Since Lioba was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, she isn’t exactly a “forgotten” woman in church history. However, when Benedict and Boniface, the great founders of holy orders in Europe, are spoken of, Lioba really ought to be mentioned along with them. Protestants in general, though most of us know of Benedict and Boniface, have rarely heard Lioba’s name.
Lioba was the cousin of Boniface. Boniface is best known for evangelizing Germany and establishing Benedictine monasteries there. Boniface also desired to establish Benedictine convents in Germany, and for that, he realized, he needed women missionaries. Lioba was the leader of five other holy women who went with Boniface to Germany.
Lioba’s given name was Thrutgeba; Lioba, which means “beloved,” was her surname. She was raised in Winborne Abbey under Abbess Tetta, and known from her youth for her love of study and her devotion to God. She went courageously as one of the only female missionaries of her time, knowing that some of the German rulers had become known for their “seduction” (ie., rape) of nuns.
Lioba was appointed abbess of Bischofsheim in Germany. Her position as abbess, according to Edith Deen, was “not merely that of a ruler, but of a teacher and expositor, and she became so learned in the Scriptures and so wise in counsel that bishops often discussed church matters with her.” Highly competent as a spiritual and practical leader, she was often visited by church leaders wishing for advice. Theologika.net mentions that she was the only woman allowed to enter male monasteries, in order to participate in consultations with church leaders on issues related to the rule of monasteries.
She loved to perform acts of service, hospitality and care for the poor. Her nuns loved her for her accessibility, patience, kindness and humility. Under her guidance, many of them also became leaders of convents of their own, their spread being called “one of the most powerful factors in the conversion of Germany.”
But Lioba was also a Christian mystic, known for her special connection with God and for the power of her prayers. Her prayers are credited with causing the cessation of a violent storm, after she was awakened by frightened villagers asking for her intercession. Tucker and Liefeld state, “It was this sense of charismatic authority-- a feeling of being personally chosen by God to carry out a special mission, that propelled Lioba on. Her success . . . was viewed as a direct result of her holiness and evidence of her ability to make direct contact with God in prayer.”
Kings and rulers, including Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne and Pippin III, often desired Lioba to visit at their courts and sought her counsel. She was the only woman ever allowed to pray at Boniface’s monastery at Fulda, and she is buried there near his tomb.
Lioba’s spirituality and natural success as a leader, teacher and advisor, speak for themselves in answer to the question of supposed limitations placed by God on His female children. As far as men have been willing to permit, women like her, gifted in leadership, have served their Lord to the full extent of their powers.
Tucker and Liefeld, Daughters of the Church, Zondervan Publishing House (1987), pp. 135-137.
Deen, Great Women of the Christian Faith, Harper & Row (1959), p. 307.
Mombu the Religion Forum: Devotion for September 28, St. Lioba’s Day