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June 29

St Hemma of Gurk - June 29

Saint Hemma (Emma) of Gurk

Countess, Wife, Widow

(Around 980 – 1045)

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Saint Hemma of Gurk

Saint’s Life Story

Her Early Life  

Hemma ( or Emma) was born around 980 as 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 Saint Cunigunde

Married Count Wilhelm (William)

Around the year 1010, Hemma married Count Blessed William of Sann, mentioned as margrave an der Sann in 1016. It was an arranged marriage, but a happy one. Her husband had received vast estates on the Savinja (Sann) river from the hands of the Emperor. They were a good match.  Hemma and Wilhelm strove to live out their faith as husband and wife. Hemma proved to be very capable in helping the count to manage these lands with her prudent judgment and good advice. Emma also insisted, with the agreement of William, to insure that help was given to the poor and that those for whom they were responsible had opportunities to receive religious and moral education. 

Two Sons

Hemma had two sons, Hartwig and Wilhelm (William). Hemma had passed on her devotion and faith and taught them to be chivalrous young men. As part of their responsibilities, her sons managed the family’s silver mines.

Tragedy Strikes Three Times

Both of Hemma’s sons were murdered by the miners they were supervising over a worker’s dispute. Hemma and her husband turned to prayer as a way to deal with their grief.

In the end of 1036, tragedy again struck Hemma when her husband died. There are conflicting historical accounts as to the reason. One account has that he died returning from a pilgrimage. The more commonly held account is that he was murdered by Duke Adalbero in an act of revenge over some political dispute. Of course, the stories could be one and the same in that the count was murdered by the duke while returning from a pilgrimage. The result was that after twenty years of marriage, Hemma was a widow.

Childless Widow

Suddenly, Hemma found herself a childless widow who could have become bitter wanting revenge against the new tragedies in her life. Instead, Hemma placed her trust in God. She allowed God to grow her heart through her sorrow. Although Hemma did retreat from court life, she did so in order to first grieve the loss of her husband and sons, then to devote herself more to prayer in order to discern what God would have her do next.

Through her discernment, Hemma, began to see God’s path for her. Instead of becoming immobilized or remaining secluded, she increased her charity toward others. With the wealth that she inherited, she continued to build churches. All told, she would build ten churches including the monastery and convent of Gurk Abbey in Carinthia, Austria in 1043. Hemma would also continue to provide for the poor.

After the convent was complete, Hemma retired there to spend her fortune by continuing her charitable work.  It is not clear from the historical record, however, Hemma might have become a Benedictine nun.


On June 29, 1045 in Gurk, Kärnten, Austria, Hemma died of natural causes. Immediately after her death, devotion to Saint Hemma grew. Hemma has particularly been sought as an intercessor by pregnant women in order to ask for her prayers that all will go well with the birth of their children. Eventually, in 1174, her remains were transferred to the cathedral of Gurk and she was named the patron saint of the Diocese of Gurk.

Then, as early as 1607, a pilgrimage to Saint Hemma’s tomb began to be made. The route would begin in Slovenia and go over a mountain pass to conclude at the Gurk Cathedral on the Fourth Sunday of Easter. This pilgrimage took place for hundreds of years until the wars of the twentieth century interrupted the annual event. However, in recent years the pilgrimage has seen a revival and every year larger groups of pilgrims are coming to Saint Hemma’s tomb to ask for her prayers.

Born :                 Around 980 in present-day Pilštanj, Slovenia

Died:                  June 29, 1045 in Gurk, Kärnten, Austria

Beatified:          November 21, 1287 by Pope Honorius IV

Canonized:       January 5, 1938 by Pope Pius XI (cultus confirmation)

Feast Day:         June 29; June 27, in German-speaking areas; June 30 on some calendars

Patron Saint:    Against Eye Problems/Disorders; Carinthia, Austria; Diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt, Austria; Extreme Hangovers; Invoked During Childbirth



We all will or have experienced suffering and tragedies during our lives, but what differentiates us from Saints is how they dealt with their sufferings. Saint Hemma of Gurk used the tragedies of losing her husband and two sons to draw closer to God in a deeper relationship. She used her sufferings to reflect on how she could be more like Jesus by gaving away her wealth to the poor and founding ten churches including the double-monastery of Gurk Abbey in Carinthia, Austria.

Do you trust in the Lord’s plan when suffering hits you and/or your family? Remember that God will never give us more than we can bear as we trust that he will always be there in whatever direction life takes us.


Lord, Our God,  You alone are Holy, 
and nobody is good without Your help.  
Grant that, at the intercession of Saint Hemma of Gurk, 
we may model our life according to Your will
and attain that level of holiness which You intend for us.
We ask this through Christ, our Lord.  

Saint Hemma of Gurk, pray for us. Amen.

Saint Links 

Bartleby – Rev. Alban Butler Volume VI: June. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. June 29 St. Hemma, Widow

CatholicSaints.Info – Saint Hemma of Gurk

Letters from the Saints – How a Saint Responds to Tragedy: St Emma of Gurk

Portraits of Saints – St. Emma of Gurk

Saints, Feast, Family – Saint Emma of Gurk’s Story

Wikipedia – Hemma of Gurk