with the crucifix at their head, calling upon God to free them, in His mercy, from this accusation. When they had done this and they were going into the church at None, having completed two rounds, the blessed Leoba went straight to the altar and, standing before the cross, which was being prepared for the third procession, stretched out her hands towards heaven, and with tears and groans prayed, saying: " O Lord Jesus Christ, King of virgins, Lover of chastity, unconquerable God, manifest Thy power and deliver us from this charge, because the reproaches of those who reproached Thee have fallen upon us." Immediately after she had said this, that wretched little woman, the dupe and the tool of the devil, seemed to be surrounded by flames, and, calling out the name of the abbess, confessed to the crime she had committed. Then a great shout rose to heaven: the vast crowd was astounded at the miracle, the nuns began to weep with joy, and all of them with one voice gave expression to the merits of Leoba and of Christ our Saviour.

So it came about that the reputation of the nuns, which the devil had tried to ruin by his sinister rumour, was greatly enhanced, and praise was showered on them in every place. But the wretched woman did not deserve to escape scot­free and for the rest of her life she remained in the power of the devil. Even before this God had performed many miracles through Leoba, but they had been kept secret. This one was her first in Germany and, because it was done in public, it came to the ears of everyone.

On another occasion, when she sat down as usual to give spiritual instruction to her disciples, a fire broke out in a part of the village. As the houses have roofs of wood and thatch, they were soon consumed by the flames, and the conflagration spread with increasing rapidity towards the monastery, so that it threatened to destroy not only the buildings but also the men and beasts. Then could be heard the mingled shouts of the terrified villagers as they ran in a mob to the abbess and begged her to avert the danger which threatened them. Unruffled and with great self-control, she calmed their fears and, without being influenced by their trust in her, ordered them to take a bucket and bring some water from the upper part of the stream that flowed by the monastery. As soon as they had brought it, she took some salt which had been blessed by St. Boniface and which she always kept by her, and sprinkled it in the water. Then she said: " Go and pour back this water into the river and then let all the people draw water lower down the stream and throw it on the fire." After they had done this the violence of the conflagration died down and the fire was extinguished just as if a flood had fallen from the skies. So the buildings were saved. At this miracle the whole crowd stood amazed and broke out into the praise of God, who through the faith and prayers of his handmaid had delivered them so extraordinarily from a terrible danger.

I think it should be counted amongst her virtues also that one day, when a wild storm arose and the whole sky was obscured by such dark clouds that day seemed turned into night, terrible lightning and falling thunderbolts struck terror into the stoutest hearts and everyone was shaking with fear. At first the people drove their flocks into the houses for shelter so that they should not perish; then, when the danger increased and threatened them all with death, they took refuge with their wives and children in the church, despairing of their lives. They locked all the doors and waited there trembling, thinking that the last judgment was at hand. In this state of panic they filled the air with the din of their mingled cries. Then the holy virgin went out to them and urged them all to have patience. She promised them that no harm would come to them; and after exhorting them to join with her in prayer, she fell prostrate at the foot of the altar. In the meantime the storm raged, the roofs of the houses were torn off by the violence of the wind, the ground shook with the repeated shocks of the thunderbolts, and the thick darkness, intensified by the incessant flicker of lightning which flashed through the windows, redoubled their terror. Then the mob, unable to endure the suspense any longer, rushed to the altar to rouse her from prayer and seek her protection. Thecla, her kinswoman, spoke to her first, saying: " Beloved, all the hopes of these people lie in you: you are their only support. Arise, then, and pray to the Mother of God, your mistress, for us, that by her intercession we may be delivered from this fearful storm." At these words Leoba rose up from prayer and as if she had been challenged to a contest, flung off the cloak which she was wearing and boldly opened the doors of the church. Standing on the threshold, she made a sign of the cross, opposing to the fury of the storm the name of the High God. Then she stretched out her hands towards heaven and three times invoked the mercy of Christ, praying that through the intercession of Holy Mary, the Virgin, He would quickly come to the help of His people. Suddenly God came to their aid. The sound of thunder died away, the winds changed direction and dispersed the heavy clouds, the darkness rolled back and the sun shone, bringing calm and peace. Thus did divine power make manifest the merits of His handmaid. Unexpected peace came to His people and fear was banished.

There was also another of her deeds which everyone agrees was outstanding and memorable, and which I think it would be wrong to pass over in silence. One of the sisters of the monastery named Williswind, of excellent character and edifying conduct, was attacked by a grave illness; she suffered from what the doctors call haemorrhoids, and through loss of blood from her privy parts was racked by severe pains of the bowel. As the ailment continued and increased from day to day in severity, her strength ebbed away until she could neither turn over on her side nor get out of bed and walk without leaning on someone else. When she was no longer able to remain in the common dormitory of the monastery because of the stench, her parents who lived close by asked and obtained permission for her to be taken on a litter to their house across the river Tuberaha. Not long afterwards, as the sickness gained hold, she rapidly drew near her end. As the lower part of her body had lost all sense of feeling and she was barely able to breathe, the abbess was asked by her parents not to come and visit the sick nun but to pray to God for her happy decease. When Leoba came, she approached the bed, now surrounded by a weeping throng of neighbours, and ordered the covering to be removed, for the patient was already enveloped in a linen cloth, as corpses usually are. When it was taken away she placed her hand on her breast and said: " Cease your weeping, for her soul is still in her." Then she sent to the monastery and ordered them to bring the little spoon which she usually used at table; and when it was brought to her she blessed milk and poured it drop by drop down the throat of the sick nun. At its touch, her throat and vitals recovered; she moved her tongue to speak and began to look round. Next day she had made such progress that she was able to take food, and before the end of the week she walked on her own feet to the monastery, whence she had previously been carried on a litter. She lived for several years afterwards and remained in the service of God until the days of Lewis, King of the Franks, always strong and healthy, even after the death of Leoba.

The people's faith was stimulated by such tokens of holiness, and as religious feeling increased so did contempt of the world. Many nobles and influential men gave their daughters to God to live in the monastery in perpetual chastity; many widows also forsook their homes, made vows of chastity and took the veil in the cloister. To all of these the holy virgin pointed out both by word and example how to reach the heights of perfection.

In the meantime, blessed Boniface, the archbishop, was preparing to go to Frisia, having decided to preach the Gospel to this people riddled with superstition and unbelief. He summoned his disciple Lull to his presence (who was afterwards to succeed him as bishop) and entrusted everything to his care, particularly impressing on him a solicitude for the faithful, zeal for preaching the Gospel and the preservation of the churches, which he had built in various places. Above all, he ordered him to complete the building of the monastery of Fulda which he had begun to construct in the wilderness of Bochonia, a work undertaken on the authority of Pope Zacharias and with the support of Carloman, King of Austrasia. This he did because the monks who lived there were poor and had no revenues and were forced to live on the produce of their own manual labour. He commanded him also to remove his body thither after his death. After giving these and other instructions, he summoned Leoba to him and exhorted her not to abandon the country of her adoption and not to grow weary of the life she had undertaken, but rather to extend the scope of the good work she had begun. He said that no consideration should be paid to her weakness and that she must not count the long years that lay ahead of her; she must not count the spiritual life to be hard nor the end difficult to attain, for the years of this life are short compared to eternity, and the sufferings of this world are as nothing in comparison with the glory that will be made manifest in the saints. He commended her to Lull and to the senior monks of the monastery who were present, admonishing them to care for her with reverence and respect and reaffirming his wish that after his death her bones should be placed next to his in the tomb, so that they who had served God during their lifetime with equal sincerity and zeal should await together the day of resurrection.

After these words he gave her his cowl and begged and pleaded with her not to leave her adopted land. And so, when all necessary preparations had been made for the journey, he set out for Frisia, where he won over a multitude of people to the faith of Christ and ended his labours with a glorious martyrdom. His remains were transported to Fulda and there, according to his previous wishes, he was laid to rest with worthy tokens of respect.

The blessed virgin, however, persevered unwaveringly in the work of God. She had no desire to gain earthly possessions but only those of heaven, and she spent all her energies on fulfilling her vows. Her wonderful reputation spread abroad and the fragrance of her holiness and wisdom drew to her the affections of all. She was held in veneration by all who knew her, even by kings. Pippin, King of the Franks, and his sons Charles and Carloman treated her with profound respect, particularly Charles, who, after the death of his father and brother, with whom he had shared the throne for some years, took over the reins of government. He was a man of truly Christian life, worthy of the power he wielded and by far the bravest and wisest king that the Franks had produced His love for the Catholic faith was so sincere that, though he governed all, he treated the servants and handmaids of God with touching humility. Many times he summoned the holy virgin to his court, received her with every mark of respect and loaded her with gifts suitable to her station. Queen Hiltigard also revered her with a chaste affection and loved her as her own soul. She would have liked her to remain continually at her side so that she might progress in the spiritual life and profit by her words and example. But Leoba detested the life at court like poison. The princes loved her, the nobles received her, the bishops welcomed her with joy. And because of her wide knowledge of the Scriptures and her prudence in counsel they often discussed spiritual matters and ecclesiastical discipline with her. But her deepest concern was the work she had set on foot. She visited the various convents of nuns and, like a mistress of novices, stimulated them to vie with one another in reaching perfection.

Sometimes she came to the Monastery of Fulda to say her prayers, a privilege never granted to any woman either before or since, because from the day that monks began to dwell there entrance was always forbidden to women. Permission was only granted to her, for the simple reason that the holy martyr St. Boniface had commended her to the seniors of the monastery and because he had ordered her remains to be buried there. The following regulations, however, were observed when she came there. Her disciples and companions were left behind in a nearby cell and she entered the monastery always in daylight, with one nun older than the rest; and after she had finished her prayers and held a conversation with the brethren, she returned towards nightfall to her disciples whom she had left behind in the cell. When she was an old woman and became decrepit through age she put all the convents under her care on a sound footing and then, on Bishop Lull's advice, went to a place called Scoranesheim, four miles south of Mainz. There she took up residence with some of her nuns and served God night and day in fasting and prayer.

In the meantime, whilst King Charles was staying in the palace at Aachen, Queen Hiltigard sent a message to her begging her to come and visit her, if it were not too difficult, because she longed to see her before she passed from this life. And although Leoba was not at all pleased, she agreed to go for the sake of their long-standing friendship. Accordingly she went and was received by the queen with her usual warm welcome. But as soon as Leoba heard the reason for the invitation she asked permission to return home. And when the queen importuned her to stay a few days longer she refused; but, embracing her friend rather more affectionately than usual, she kissed her on the mouth, the forehead and the eyes and took leave of her with these words. "Farewell for evermore, my dearly beloved lady and sister; farewell most precious half of my soul. May Christ our Creator and Redeemer grant that we shall meet again without shame on the day of judgment. Never more on this earth shall we enjoy each other's presence."

So she returned to the convent, and after a few days she was stricken down by sickness and was confined to her bed. When she saw that her ailment was growing worse and that the hour of her death was near she sent for a saintly English priest named Torhthat, who had always been at her side and ministered to her with respect and love, and received from him the viaticum of the body and blood of Christ. Then she put off this earthly garment and gave back her soul joyfully to her Creator, clean and undefiled as she had received it from Him. She died in the month of September, the fourth of the kalends of October. Her body, followed by a long cortege of noble persons, was carried by the monks of Fulda to their monastery with every mark of respect Thus the seniors there remembered what St. Boniface had said; namely, that it was his last wish that her remains should be placed next to his bones. But because they were afraid to open the tomb of the blessed martyr, they discussed the matter and decided to bury her on the north side of the altar which the martyr St. Boniface had himself erected and consecrated in honour of our Saviour and the twelve Apostles.

After some years, when the church had grown too small and was being prepared by its rectors for a future consecration, Abbot Eigil, with permission of Archbishop Heistulf, transferred her bones and placed them in the west porch near the shrine of St. Ignatius the martyr, where, encased in a tomb, they rest glorious with miracles. For many who have approached her tomb full of faith have many times received divine favours. Some of these which occur to me at the moment I will set down plainly and truthfully for my readers.

A certain man had his arms so tightly bound by iron rings that the iron was almost covered by the bare flesh that grew up around it on either side. One of these had already come off one arm and had left a deep scar that was plain to see. This man came to the church and went round the shrines of the saints, praying at each altar. When he reached the tomb of the holy virgin Leoba and began to pray some hidden force expanded the iron ring and, breaking the clamps, cast it from his arm, leaving it all bloody. With joy and gladness he gave thanks to God, because by the merits of the blessed nun he, who until that moment had been bound in fetters on account of his sins, was released.

There was another man from Spain, who for his sins was so afflicted that he twitched most horribly in all his limbs. According to his own account he contracted this infirmity through bathing in the river Ebro. And because he could not bear his deformity to be seen by his fellow­citizens he wandered about from shrine to shrine, wherever he had a mind to go. After travelling the length of France and Italy, he came to Germany. When he had visited several monasteries to pray there, he came to Fulda, where he was received into the pilgrim's hospice. He stayed three days there, going into the church and praying that God would be appeased and restore him to his former state of health. When he entered the chapel on the third day and had gone from altar to altar praying, he automatically came to the shrine of the holy virgin. He ended his prayer there and then went down to the western crypt above which the body of the holy martyr Boniface lies at rest. Prostrate in prayer, he lay like one asleep, but not twitching as he usually did when he slept. A saintly monk and priest named Firmandus, who used to sit there because he had an infirmity which prevented him from standing, noticed this and was struck with astonishment. He ordered those who wished to lift him not to touch him, but rather to wait to see what would happen. Suddenly the man got up and, because he was cured, he did not twitch. On being questioned by the priest, who, as an Italian, understood his language, he said that he had had an ecstasy in which he saw a venerable old man, vested in a bishop's stole, accompanied by a young woman in a nun s habit, who had taken him by the hand, lifted him up and presented him to the bishop for his blessing. When the bishop had made the sign of the cross on his breast an inky­black bird like a raven had flown out of his bosom and through the hood of his tunic; as soon as it alighted on the ground it changed into a hen and then transformed itself into the shape of a very ugly and horrible little man, who emerged from the crypt by the steps of the north entrance. No Christian man can doubt that he was restored to health through the prayers of the holy virgin and the merits of the blessed martyr. These two, though they do not share a tomb, yet lie in one place and never fail to look on those who seek their intercession with the same kindliness now they are in glory as they did when they lived on earth and showed pity and compassion on the wretched.

Many other marvels did God perform through the prayers of the holy virgin, but I will not mention them lest by prolonging my story I inflict tedium on the reader. But I recall these two, because several of the brethren who are still alive have borne witness in words that are not lightly to be disregarded that they saw them. I also was present when they occurred. I write this, then, for the praise and glory of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who glorifies those who glorify him and who grants to those who serve Him not only the kingdom of heaven but also in this world nobility and honour. To whom be glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever, Amen.


Source:

C. H. Talbot, The Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany, Being the Lives of SS. Willibrord, Boniface, Leoba and Lebuin together with the Hodoepericon of St. Willibald and a selection from the correspondence of St. Boniface, (London and New York: Sheed and Ward, 1954)

The Latin Life of Leoba was first published in 1574:-
Surius, De Probatis Sanctorum Historiis, (Cologne: 1574), Vol. V, pp. 396-406.

The best edition is in:-
Monumenta Germaniae Historicae, Scriptores, ed. Waitz, (Hanover: 1887), Vol. XV, I, pp. 127-131.

Although Talbot's was the first full English translation, much of it was translated in:-
Serenus Cressy, Church History of Brittany, Bk, 24, 4 (Rouen: 1668, microfilm: Early English books, 1641-1700 ; 137:9)

There is also a version as:-
"Life of Leoba," edited by Dorothy Whitelock in English Historical Documents, Vol I: c.500-1042, Second Edition (London: Methuen, 1955), pp. 719-722.

See also:

Stephanie Hollis, Anglo-Saxon Women and the Church, (Woodbridge, Suffolk [UK] ; Rochester, NY, USA : Boydell Press, 1992.1992)

Jo Ann McNamara et al., eds., Sainted Women of the Dark Ages, (Durham N.C.: Duke University Press, 1992), for 17 more lives of women saints between fifth and seventh centuries.

The copyright status of this text has been checked carefully. The situation is complicated, but in sum is as follows. The book was published in 1954 by Sheed & Ward, apparently simultaneously, in both London and New York. The American-printed edition simply gave 'New York' as place of publication, the British-printed edition gave 'London and New York'. Copyright was not renewed in 1982 or 1983, as required by US Law. The recent GATT treaty (1995?) restored copyright to foreign publications which had entered US public domain simply because copyright had not be renewed in accordance with US law. This GATT provision does not seem to apply to this text because it was published simultaneously in the US and Britain by a publisher operating in both countries (a situation specifically addressed in the GATT regulations). Thus, while still under copyright protection in much of the world, the text remains in the US public domain.

Some years ago, a collection of such hagiographical texts, including some texts from Talbot, was published:-

Thomas F.X. Noble and Thomas Head, Soldiers of Christ: Saint and Saints' Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995).

Soldiers of Christ uses, among others, the Talbot translated texts, but is much improved by additional notes by the two editors, and by new translations of some parts. Readers from outside the US should consult this volume, and readers in the US would find it profitable to do so.


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall June 1997
halsall@fordham.edu