Saint Walpurga

Walpurga was born in the county of Devonshire, England, into a local aristocratic family. She was the daughter of St. Richard the Pilgrim, one of the underkings of the West Saxons, and of Winna, sister of St. Boniface, Apostle of Germany, and had two brothers, St. Willibald and St. Winibald.

St. Richard, when starting with his two sons on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, entrusted Walpurga, then 11 years old, to the abbess of Wimborne. Walpurga was educated by the nuns of Wimborne Abbey, Dorset, where she spent 26 years as a member of the community. She then travelled with her brothers, Willibald and Winibald, to Francia (now Württemberg and Franconia) to assist Saint Boniface, her mother’s brother, in evangelizing among the still-pagan Germans.

Because of her rigorous training, she was later able to write St. Winibald’s Life and an account in Latin of St. Willibald’s travels in Palestine. She is thus looked upon by many as the first female author of England and Germany. Scarcely a year after her arrival, Walpurga received tidings of her father’s death at Lucca.

During her schooling at St. Cuthberga, her uncle and Boniface (later martyred in Germany) and her two brothers were sent as missionaries to Germany to convert the heathen races of Europe. As Boniface began to establish churches, he appealed to the Abbess Tetta of the convent of St. Cuthberga to send him some nuns to assist in his work. The Abbess selected a party of ten to embark on a voyage to join him, two of whom were Walburga and Boniface’s cousin Lioba.

As they sailed across the channel a terrible and violent tempest arose. In an act of faith Walburga knelt upon the deck of the ship and prayed, where upon the storm seized and became calm once again. When the ship arrived in Germany the sailors proclaimed the miracle they had witnessed at sea, that were ever she went, she was received with joy and veneration.

On eventually reaching Mainz, she was warmly welcomed by her uncle and brother Willibald. Her two brothers had already established a double monastery for both men and women in Heidenheim. After living for some time in Bischofsheim, Walburga was appointed Abbess to support her brother Winibald at Heidenheim, who already served as first Abbot. When her brother Winibald died, the Bishop of Eichstadt once again appointed her as Abbess of the whole monastery.

Her virtue, sweetness, and prudence, added to the gifts of grace and nature with which she was endowed, as well as the many miracles she wrought, endeared her to all. It was of these nuns that Ozanam wrote: “Silence and humility have veiled the labours of the nuns from the eyes of the world, but history has assigned them their place at the very beginning of German civilization: Providence has placed women at ever cradleside.” On 23 Sept., 776, she assisted at the translation of her brother St. Winibald’s body by St. Willibald, when it was found that time had left no trace upon the sacred remains. Shortly after this she fell ill, and, having been assisted in her last moments by St. Willibald, she expired on 25 February 777.

Twenty-three years later, the shrine of St. Walburga was opened by Otkar’s successor the Bishop Erchanbold, to remove some portions of the remains to give as relics to Liubula, Abbess of Monheim. It was at this point that the Bishop first discovered that the body of the saint was immersed in a oily substance, which from that day forth has continued to flow from the stone slab and surrounding metal plate on which the relics of the saint rest. The fluid or `Walburgis oleum’ is collected in a silver cup, placed beneath the slab to catch the fluid, so the nuns of St Walburga can distribute it all over the world to those who wish to benefit from St Walburga’s influence of healing.

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