Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume IX: September. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Lioba, Abbess
THIS saint was a great model of Christian perfection to the church, both of England, her native country, and of Germany. She was descended of an illustrious English-Saxon family, and born among the West-Saxons at Winburn, which name signifies fountain of wine. Ebba, her pious mother, was nearly related to St. Boniface of Mentz, and though she had been long barren, and had no prospect of other issue, when Lioba was born, she offered her to God from her birth, and trained her up in a contempt of the world. By her direction our saint was placed young in the great monastery of Winburn in Dorsetshire, under the care of the holy abbess Tetta, a person still more eminent for her extraordinary prudence and sanctity, than for being sister to a king.1 Lioba made great progress in virtue, and took the religious veil. She understood Latin, and made some verses in that language, as appears from her letters to St. Boniface: but she read no books but such as were proper to nourish piety and devotion in her soul. St. Boniface, who had kept up an epistolary correspondence with her, and was perfectly acquainted with her distinguished virtue and abilities, became an earnest suitor to her abbess, and bishop, that she might be sent to him with certain pious companions, in order to settle some sanctuaries and nurseries of religion for persons of their sex in the infant church of Germany. Tetta regretted the loss of so great a treasure, but could not oppose so urgent a demand.
Lioba arriving in Germany, was settled by St. Boniface, with her little colony, in a monastery which he gave her, and which was called Bischofsheim; that is, Bishops House. By the prudence and zeal of our saint, this nunnery became in a short time very numerous, and out of it she peopled many other houses which she founded in Germany. She never commanded others anything which she had not first practised herself. Her countenance appeared always angelically cheerful and modest, breathing a heavenly devotion and love. Her time was spent in prayer, and in holy reading and meditation. She knew by heart the divine precepts of the Old and New Testaments, the principal canons of the church, the holy maxims of the Fathers, and the rules of the monastic life and perfection. By humility, she placed herself beneath all others, and esteemed herself as the last of her community and washed often the feet of the sisters. The exercise of hospitality and charity to the poor was her delight. Kings and princes respected and honoured her, especially Pepin king of the Franks, and his two sons, Charles or Charlemagne and Carloman. Charlemagne, who reigned alone after the death of his brother, often sent for her to his court at Aix-la-Chapelle, and treated her with the highest veneration. His queen Hildegardis loved her as her own soul, and took her advice in her most weighty concerns. She was very desirous to have her always with her, had it been possible, that she might always enjoy the edification and comfort of her example and instructions. But the holy abbess made all possible haste back to her monastery. Bishops often had conferences with her, and listened to her counsels. St. Boniface, a little before his mission into Friesland and his martyrdom, recommended her in the most earnest manner to St. Lullus, and to his monks at Fulda, entreating them to have care of her with respect and honour, and declaring it his desire, as by his last will, that after her death she should be buried by his bones, that both their bodies might wait the resurrection and be raised together in glory to meet the Lord, and be for ever united in the kingdom of his love. After St. Bonifaces martyrdom she made frequent visits to the abbey of Fulda, and leaving her four or five sister-companions, in a neighbouring cell, she was allowed, by a singular privilege, to enter the abbey with two elder sisters, and assist at the divine service and conferences; after which she returned to her companions in the cell; which when she had continued for a few days, she went back to her own nunnery. When she was grown very old, by the advice of St. Lullus, she settled all the nunneries under her care, and resigning the government, came to reside in a new nunnery at Scornesheim, four miles from Mentz to the south, where she redoubled her fervour in the exercises of holy prayer and penance. Queen Hildegardis invited her so earnestly to the court at Aix-la-Chapelle, that she could not refuse to comply: but, after some days, would absolutely return to her solitude. Taking leave of the queen, embracing her more affectionately than usual, and kissing her garment, her forehead, and mouth, she said: Farewell, precious part of my soul; may Christ our Creator and Redeemer grant that we may see each other without confusion in the day of judgment. She died about the year 779, and was interred at Fulda, on the north side of the high altar. Her tomb was honoured with miracles; her historian assures us he was himself an eye-witness of several. See her life carefully written, soon after her death, by Ralph of Fulda. in Mabillon, Acta Bened. and l. 1. Rerum Mogunt. See also Bulteau, Hist. Mon. lOccid. t. 4. Perier, t. 7. Sept. p. 748.
Note 1. The ancient great monastery of Winburn, built by the West-Saxon kings, was double; each separated from the other and surrounded with high walls. No monk could ever set foot in the inclosure of the nuns, except in their church to say mass, and immediately after he came down from the altar to leave it and return to his own cloister. No nun could ever go out of her own inclosure. [back]