St. Wiborada

(D.A.D. 926)

God has a unique job for each of us to perform in life, and it is fascinating to watch Him guiding us towards fulfilling that special call. The life of St. Wiborada in particular shows Him at work shaping careers. Here, He took a home-body and led her up to a climax of startling heroism.

The daughter of noble parents of the Swiss Canton of Aargau, Wiborada felt an early call to a life of devotion; but, not knowing the direction it would take, she left the guidance in God’s hands. At the outset, she just lived quietly at home. Then her brother Hatto decided to study for the diocesan priesthood at the famous Swiss abbey at St. Gall. The two were very close, so she decided to go to the town of St. Gall herself, where she might be of some service to him. Thus, she was able to make Hatto’s clothes and also lend a hand at the monastery. For instance, she bound many of the books in the monastery library.

After ordination, Father Hatto was assigned to the Church of St. Magnus in St. Gall. He invited his sister to stay there with him, and he taught her Latin so that she could join with him in reciting the Divine Office. They also began to take sick people into their home, and Wiborada proved to be a good nurse. Then the pair went to Rome on pilgrimage. When they returned, Hatto decided to become a monk at St. Gall Abbey. His sister encouraged him. One of the loveliest aspects of St. Wiborada’s life was the close and deeply religious friendship between her and her brother. It testified to the religious strength of their family life. This reminds us that many a staunch Catholic family has given to the Church not just one priest or nun, but two or three. Especially is this true of the diocese of Rochester (at least in past times).

Wiborada’s life was not totally serene, however. For some reason (perhaps because she was still unattached by marriage or religious profession), she appears to have been the object of slanderous charges. To prove her innocence, we are told, she submitted to some sort of ordeal. This was a medieval type of lie-detector. She passed the test and re-established her good repute.

Perhaps because of this embarrassment, Wiborada now decided to become a hermitess. She had a little cell built for her as a wing on the Church of St. Magnus. Thereupon, she entered into the definitive life style that God had intended for her. As a holy woman sealed into her little “Anchorhold”, she developed mightily in prayer. People began to seek her out because of her wisdom and her miracles, and several other women chose to become ancresses or hermitesses elsewhere in the town. Most of them lived alone. Wiborada eventually welcomed a second companion in her quarters: a woman named Rachildis whom she had cured of an ailment.

Hermitess Wiborada, though now on the final plateau of her calling, would never have dreamed its startling conclusion. God gave her forewarning, however. In 926 pagan Hungarian marauders invaded Switzerland. God then revealed to Wiborada that she would perish at their hands, but Rachildis would be spared. The hermitess quickly warned the clergy of St. Magnus Church and the monks of St. Gall to take flight and they did. She and Rachildis refused to leave their cloistered cell. The marauders reached St. Gall, and burned down St. Magnus Church. Then they broke a hole into the roof of the saint’s cell and entered. Finding her kneeling in prayers, they clove her skull with a hatchet and left her dying. But they did not lay hands on Rachildis, who survived the awful event for 21 years.

Thus Wiborada, the devout homebody, had climaxed her life of quiet service by winning the crown of martyrdom in her own cell!

God’s expectation of us, therefore, is neither that we travel nor that we stay put. It is that wherever we live, we serve His holy will. That’s why he created us as us.

–Father Robert F. McNamara

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