Modestus (Apostle of Carantania) - Life


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 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" 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. Cheitmar's predecessor Borut had accepted Bavarian overlordship about 740 and Modestus' missionary work in Carantania was meant to stabilize the country against the invading Avars. It was described in the "Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum" 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 emphasized 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:

  • the Magdalensberg mountain where a large settlement dating from the Celtic Noricum kingdom is being excavated;
  • the remains of Roman Virunum, capital city of the later Roman province of Noricum, at the foot of Magdalensberg;
  • the Karnburg complex which served as the political centre of the Slav principality of Carantania, with the Prince's Stone (Slovene: Knežji kamen) nearby;
  • the Kaiserpfalz of Karnburg, the 9th century Carolingian seat palatine of the Duke, King and Emperor Arnulf of Carinthia;
  • the Duke's Chair, symbol of the legal authority in the Duchy of Carinthia of the Holy Roman Empire;
  • the medieval ducal capital of Sankt Veit;
  • the modern capital of the State of Carinthia, Klagenfurt.

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".

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