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Modestus (Apostle of Carantania)

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Subject: Carantania, Carinthia (state), Carantanians, Saint Modest, Maria Saal
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Modestus (Apostle of Carantania)

Modestus (c. 720 – before 772),[1] called the Apostle of Carinthia or Apostle of Carantania, was most probably an Irish monk and the evangeliser of the Carantanians, an Alpine Slavic people settling in the south of present-day Austria and north-eastern Slovenia, which were among the ancestors of present-day Slovenes.


Modestus may had come to the Bavarian lands under Duke Odilo in the wake of Saint Vergilius, who about 749 was consecrated as Bishop of Salzburg. Upon the request of Prince Cheitmar or Hotimir[2] of Carantania to Christianize his people, Bishop Vergilius dispatched Modestus around the year 755, together with four priests and a deacon "and other inferior clerks"[3] as a missionary with the rank of a chorepískopos (Ancient Greek: Χωρεπίσκοπος), i.e. a chorbishop responsible for the people in the countryside without a diocese.[4] Cheitmar's predecessor Borut had accepted Bavarian overlordship about 740 and Modestus' missionary work in Carantania was meant to stabilise the country against the invading Avars. It was described in the "Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum"[5] written around 870 as a memorandum of the Salzburg archbishop Adalwin in a court hearing before the East Frankish king Louis the German against Bishop Methodius, the apostle of the Slavs in the Frankish Principality of Lower Pannonia and in Great Moravia. In the document, the Archdiocese of Salzburg emphasised the achievements of Modestus as an argument of their merits in converting the Slavs.

According to the chronicles, he built three Christian churches: "ad Undrimas" (probably at Ingering in the area of present-day Gaal and Spielberg in Upper Styria), at "Liburnia civitate", corresponding to the former Roman episcopal see of Teurnia (today's Sankt Peter im Holz near Spittal an der Drau in Carinthia), and "ecclesiam Sanctae Mariae", a church of the Virgin Mary in an unnamed place, most probably located near the centre of the Slav principality at Karnburg (Slovene: Krnski grad), which would make it Maria Saal (Gospa sveta) on the Carinthian Zollfeld plain. His church was thus in the immediate vicinity of the area that has served as a political and cultural centre of the region through the ages, close to:

Modestus spent the remainder of his obviously very active life in the area. The most likely year of his death was 763, although other dates also appear in sources. No traces of his church of St.Mary have been discovered. His alleged tomb is shown in the present Gothic church of Maria Saal, which was built six centuries later, replacing an earlier Romanesque church probably from the 12th century. Due to his success in converting the pagan Carantanian Slavs to Christianity, Modestus was honoured by the popular denomination "Apostle of Carinthia".

See also


  • Monumenta Germaniae historica, vol.11 (1890)
  • Der Große Brockhaus. Handbuch des Wissens in 20 Baenden. vol. 12, Leipzig 1932
  • John Lanigan, An ecclesiastical History of Ireland, from the first introduction of Christianity among the Irish, to the beginning of the thirteenth century. Compiled from the works of the most esteemed authors, foreign and domestic, who have written and published on matters connected with the Irish church; and from Irish annals and other authentic documents, still existing in manuscript. Dublin, 2nd ed. 1829
  • Friedrich Leitner: Kurzer Abriss der Kaerntner Geschichte vom Fruehmittelalter bis 1920, Klagenfurt 2006
  • Michael J. Walsh, A New Dictionary of Saints, London 2007
  • The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913
  • Josef Wodka, Modestus. In: Lexikon der Theologie und Kirche, 2nd ed., vol.7, Freiburg i.Br. 1962
  • Josef Wodka, Kirche in Österreich. Ein Wegweiser durch ihre Geschichte, Vienna 1959


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