Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

I've Put Up Some Pictures

I want to look festive! Now that this blog is one and a half years old, it's time for something new and exciting to happen.... Stay tuned!

The picture on top is St. Virgil/Virgilius of Salzburg, originally named Fergal. (Irish monks, like others throughout the world, often changed their name when entering religious life. The poet Virgil was regarded as practically Christian, He was apparently one of the O'Neills, and became abbot of the Benedictine Irish monastery of Achadh Bo (Aghaboe). He was learned in history, math, philosophy and theology, and knew so much geography that the monks called him "the Geometer". But it seems that Virgil also had itchy feet and a tendency to get into disputes. After one of these, apparently over missionary work, Virgil got fed up and headed out with a party of like-minded monks in 742 or so. Some say he planned to go to the Holy Land. Where he ended up was at the Frankish king Pepin's court; he stayed there for 2 years or so. Pepin then sent him to the defeated Duke Odilo of Bavaria. Virgil advised the duke for a while, then got sent to Salzburg in 746 or 747, since the bishop had died. Virgil moved into St. Peter's Monastery on the Monchsberg (founded by St. Rupert) and became abbot. As in Ireland, he as abbot ran the diocese, with his companion Dub Da Chrich as his bishop subordinate.

Before that happened, though, Virgil managed to get into a little bit of trouble. The pope had a legate in Bavaria -- the Saxon St. Boniface. Apparently, personalities and worldviews clashed, and both thought the other gravely in error. There was the whole "abbot bossing the bishop around" thing. Then there was the poorly educated local priest who'd been baptizing people in the name of the Patria, Filia et Spiritus Sanctus -- the Fatherland, the Daughter, and the Holy Spirit! St. Boniface wanted them all rebaptized. St. Virgil said there was no need. Boniface wrote Pope Zachary. The Pope agreed with Virgil. Then Boniface heard Virgil teach something that shocked him. The Latin is apparently a bit ambiguous, but it was something about there being "other men" in other lands "under the earth", whom Boniface understood to be men who weren't descended from Adam. Humans not descended from Adam would be a big no-no, of Pope Zachary demanded that Virgil explain himself.

Virgil returned triumphant to Salzburg (though he did agree to become a bishop in 749 and do his bossing from that position). So whatever he said, it wasn't what St. Boniface wrote. Probably he was talking about people in the Antipodes; the Irish still knew, by way of the Greeks and Romans, that the Earth was round. But others have speculated that these other lands were other worlds, and that St. Virgil was talking about aliens. Still others believe that he was talking about the Otherworld of Irish legend, and the Fair Folk -- which Irish legend identified either with the neutral angels or the Nephilim.

Salzburg prospered under St. Virgil, and he set up a school for priests. He then sent missionaries out into the surrounding lands of Carinthia and Slovenia. Under him the first cathedral in Salzburg was built (from 767-773), which people called a wonder. In 774 he held a Bavarian church council which resulted in the establishment of schools throughout Bavaria. He encouraged the production of books and probably wrote a few. (Some say the "Libellus Virgilii" and the first Life of St. Rupert, the first bishop of Salzburg; the travelogue of Aethicus Ister has also been attributed to him.) He also had relics of St. Brigid and St. Samthann of Clonbroney brought to Salzburg. He died on November 27, 784.

After his death, there was a coup and a new line of rulers came into power over Bavaria. St. Virgil was largely forgotten. Then in the 1100's, a fire destroyed part of his cathedral. The bishop then in power really wanted to build a new cathedral instead of fixing the old one and sent his men to wreck the surviving bits of building. The people of Salzburg were outraged by the destruction. But as the rubble was cleared for new construction, they discovered the long forgotten tomb of St. Virgil, with the inscription "Virgilium templo construxit scemate pulchro" - Virgil constructed this temple in its beautiful shape. Salzburg already had St. Rupert, his cousin St. Ermentrudis, and St. Vitalis...but they did some historical investigation, and in 1233 St. Virgil of Salzburg became one of the few officially canonized Irish saints. (Most were canonized by public acclaim long before the canonization process existed.)

St. Virgil has two feast days -- one with St. Rupert on September 24 (celebrated in Austria), and one by himself on November 27 (celebrated in Salzburg). He is a patron saint of children, and of birthing problems. He is usually shown in bishop's garb with a model of Salzburg Cathedral at his feet; sometimes he carries a globe, or a dish of money (recalling how he personally paid the cathedral workers their wages). Often he is pictured together with St. Rupert, since both are patron saints of Salzburg.

St. Virgil in art:
Wall art on St. Rupert in Gaden
A statue in the Pfarrkirche at Oberalm.
Another, by the same artist, on the High Altar of the Filialkirche in Wallersee.
A wooden statue on the Graz-Seckau diocesan webpage
Holy cards of Ss. Virgilius, Rupert, and Vitalis, among others.

Meanwhile, St. Virgil is remembered throughout the world in churches, schools, and halls dedicated to art. At Salzburg Cathedral, The Salzburger Virgilschola choir is dedicated to preserving the Salzburg Liturgy and singing other medieval music.

He's a good saint for a science fiction fan to know.


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