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Huneberc of Heidenheim: Prologue to the Hodoeporicon of St. Willibald, c 761-786

In this text Huneberc of Heidenheim provides a full justification for a woman acting as an author. Huneberc--whose name is sometimes transliterated as Hugeberc--was an Anglo-Saxon woman who journied at some point after 761 to the European continent. There she joined her kinswoman Walburga, who had become abbess of the convent established at Heidenheim by an Anglo-Saxon cleric named Wynnebald. The Hodoeporicon of St. Willibald, her only known work, provides a description of the pilgrimage of yet another Anglo-Saxon cleric--Willibald, bishop of Eichstatt and brother of Wynnebald--to the Holy Land. Huneberc apparently heard the story directly from the missionary bishop. Willibald's pilgrimage occurred in the 720s; Huneberc composed this text sometime between her arrival at Heidenheim in 761 and the death of Willibald in 786.

To all those reverend and most beloved in Christ clerics known under the honorable title of priest, and deacons of excellent nature, and abbots, as well as all princes of the secular order: our pious bishop [Willibald] by virtue of his pastoral care appointed you, some as priests in the holy order, others as deacons chosen for sobriety and chasteness, others as monks of the coenobitical army, still others-chosen for their skillful study of texts-into the garb of scholars in order to study, to teach, and thus to inculcate a better standard of government in the realm. Throughout his diocese the bishop used to nourish you diligently with his care, not simply as foster sons, but as his own children.

For all such people who live in this region under the guidance of sacred law, although I am an unworthy Saxon woman (indigna Saxonica), and but a novice-not only in years, but also in experience-among those of that race who have come to this place, and but a weakly woman (omuncula) in comparison to my fellow countrymen (illorum contribulum meorum), I have nonetheless made up my mind to touch briefly on the early life of that venerable man Willibald for the sake of you religious and orthodox (catholicis) men and you preachers of the heavenly books, compressing [the narrative] into a few words so that they may be easily remembered (ob utilitate memoriae). I am but womanly (feminea), stained by the frailty and weakness of my sex, and supported neither by pretense to wisdom nor by exalted aspiration to great power (magnarum virium), but freely prompted by my own willful impetuosity, like some ignorant child who at her heart's discretion plucks a few small things from trees rich in foliage and fruit. Nonetheless I would be pleased to pluck, collect, and display, with however small an art, a few tokens from the lowest branches for you to keep in your memory (vestrae memoriae). But presently I will retrace my speech and say once again that I dare to undertake such a task relying neither on the prompting of my own presumption nor on some sudden rash insolence.

Inspired first by the grace of God, then by the breadth of the experience of that venerable man Willibald, then by your excellent authority (vestraeque auctoritatis excellentia), and not least by your willing help and strong support, I thought myself capable (posse) of describing the places where there occurred those celestial wonders, miracles, and signs of virtue which the Lord-when He humiliated Himself for the salvation of humanity and descended to take on a human body-deigned to execute and perform in this world, as he was strengthened by divine power. It is these things which we will undertake to narrate, which the reverend man Willibald saw with his own eyes and over which he trod with his own feet. And he saw not only of those marvels which have been demonstrated to us to be true by the grace of the four gospels, but also the very places where our Lord was born, where He suffered, and where, having risen from the dead, He appeared to us. And Willibald also saw the traces of other prodigies which the Lord deigned to perform and virtues which he deigned to divulge in those lands. Strengthened by faith, fortunate in his fate, a bold traveler, this perfect teacher [Willibald] has transmitted all which he saw and learned while visiting these places to us.

At the present time, if I may say so, it seemed to me surely shameful that a human voice should, in mute tenacity and with sealed lips, keep silent about those things which our Lord deemed worthy to reveal, in order to make them known in our times, to his servant Willibald through the exertions of his body and the vision of his eyes. We know these things because they were related to us, not by means of the meandering turnings of apocryphal stories, but because, having encountered Willibald himself, we resolved to hear them as told to us in dictation from his own mouth and so to write them down-with two deacons as witnesses who heard them with me-on Tuesday the twenty-third of June [778?], the day before the summer solstice. Being an unlearned woman (idiota), I do not undertake to examine these matters in a literary form because I underestimate the talents of your wisdom or because I do not well know that there are many of you whom our Lord God has deigned to place as bishops above me, who are more outstanding not only in being of the male sex (virili sexui), but also in the divinely bestowed dignity of the priesthood, and who would be able to lay out and explain these matters much better than I because of their knowledge of divine law, not to mention their cleverness at investigation. But, although I am an unworthy woman (indigna), I know that I have flowered from the same genealogical root as these men [of whom I shall write], albeit from the lowest stalks of its branches, and therefore I have felt disposed to place in the hands of readers something worthy of remembrance (aliquid memoriae dignum) concerning such great and venerable men and concerning the ways in which their lives were blessed, not only in their deeds, but in the various journeys which they undertook and the great miracles which they performed.

The first of these men was a bishop raised to the highest degree of priestly rank and of pastoral care, that renowned lover of the cross and master of many men, Willibald. And the other was a man who uprightly followed the path of virtue, making the crooked path straight, the uneven and rough places a plain [Isaiah 40:4], and the wild regions tame. By constant effort he did away with all the thickly-sown vices of the worldly and the shameless sins of the idolators, [acting] not with the idle languor of a wavering mind, but happily and boldly with a rash audacity, strengthened from above with a zealous wisdom. Numbered as a prelate because of his priestly honors and pastoral duties, this man was an abbot, that renowned lover of the cross, Wynnebald.

All these writings, which are but black tracks ploughed by a pen in a furrowed path on the white plains of these fields [of parchment], are presented to your knowledgeable and loving care. We commend them to the protection of the grace of God and of your shield against all the calumnies of the envious; we also commend them to your acceptance with pleasure, so that in all matters we may joyfully praise our liberal Lord, the giver of gifts.

Source: Source: Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores in folio, 15.1:86-88. A full translation of Huneberc's Hodoeporicon has been published in Thomas Noble and Thomas Head (eds.), Soldiers of Christ: Saints' Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994).

This translation by Thomas Head has been made available to fellow students and researchers for private or classroom use. All other rights are reserved. Duplication for any other purpose, including publication, is prohibited. This translation was last updated on June 10, 1997.

From Thomas F. Head, An Anthology of Translated Texts Illustrative of the History of the Cult of the Saints (c 2000). [Link is to Internet Archive]. Thomas Head prepared these texts as part of the now defunct ORB: Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies [Link is to an archived and non-maintained version]. Dr. Head died on Nov 12, 2014 after an extended illness. I believe that he would have wanted his translated texts, marked for free personal use, and bibliographies to continue to be available and not just through the sometimes slow operation of the Internet Archive. They were marked "They may be reproduced for private use, but may not be reproduced for publication."


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall, January 2023
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