Virgilius (Fergal or Feirgil) of Salzburg, St.
VIRGILIUS (FERGAL OR FEIRGIL) OF SALZBURG, ST.
Abbot and bishop; also spelled Fergal, Feirgil, Ferghil, Vergil, etc.; b. perhaps on the Irish colonized island of Heth, West Scotland, ca. 710; d. Salzburg Austria, Nov. 27, 784. As abbot of Aghaboe near Dublin, he was known as the "Geometer," because of his knowledge of geography. In 743 he went to the court of pepin iii at Quierzy with Dobdagrecus (Dub-dá-chrich) and Sidonius, later bishop of Passau. In 745 Pepin forced Duke Odilo of Bavaria, who had just been defeated, to accept Virgilius as the abbot bishop of Salzburg. As abbot of sankt peter, he administered the diocese according to Irish custom, while Dobdagrecus performed the episcopal acts, until Virgilius had himself consecrated June 15, 767, supposedly to satisfy the request of the "people." Virgilius's most celebrated deed as bishop was the conversion of the Alpine Slavs, which, despite reverses he accomplished in 772 by taking advantage of the situation that found the inhabitants of Carinthia seeking protection in the West from the Avars.
On Sept. 24, 774, Virgilius dedicated the first Salzburg cathedral to St. rupert of salzburg. This celebrated church, praised by alcuin, has only recently been properly appreciated. The discovery of Virgilius's grave, resulting from the destruction of the cathedral by fire in 1181, occasioned the start of his canonization process, completed by Gregory IX, June 18, 1233. In 1288 Virgilius was honored with an altar in the new Romanesque cathedral. As the patron of Salzburg, he is depicted in sacred art as a bishop with a double-towered Romanesque church.
At the beginning of his career he was twice involved in controversies with (St.) boniface, who in 739 had installed the Anglo-Saxon John as bishop of Salzburg, whereas the Irishman Virgilius had been sent directly by the Frankish mayor of the palace. Boniface demanded the rebaptism of those who had been christened with the grammatically inaccurate formula: Ego te baptizo in nomine patria et filia et spiritus sancti (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Epistolae 3:336). Virgilius and Sidonius refused, and upon appealing to Pope Zachary they were upheld. In 748 Boniface complained to Rome that Virgilius held heretical views about the spherical shape of the earth and about the antipodes. Nothing is known about a condemnation or recantation supposedly made by Virgilius. In any case, under the pseudonym Aethicus Ister, he wrote a fictitious cosmography that had great influence on later works. This piece claims the authority of St. Jerome and, with its subtle hints, may only have poked fun at his unquestionably less gifted adversaries. To the extant original of the Liber confraternitatum of the Salzburg church Virgilius added "a liturgical note, which has the value of an historical monument."
Feast: Nov. 27.
Bibliography: Sources. Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum, ed. m. kos (Laibach 1936), also in 11:1–15. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores (Berlin 1826–) 3:744. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Epistolae selectae (Berlin 1826–) 1:300. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Necrologia (Berlin 1826–) 2:18. w. hauthaler and f. martin, eds., Salzburger Urkundenbuch (Salzburg 1898) 1:16; 2:8–18, app. Literature. p. karner, Die Heiligen und Seligen Salzburgs (Austria Sancta 12; Vienna 1913). h. lÖwe, "Ein literarischer Widersacher des Bonifatius," Abhandlungen der geistesund sozialwissenschaftlichen Klasse der Mainzer Akademie der Wissenschaften 11 (1951) 908–988. a. lhotsky, Quellenkunde zur mittelalterlichen Geschichte Österreichs (Graz 1963). Virgil von Salzburg, Missionar und Gelehrter, proceedings of intl. symposium, Salzburg, 21–24 September 1984, ed. h. dopsch and r. juffinger (Salzburg 1985).