Summary: St Fergal (or Virgil or Feargal) lived first in France and then in Bavaria, where he founded the monastery of Chiemsee. He was appointed bishop of Salzburg around 754 and died in 784 leaving a reputation for learning and holiness.
Patrick Duffy records some of the traditions about him.
Many Irish monks set out from Ireland as pilgrims for Christ (peregrini pro Christo). They journeyed widely through Europe and some founded important churches. Among them is St Feargal who was a missionary bishop in Salzburg, Austria.
(The St Virgil image, right> >was painted for St Virgil’s College, Hobart, Tasmania by Alec Szolomiak of Australia, and reprinted with permission.)
Monk of Aghaboe
Born in Ireland, Feargal of Virgil (Latin “Virgilius”) is said to have been a descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages. He become a monk and probably abbot in the monastery of Aghaboe (Annals of the Four Masters and the Annals of Ulster).
On pilgrimage for Christ
In 743 he is said to have left Ireland to go to the Holy Land. He stopped first of all at the court of King Pepin the Short, father of Charlemagne. After spending two years at Cressy, near Compiègne, he went to Bavaria, at the invitation of Duke Odilo, where he founded the monastery of Chiemsee, and within a year or two was made Abbot of St. Peter’s at Salzburg. Out of humility, he at first “concealed his orders”, and had a bishop named Dobdagrecus, a fellow countryman, appointed to perform his episcopal functions for him.
Controversies with St Boniface
In his first days at Salzburg, Feargal was involved in controversies with St. Boniface. A priest through ignorance conferred the Sacrament of Baptism using the words “Baptizo te in nomine patria et filia et spiritu sancta”. Feargal held that the sacrament had been validly conferred, but Boniface complained to Pope Zachary. The Pope decided in favour of Feargal.
Feargal also expressed a number of opinions on astronomy, geography, and anthropology, which to Boniface smacked of novelty, if not heresy. He reported these views to Rome, and the Pope demanded an investigation of the bishop of Salzburg. Feargal was able to defend his views and nothing came of the complaint. He held the view that the earth was round which Boniface said was contrary to Scripture.
Cathedral at Salzburg
Feargal is said to have built a cathedral at Salzburg. St Rupert had built one there before him and the present cathedral has both of them as patrons; it is the site of Mozart’s baptism. Feargal baptized the Slavic dukes of Carinthia, and sent missionaries into Hungary.
Death and canonisation
Returning from a preaching mission to a distant part of his diocese, he fell sick and died on 27th November 784. When the Salzburg cathedral was destroyed by a fire in 1181, the grave of Feargal was discovered and this led to his canonisation by Pope Gregory IX in 1233. His feast is celebrated in Ireland and Austria.