The Purple Thread
St Leoba was born ca. 710 as Leobgytha in Wessex to a noble family, her mother was a distant cousin of Wynfrith, later Boniface, who was a friend of her father's. Leoba was conceived to old parents who were barren. Her mother had a dream in which she would conceive a "beloved" child of Christ. This dream also told her mother that her offspring was to lead a spiritual life, and to serve the church. Leobgytha was trained first by abbess Eadburg at Minster.
She entered Wimborne Abbey as an oblate and corresponded with Boniface. Archbishop Boniface later sought out Leoba, who was widely acclaimed for being virtuous, to help him with his mission of spreading Christianity throughout Germany. Archbishop Boniface repeatedly requested for Leoba to accompany him because he thought that many would benefit from her holiness and example. She agreed to accompany him because of a dream that she had:
An unending purple thread issued from her mouth which she drew forth little by little and wound into a ball until she became exhausted.
An elderly nun at Wimborne interpreted the dream as a prophecy indicating that Leoba’s teaching and good example would bring benefits to many in far off lands. The purple thread signified the wise counsel for which she would be famed. Purple thread – surely a metaphor for the advice of a royal woman as a weaver of peace.
The exact date of her arrival in Germany is debatable. There is some consensus for 748 but it may have been earlier. Leoba was installed as abbess of Bischofsheim in the region of Frankfurt. Boniface, the papal legate for the German Lands, entrusted her with much authority, so that she was not simply in charge of her own house but of all the nuns in the region.
Statue of St Leoba at Schornsheim
Leoba was an extraordinary organiser and a woman of great learning. She transmitted a love of reading to her nuns and founded the monasteries of Kitzingen and Ochsenfurt. In addition, bishops consulted her and she was the only woman allowed to enter the male houses to consult with monastic leaders. Leoba was invited to the court of Pippin III, where she enjoyed great favour. Hildegard, later wife of Charlemagne, was her friend.
In later life Leoba retired with other Anglo-Saxon nuns to Schornsheim, near Mainz on an estate given to her by Charlemagne. There she died on 28 September 782.
Several miracles have been attributed to Leoba both during her life and after her death. During her lifetime, Leoba was responsible for many miracles: saving a village from fire; saving a town from a terrible storm,; and saving the life of a fellow nun who was gravely ill, feeding her off her own silver spoon. All of these miracles were completed through prayer. Leoba's grave was also the site of many miracles. These miracles include: freeing a man of tightly bound iron rings around his arms; and curing a man from Spain of his twitching disorder.