Saint Wiborada

Saint Wiborada from the Cimelia Sangallensia, c. 1430
Anchorite and Martyr
Born 9th century
present-day Aargau Canton, Switzerland
Died 926
Abbey of St. Gall, St. Gallen, present-day Switzerland
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Canonized 1047 by Pope Clement II
Feast 2 May
Attributes a Benedictine nun holding a book and axe
Patronage libraries, librarians (in Switzerland and Germany)

Saint Wiborada of St. Gall (also Guiborat or Weibrath) (died 926) was a member of the Swabian nobility in what is present-day Switzerland. She was an anchoress, Benedictine nun, and martyr, as well as the first woman formally canonized by the Vatican.[1] Her vita was written ca. 1075 by Herimannus, a monk of St Gall.


Wiborada was born to a wealthy noble family in Swabia. After the death of their parents, Wiborada joined her brother Hatto in becoming a Benedictine at the Abbey of St. Gall. There, she occupied herself by making Hatto's clothes and helping to bind many of the books in the monastery library.[2]

Wiborada became settled at the monastery, and Hatto taught her Latin so that she could chant the Divine Office. When they invited the sick and poor into their home, Wiborada proved a capable nurse. A pilgrimage to Rome influenced Hatto to decide to become a monk at St. Gall Abbey, a decision which Wiborada supported.[2]

At this time, it appears that Wiborada was charged with some type of serious infraction or wrongdoing, and was subjected to the medieval practice of ordeal by fire to prove her innocence. Although she was exonerated, the embarrassment probably influenced her next decision: withdrawing from the world and becoming an ascetic.[1][2]

When she petitioned to become an anchoress, Bishop Salomon of Constance arranged for her to stay in a cell next to the church of Saint George near the monastery, where she remained for four years before relocating to a cell adjoining the church of St. Magnus in 891.[3][4]

She became renowned for her austerity, and was said to have a gift of prophecy, both of which drew admirers and hopeful students,[1] one of which, a woman named Rachildis, whom Wiborada had cured of a disease, joined her as an anchoress.[2] A young student at St. Gall, Ulrich of Augsburg is said to have visited Wiborada often. She supposedly prophesied his elevation to the episcopate of Augsburg.[5]

The Martyrdom of Saint Wiborada, c. 1451.


The end of Wiborada's life was violent and dramatic. In 925, she predicted a Hungarian invasion of her region. Her warning allowed the priests and religious of St. Gall and St. Magnus to hide the books and wine and escape into caves in nearby hills.[6] The Abbot Engilbert urged Wiborada to escape to safety, but she refused to leave her cell.[5]

In 926 the Magyar marauders reached St. Gall. They burned down St. Magnus and broke into the roof of Wiborada's cell. Upon finding her kneeling in prayer, they clove her skull with a hatchet.[5] Her companion Rachildis was not killed, and lived another 21 years,[2] during which her disease returned. She spent the rest of her life learning patience through suffering. Wiborada's refusal to leave her cell and the part she played in saving the lives of the priests and religious of her convent have merited her the title of martyr.[1]


Saint Wiborada was the first woman formally canonized by the Holy See, by Pope Clement II in 1047.[1] Her feast day is 2 May. In Switzerland, Wiborada is considered the patron saint of libraries and librarians. In art, she is commonly represented holding a book to signify the library she saved, and an ax, which signifies the manner of her martyrdom.[6] The axe with which she is commonly depicted is in fact anachronistic, being a halberd, which did not come into existence until the 15th century.[3]


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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Jones, Terry. "Wiborada". Patron Saints Index. Retrieved 2007-05-02.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 McNamara, Robert F. (Rev.) (2007-02-20). "St. Wiborada". Saints Alive. St. Thomas the Apostle Church. Retrieved 2007-05-02.
  3. 1 2 "Saint Wiborada". Saint Wiborada Bindery and Book Repair. Saints Mary and Martha Orthodox Monastery. Archived from the original on February 20, 2006. Retrieved 2007-05-02.
  4. Rabenstein, Katherine (August 1999). "Wiborada of Saint Gall, OSB". Saints O' the Day for May 2. Archived from the original on 2007-02-06. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
  5. 1 2 3 Fisher, Annika Elizabeth. "Wiborada", Holy People of the World, (Phyllis G., Jestice,ed.), ABC-CLIO, 2004 ISBN 9781576073551
  6. 1 2 O'Donnell, Jim (2003-11-20). "Patron saints". liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu (Mailing list). Georgetown University. Retrieved 2007-05-02.
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