Posted by: anna | March 10, 2010

St Walburga

icon by anonymous iconographer, image from Western Saints Icon Project.


Today (25 February) we commemorate St Walburga, abbess of Heidenheim (not Hildesheim!) and myrrh-giver. From Miss Dunbar:

St. Walburga (1), Feb. 25, May 1 (in French AUBOUÉ, AVANGOUR, AVONGOURG, FALBOURG, GAUBOURG, GUALBOURG, GUIBOR, PERCHE, VALBURG, VALPURGE, VAUBOUER, VAUBOURG, WALBOURG ; in Greek EUCHARIS ; in German WALPURD, WALPURGIS, WARPURG), abbess of Heidenheim in Thuringia, + c. 780. Patron against hydrophobia and of Eichstadt, Oudenarde, Furnes, Antwerp, Groningen, Weilburg and Zutphen.

Represented (1) in a nun’s dress, with a little bottle, as a myroblite ; an abbess’ crook, a crown at her feet, as a king’s daughter ; (2) in Switzerland, in a group with St. Philip and St. James the less, and St. Sigismund, king of Burgundy, because she was canonized on May 1, the festival of those three saints; (3) carrying an ear of corn.

She was the daughter of “St. Richard, king of the English,” whose territory is supposed to have been part of Devonshire. Her mother was Wunna, Unnoheid or Bona, supposed to be a sister or niece of St. Boniface. Her brothers were St. Wunibald, abbot of Heidenheim, and St. Willibald, bishop of Einstettin or Eichstadt in Franconia. Walburga was born between 700 and 712, in the reign of Ina, king of Wessex, whose sister ST. CUTHBURGA founded and ruled the double monastery of Wimburn (now Wimborne), and there it is probable that Walburga was brought up. She is said in some of the legends to have gone to Rome and Palestine with her brother, but it seems more likely that she and her mother lived at Wimborne when St. Richard and his two sons set off on a pilgrimage to Rome. Richard died at Lucca on the way.

About 748 Walburga was sent from Wimborne by the abbess TETTA, at the request of St. Boniface, with a party of nuns, to assist him in establishing nun neries and schools among his new converts in Germany. (Compare LIOBA). They went first to Mayence, where they were received by Boniface and Willi and very soon Boniface sent them to Wunibald, who was building his monastery at Heidenheim. As soon as it was finished he and his monks built a nunnery near it for Walburga. Both communities were governed by Wunibald. After his death in 761, by some accounts Walburga ruled over both, but this is not specified in the earliest Lives. The place was called by her name for centuries.

One evening Walburga had stayed late in the church praying. She bade the sexton light her to her cell. He refused, and she meekly went without a light and without her supper as the common meal was finished. In the night the nuns were aroused by a super natural brightness shining from Walburga’s cell, it lighted all the dormitory They watched in fear and wonder until the matin bell, and when Walburga appeared they told her what they had seen. She thanked God Who had accepted her humility and turned it to honour, and she ascribed the miracle to the prayers of her departed brother Wunibald. Another time she was divinely guided to the house of a neighbouring baron, whose daughter lay dying. She did not venture to announce her rank and enter the house, but stood in her poor clothes at the door among the fierce wolf hounds. The baron seeing her there, in danger of being torn by his dogs, asked rather roughly who she was and what she wanted. The saint replied that he need not fear, for He Who had brought her safely there would take her safely home, that she had come as a physician to his house and would heal his daughter if he believed in the great Physician. She added that the dogs would not touch Walburga. The baron started on hearing her well-known and honoured name, and asking why so noble a lady and so great a servant of God stood outside his door, he led her into the house with the greatest respect. The girl was at the point of death, but Walburga spent the night beside her, in prayer, and in the morning restored her in perfect health to her parents. They tried to heap gifts upon her. but she would accept nothing, and returned on foot to the convent. Many translations have occurred and given rise to her commemoration on many different days, and perhaps to the belief that there were other saints of the same name in other places, for instance, at Bourges and at Paderborn. As the writer of the extant Life of her brother St. Wunibald, she has been called the earliest authoress of England or Germany, but although that was written by a nun at Heidenheim, there is not sufficient evidence to prove that it was the work of Walburga. A phenomenon accepted as proof of her sanctity is the healing oil which still flows from her tomb from her breast bone, it is said and has wrought miraculous cures for centuries. It runs from a square opening in the stone on which her relics rest, through silver tubes, into a silver reservoir, whence it is sent far and near.

In the Roman Martyrology, May 1, she is coupled with St. Asaph as English.

Heathen superstitions are mingled with the honour paid her, and the witches’ Sabbath of May 1 bears her name. Miss Eckenstein thinks that Walpurgis was the name of the English saint, that Walburga was a German heathen goddess, and that their worship has been confused by the ignorant. Her Life by Wolfhard von Hasenried was written immediately after her death, if not before it. AA.8S. Butler. Baillet. Stadler. Kerslake, Saint Richard, the King of Englishmen, and The Celt and the Teuton in Exeter.

icon by the hand of Alexander Stolyarov, from St. Spyridon Serbian Orthodox Skyte in Geilnau, Germany. Image from Western Saints Icon Project.

Walburga, unlike so many of the other Anglo-Saxon saints, is still well remembered and loved today – a Benedictine monastery of that dedication exists once more in Eichstätt, Germany, and is the mother house of another St Walburga’s in Colorado. 2010 marks the 1300th anniversary of her birth, and is full of celebrations at the Benedictine mother house in Eichstätt. Have a look at this engaging account of a visit to her shrine by the author of Roman Miscellany, an English Roman Catholic priest.


What a wonderful word myroblite (myrrh-bearer, myrrh here in the sense of sweet-smelling oil) is – it’s not in the OED! Here is a list of oil-bearing saints. The other word used to denote this group of saints (also not in the OED) is elaephori.


Holy St Walburga, pray to God for us.

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