Hemma of Gurk

Saint Hemma of Gurk

Portrait by Sebald Bopp, c. 1500[1]
Born c. 980
Died 27 June 1045
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Beatified 21 November 1287
Canonized 5 January 1938 by Pope Pius XI
Major shrine Gurk Cathedral
Feast 27 June
Attributes Depicted as a noble lady with either a model of a church, a legal deed or a rose, or distributing alms.
Patronage Diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt; state of Carinthia; invoked during childbirth and against diseases of the eye

Hemma of Gurk (c. 980 27 June 1045),[2] also called Emma of Gurk, was a noblewoman and founder of religious houses in the Duchy of Carinthia. Buried at Gurk Cathedral in 1174, beatified in 1287 and canonized in 1938, she is venerated as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church and as patroness of the current Austrian state of Carinthia.


Hemma was born Countess of Zeltschach to a noble family called Peilenstein in present-day Pilštanj, Slovenia. They were related to the Liutpoldings of Bavaria and thus to Emperor Henry II. She was brought up at the Imperial court in Bamberg by the Empress Saint Cunigunde. She married Count Wilhelm of Friesach and of the Sanngau, by whom she had two sons, Hartwig and Wilhelm. Both of her sons and her husband were murdered, the latest of them probably in 1036. Hemma became wealthy through inheritance upon the death of her husband and sons.

Countess Hemma used her great wealth for the benefit of the poor and was already venerated as a saint during her lifetime. In addition, she founded ten churches throughout present-day Carinthia, Austria. In 1043 she founded the Benedictine double monastery of Gurk Abbey, where she withdrew during the last years of her life.

After her death, Gurk Abbey was dissolved by the Archbishop of Salzburg, Gebhard, who instead used the funds to set up the Diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt in 1072. Admont Abbey, another Benedictine foundation in Austria, was founded in 1074 by the same Gebhard, and also owes its existence to Hemma's wealth.

Since 1174 Hemma has been buried in the crypt of Gurk Cathedral, of which she is accounted the founder. She was beatified on 21 November 1287 and canonised on 5 January 1938 by Pope Pius XI. Her feast day is 27 June.[2]

Hemma is the patron saint of the Diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt as well as of the Austrian state of Carinthia, and her intercession is sought for childbirth and diseases of the eye.

Emma Pilgrimage

Saint Hemma on fresca in church in Nova cerkev (Slovenia)

Saint Emma is venerated not only in Austria but also in Slovenia and Styria. From about 300 years ago, the pious and those seeking assistance have been coming to her tomb in Gurk Cathedral (Krška katedrala), travelling from Carniola over the Loibl Pass. This pilgrimage took place every year on the fourth Sunday after Easter, but fell out of use as a result of the political circumstances of the 20th century.

In recent years, however, the routes of pilgrimage from Slovenia and Styria to Gurk (Krka) have gradually reopened and are becoming increasingly used.


  1. Depiction of a woman in a Croatian traditional costume wearing a badge of the Brandenburgian Order of the Swan, possibly the portrait of Beatrice de Frangepan, spouse of Margrave George of Brandenburg-Ansbach.
  2. 1 2 29 June according to Gurk Cathedral


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