A Life of Saint Walburge, by Father Thomas Meyrick, SJ

Saint WalburgeIntroductory

Lothaire, King of Kent, died in the year 685, leaving a son Richard. That once powerful kingdom had begun to decline. Its confines had been devastated, and Rochester burned by the Mercian King Ethelred, in the early years of the reign of Lothaire, but intestine war contributed much to its downfall. This domestic disturbance was occasioned by family quarrels. Egbert, the elder brother of Lothaire, held possession of the throne during the minority of his young cousins, Ethelred and Ethelbert, sons of Ermenred, who had a prior claim to the crown. These holy youths, who had retired into a monastery, were treacherously murdered by Thunner, a partisan of Egbert, who stabbed them as he gave them a kiss of peace and they were accounted martyrs. By a just retribution Lothaire succeeded the penitent Egbert, to the exclusion of his young sons, Edric and Withred. He in turn was dethroned in the twelfth year of his reign by Edric, his nephew, who revolted against him, assisted by the South Saxons, Lothaire was carried out of the battle and died of his wounds.

Edric reigned, but apparently not without opposition, and Kent, weakened by civil discord, fell a prey to the warlike and victorious Cedwal, King of Wessex. He invaded it, and Edric fell, but the conqueror retired after a defeat in which he lost his brother Mollo, burned alive by the enemy in a cottage to which he had fled for refuge. For six or seven ensuing years Kent remained without a king, or was subject to Wessex. Ina, the successor of Cedwal, entered it with a powerful army, and did not quit it until composition was made with him for a fine of thirty thousand marks in recompense for the death of Mollo. Withred, the brother of Edric was then permitted to succeed unmolested to the throne.

Thus Richard, the son of Lothaire, was excluded. Such is the account to be gathered from the history of Bede and Alfords annals concerning the title of Saint Richard, father of Saint Willibald, Saint Winibald, and Saint Walburge, to the name of an English king. He is so styled in the epitaph on his tomb at Lucca, and he is named son of Lothaire in the Sarum office. Had he chosen to press his claim, he would in all probability havp been supported by the powerful Ina, whose kinswoman he married, Winna, the sister of Winfred, the Martyr and Apostle of Germany. But Richard’s name is not found in the annals of the time as taking part in the political conflicts, from which we may conclude that he preferred the retirement of private life, as far as that was possible out of the walls of a monastery in such a warlike age and people.

The history of that period presents a double aspect, viewed in its political and its religious life. These form a singular contrast side by side. The one is a chronicle of the world, with its wars and turbulence; the other a tale of Churchmen engaged in prayer and promoting the Gospel of Peace. Battles raged without, tranquility reigned within, the walls of countless monasteries; and while it was an age of conflicting warriors, it was an age of saints. At the close of the seventh century and commencement of the eighth, England was illumined by the sanctity and learning of Saint Wilfrid of York in the north, of the scholar and poet Saint Aldhelm of Malmesbury in the south; Saint Theodore of Canterbury opened a school for the study of Greek near Oxford, Saint Bede was composing his commentaries and history at J arrow, Saint Chad died at Lichfield, Saint Cuthbert at Lindisfarne, Saint Guthlac at Croyland, Saint Hilda at Whitby, Saint Mildred in the Isle of Thanet. Five kings, without reckoning Saint Richard, descended from their thrones to embrace religious or monastic life; the young victorious Cedwal, King of Wessex, resigned his kingdom to make a pilgrimage to Rome, and there died in his baptismal white robes; Saint Ina, his successor, some years later followed his example; Sebb, King of Essex, Ethelred and Ccenred, Kings of Mercia, are reckoned as saints who relinquished earthly royalty; Saint Willibrord, with twelve associates, had gone from Ripon to evangelize Holland, Saint Winfred from Exeter to the apostolate of Germany. No less than ten abbots, besides Saint Aldhelm, Abbot and Bishop, signed a synod in the kingdom of Wessex. Everywhere in England and the lowlands of Scotland there were religious houses containing great numbers of monks and nuns, and in these the children of both sexes, especially of opulent parents, commonly received their education. This was of no mean standard of excellence, as will appear from the following pages.

Saint Richard placed his son Willibald in the monastery of Waltham, with the Abbot Egbald. This was probably situated in the kingdom of the South Saxons, and Daniel, the saintly Bishop of Winchester, was its abbot before Egbald. The child when three years old fell sick, and his life was despaired of, but he miraculously recovered, being placed by his parents at the foot of the Cross and vowed to God if he was restored to health. In fulfillment of this vow he was sent to the abbey of Waltham when five years old, and in due time became a monk. By his persuasion, Richard, his father, and Winibald, his brother, were led to the resolution of leaving England and making a pilgrimage to the tomb of the Apostles at Rome. In this they were joined by a number of friends and relatives, and forming a numerous company they embarked at the port of Hamle-mouth about the year 721.

To visit the sepulchre of the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, “the threshold of the Apostles,” was then a favourite and natural act of religion. Christianity came from Rome, and to Rome they went to make profession of obedience to Saint Peter and of communion with the Catholic Church. It was the refuge of bishops suffering wrong or persecution — as of Saint Wilfrid a little before this time — the mother and school of doctrine and learning, the resort of all missioners going out to evangelize. The letters of the Popes to Saint Boniface, or Winfred, the Apostle of Germany, show the constant communication kept up between bishops and the Holy Father. Thus pilgrimage to Rome was a common practice in the Saxon times. Mention has been made of Saint Cedwal, who had gone thither to receive baptism, in which he took the name of Peter. Saint Ina followed in the year 726, of whom the story is told that, returning one day from hunting to his royal residence at Abingdon, he found his halls deserted and a sow’s litter in his chamber; and from this scene of desolation, which his queen, Ethelburge, had designed for his instruction, he learned the lesson of the transitory nature of the glory of this world, and resolved to quit it. Ina founded the Saxonhouse, or School of the Saxons, at Rome, which appears from Alford and Baronius to have been situated where the Hospital of Santo Spirito stands, in the Trastevere, near Saint Richard and his two sons, sailing from Hamlemuth, which is probably Southampton, left Saint Walburge a young girl at the convent of Wimburn, in Dorsetshire, lately founded by two of her relatives on the mother’s side, Saint Cuthburge and Saint Kenburge, sisters of King Ina — or, if not founded, endowed by them with large grants of land.

The Life at Wimburn, The Pilgrimage of Her Father and Brothers

The education received by Saxon ladies in the eighth century would stand comparison with the accomplishments of any time or age. From the letters of Saint Winfred, the Apostle of Germany, to Lioba, one of Saint Walburge’s companions at Wimburn, we learn something of their studies. He inquires how she is progressing, and she sends in her answer, preserved among the letters of Saint Boniface, or Winfred, a specimen of a hymn in good Latin hexameter verse. The poems of Saint Aldhelm of Malmesbury, of an earlier date, show that he was familiar with Virgil, and that he takes him for his model. In addition to classical poetry, Church history is mentioned, and a knowledge of canon law and the councils. She asks what vestments he requires in Germany, and offers to work them for him. The manuscripts of that date are remarkable for their beauty — so that calligraphy and music, which was part of the daily routine, would give, with the studies mentioned, no mean idea of a convent education in those days. To know the Psalter by heart was usual. It is mentioned as extraordinary of the child Willibald, that he could repeat it at the age of seven.

The seclusion at Wimburn was very strict, under an abbess of great repute for sanctity. She governed a double monastic house of monks and nuns, as was not unfrequently the custom, but the separation was so complete that no one except the priest to say Mass ever entered the convent walls. The inmates were five hundred in number, as we learn from the Life of Saint Lioba. This makes it more probable that the first foundation of Wimburn was in the previous century, as some place it, rather than the thirteenth year of the eighth by the sisters of Ina. But from this instance it is plain what an important influence the monasteries of those times exercised upon the age, as the schools of children, the repositories of learning, and the nurseries of saints.

Saint Walburge lived nearly thirty years at Wimburn, and became in course of time a nun. She might have lived and died, in holy seclusion, with no further history than that of so many religious of her sex then sanctifying England by prayer and penance, but when she was about the age of forty years letters from Germany called upon her to enter on a new and laborious life of a mission in a distant land.

Meanwhile we must follow the pilgrimage of her father and brothers. They went in a considerable company, as appears from the phrase of “pitching camp.” They were exposed to danger from the Saracens in the south of France, not yet subdued by Charles Martel, and from the Lombards, who were hostile to the Pope, in the north of Italy. But they reached Lucca in safety, and there Saint Richard fell sick and died. He was buried in the Church of Saint Frigidian, where he is still venerated as a saint, and his altar and relics, with his name inscribed as “Rex Anglorum,” are to be seen at the present day. His death took place in the year 722, and his feast is on the 7th of February. Many miracles are recorded as having been obtained through his intercession, especially of deliverance from diabolical possession.

His two sons, Saint Willibald and Saint Winibald, leaving his remains at Lucca, pursued their way to Rome, and arrived there at the close of the same year. They both fell sick of the fever, and Saint Winibald remained at Rome, while his brother when he had recovered his health, with the Pope’s permission, continued his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, then in the hands of the Saracens. He was absent on his journey and in the East for seven years, two of which he spent in visiting the holy places of Palestine. He has left us an account of these interesting travels in a journal, or itinerary, added in the Appendix, as it does not belong to this brief narrative to give it in detail. He went in company with others who appear to have been, like himself, religious men and Benedictines desirous of visiting the Holy Land and the sepulchre of our Lord. A circumstance worthy of note is recorded in the latter portion of the journal. They were on the sea between Naples and Sicily, and it is said, “We here passed the hell of Theodoric” — that is, the volcano of Stromboli — into the mouth of which, as the lesson in the Breviary, May 27, relates, a hermit saw the soul of that persecutor of the Church cast by the hands of Symmachus, the patrician, and Pope John, whom he had martyred — the tradition of that time confirming the account so given by Saint Gregory the Great The itinerary of Saint Willibald to the Holy Land is one of the earliest on record, and we have in it an account of his sufferings from hardship and sickness, his imprisonment by the Saracens, his visits to Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, and other parts of Palestine, his loss of sight and the miraculous recovery of it in the Church of the Holy Cross at Jerusalem. On his return he spent two years at Constantinople (the Greek Church being then in communion with the Holy See, but suffering persecution under Leo the Isaurian), and from thence he traveled back in company with the Pope’s legate to Italy.

This return took place about the year 730, and after that he remained ten years in the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino, at the expiration of which time he was forty years of age. Meanwhile his brother Winibald, whom we left at Rome, had gone to the mission of Germany. His uncle, the great Saint Boniface, Archbishop of Mentz, had come to Rome to present himself to Pope Gregory III, and hearing that Winibald was in Rome, had induced him to follow him to Germany, and begged of the Pope to send him his brother Willibald, as soon as he returned to Rome, to assist him in the conversion of the Germans.

In the year 740, Saint Willibald visited Rome from Monte Cassino, and presenting himself to the Pope, received an order from him to go to Germany to join his uncle. In obedience to this command he went to Mentz, and found the great Apostle of Germany in the midst of his labours, preaching and instructing, founding monasteries, and erecting bishoprics in the wild country which had newly been brought to the faith, and by the faith to civilization.

Upon his arrival he was ordained priest, and the following year Bishop of Eichstadt, in Bavaria, where with three of his companions in pilgrimage he established a monastic house, or Minster. These Minsters were the centres from which religion and learning spread — the mother churches from which others ramified. His brother Winibald was already abbot, with the care of seven houses of monks in Thuringia, and was thus by his instructions and example bringing into order the district committed to his charge.

It was in this systematic method pursued by the monks of the Order of Saint Benedict that the faith in those ages was imparted to nations. Monastic houses were everywhere established, and this was the general plan of the conversion of central Europe. The whole country was thrown under an organized system which was perpetually diverging like rays of light further and further into the recesses of the land, centralized in abbots and bishops of districts. Such was the plan pursued by Saint Boniface, who established his monastery of Fulda. Such had been the plan before his time of Saint Willibrord, the Apostle of Holland and Friesland, who was a Benedictine monk from Saint Peter’s at Ripon. The same method was pursued by Saint Winibald and Saint Willibald in Bavaria. Odilo, Duke of Bavaria, and Suger, Count of Hirtzburg, assisted the two missioners with their protection and grants of land. Thus the heart of Germany and Bavaria was converted and civilized.

To carry on and complete the work of conversion and instruction, religious of the other sex were needed, and in the year 748 Saint Winfred wrote to Wjmburn desiring the abbess to send him nuns from England to assist him in the mission. He named in particular Saint Walburge, the sister of the two companions of his labours, and Saint Lioba, his correspondent, and Saint Tecla — noble Saxon ladies — intending to made these Superioresses of convents in Germany.

Saint Walburge Leaves Wimburn for Germany

Saint Walburge was now near forty years of age, having lived at Wimburn twenty-eight or thirty years. Upon receiving the message of her uncle, she committed herself entirely to the divine will, and having understood that it was the special call of God and that the whole matter was by His appointment, prepared for immediate departure. Thirty of the Sisters were chosen to accompany her, amongst whom were Saint Tecla and Saint Lioba. The convent of Wimburn, as said above, contained five hundred inmates, so that it becomes no matter of surprise that it could send forth so large a number. A ship was provided for their passage, and they set sail from the shores of England.

Their voyage was at first favourable, but when they gained the open sea so violent a tempest arose, that the ship was in danger and the sailors gave up all for lost. Full of confidence that God, Who had called her by His providence, would not suffer her and her companions to perish by sea, Saint Walburge, who had been absorbed in prayer, arose, commanding the storm to cease — and immediately there was a calm, and they shortly after arrived in port.

Having landed, they came safely to Mentz, where they were gladly received by the great Archbishop, Saint Boniface. With him Saint Walburge found her brother Willibald, Bishop of Eichstadt, whom she now met after so many years of separation. The Archbishop judged it best to place Saint Walburge with a part of the nuns near her brother Winibald, in Thuringia, where, as has been said, he was Superior of seven monasteries. Saint Tecla and Saint Lioba were sent to found convents at Monheim and ‘Bishopsheim. Thus the first settlement of Saint Walburge was in Thuringia, or Franconia, under the direction of her brother Winibald.

The features that strike us in perusing the records of this age of the missions of the Anglo-Saxons, are the heroic courage and endurance of hardship both in men and women, their unshaken faith, and the spirit of sacrifice from which this heroism sprang. England was repaying to Germany the debt of duty; the children were carrying to their fathers the faith they had found in their island home. Christianity had made them as bold adventurers in the cause of God and the propagation of the faith as their fathers had been brave and hardy marauders. God was not wanting to confirm their confidence and resolution with numerous miracles. With these the records of the time abound; nor is it to be wondered at that such supernatural aid should be granted in so great an undertaking; for the German nations among whom they went to preach were still barbarous and wild. They lived in their vast forests, the trees of which were held sacred according to the old Druidical superstitions: they worshipped the gods of war and thunder, and used divination and enchantments. Their fear of the latter, as is common with barbarous people, was the cause of the martyrdom of the two brothers, Ewald the Dark and Ewald the Fair, as related in the Life of Saint Willibrord, or Clement, the Apostle of Holland, and his twelve companions. The two brother missioners were accustomed to chant the Psalter together, and the wild Saxons gathered round their lodging at night to listen, at first delighted, and then superstitious fear prevailing, lest they should be enchanted by their sweet singing, they burst in, hacked them to pieces, and flung their bodies into the Rhine. Probably for a similar reason, not long after the time of which we write, they martyred Saint Boniface, their great apostle and archbishop, together with his coadjutor Eoban and many of his clergy, when he was about to give the Sacrament of Confirmation, for which he had been treacherously invited across a river on the confines of Westphalia by some partially converted tribes.

To meet these hardships and dangers the Anglo-Saxon missionaries brought great personal qualifications. They are described as striking and noble in their appearance, capable of great fatigue, and inured to fastings and privations. Saint Winibald was an eloquent preacher. The same vigour of mind and body was not unfrequent in the other sex; and according to German ideas, they were regarded with especial reverence when they had vowed virginity, as receiving more easily prophetical gifts and supernatural communications. Hence it was not unusual to subject monasteries of men to the rule of an abbess, as has been already observed at Wimburn, and will be seen in the Life of Saint Walburge after the death of the Abbot Winibald.

In lapse of time, about ten years after his first arrival, the country around the seven monasteries of Saint Winibald and the convent of Saint Walburge became changed and civilized. He was indefatigable in preaching and instructing, his figure venerable and emaciated with fasting and labour, whilst she with her nuns practised that austere religious life which had so much to charm and astonish the northern nations. Hunters during the day, and revelling at its close, they saw with wonder the strictness of the life of the cloister, and the temperance and abstinence of its inmates; so supernatural a life awed them into respect Odilo, Duke of Bavaria, the friend and supporter of the holy abbot’s zeal, assisted his efforts among his people, and Winibald and his sister were surrounded by a population humanized by religion, who honoured and revered them.

Saint Winibald and Saint Walburge Remove to Heidenheim

Finding himself in this honourable position, and seeing the district brought into order, the saint resolved to remove, and leaving the more civilized country, to seek in the German Alps a spot where he could suffer new hardships, and find a fresh field for labour. Eichstadt, the residence of his brother Willibald, was situated on a tributary of the Danube. To him he had recourse for counsel. For the great Archbishop Boniface was now dead, and lay entombed a martyr in his beloved monastery of Fulda. By his advice he chose for his new habitation a wild forest country, now forming part of the duchy of Wurtemburg.

He obtained a site by purchase, and removed thither with a few of his monks to a valley amidst mountains covered with forest trees. The name of this secluded spot was Heidenheim. He then sent for his sister Saint Walburge, and founded there a double monastery for monks and nuns, about the year 752, when he was about fifty and she forty-four years of age.

Here, amidst primeval forests, these holy religious fixed their new abode. At that time the pine tree and the oak covered whole regions, and vast forests extended over central Europe, spreading around the sources of the Danube and the Rhine. They were inhabited by huntsmen, and abounded in wolves and bears and wild beasts of various kinds. England’s oaks rising from a brake of hawthorn or holly, and the fern below, are now no more, or have only left some remnants to show what they have been. The woods of the Western world remain to tell us what our European forests once were.

The monks of Saint Winibald, axe in hand, began to clear a space around their monastery. The natives saw with jealousy the intrusion, and beheld their ancient trees, sacred and untouched for ages, levelled by the stranger. Half Christian, half pagan, they still practiced many idolatrous rites, such as sacrificing at rocking stones, and hanging upon the sacred oak tree nine heads of slaughtered animals. They had lived without restraint, and the severe doctrine and life of the saint provoked them, and they resolved to kill him and burn his monastery. But as time elapsed, they became reconciled. The monastery began to grow in numbers, and the arts of cultivation were learned by the example and assistance of the monks. The nuns taught spinning and weaving, and in these works Saint Walburge constantly laboured with her own hands, and was very expert. Nothing can be more unreal than the pictures of monks and nuns of old as drawn by the fancy of poets and romancers. The pretty ivy-covered ruins in delightful situations are suggestive of an easy and indolent life. The monks of the “dark ages” had no such easy times. The wonder is, where such frames of iron could be found, to penetrate forests and form reductions, but in this manner the Benedictine monks and nuns introduced the arts of life, and changed the face of central Europe from barbarism to civilization.

Nine or ten years again elapsed, at the expiration of which Saint Winibald died, and miracles attested his sanctity. His brother, Saint Willibald, was present at his holy death, which took place on the 8th of December, 761, in the sixtieth year of his age. The last years of his life were enfeebled by constant sickness, his frame being worn down by austerities, and subject to rheumatic affections since his first illness in Rome. The last three years he could seldom leave his cell. The love of Saint Walburge for her saintly brother, resembling that of Saint Scholastica for Saint Benedict, was great, and the separation from him by his death made the remainder of her life desolate. As he lay dying, he commended both the monks and nuns to her care. She mourned for his loss, not only because he was her brother, but her guide and director in sanctity, and because the duties and responsibilities of government, by wish of the dying abbot, and command of the bishop, now devolved upon her. She was appointed to take charge both of the monastery and convent of Heidenheim, and this duty she fulfilled for fifteen years.

The learned Bollandist doubts whether the Life of Saint Willibald and his journey to Palestine is the work of Saint Walburge herself, or one of the nuns of Heidenheim. It was written from the dictation of Saint Willibald, as the writer attests, and in the presence of two of his deacons. She speaks of herself as a relative of the bishop, and the same authoress wrote a Life of Saint Winibald. It seems, therefore, most probable that both were the works of Saint Walburge, and they are usually considered to be hers.

The characteristic virtues of Saint Walburge are, first the love of the Cross, which enabled her through a long life to undergo so much labour and follow her brothers upon their arduous mission. In the simple narrative of the lives of the family, her brothers are usually styled the “Lovers of the Cross,” the “Athletes of Christ.” It was at the foot of the Cross that Saint Willibald was miraculously cured in his infancy, and it is mentioned as a special devotion of the Anglo-Saxons, that at the houses of all noble thanes a domestic cross was placed in some public spot where the household resorted to pray. The old crosses to be seen in many parts, to which the names of Saxon saints are attached by tradition, are examples of this veneration of the Holy Cross in the times of the Anglo-Saxons. But this devotion had been very special and remarkable in the British Isles from the first introduction of Christianity, and is traced by the learned Alford with great probability to the coming of Saint Joseph of Arimathea to Glastonbury, and his love and veneration for the Holy Cross from which he assisted to take down the Body of our Lord.

Again, in the Church of the Holy Cross at Jerusalem her brother recovered his eyesight; and finally, Saint Walburge chose the Church of the Holy Cross at Eichstadt as the place for her relics to repose. There is a spirit of simple but affectionate piety which breathes throughout the narrative of the visit of her brother to the holy places of Palestine, and particularly in the description of the sepulchre of our Lord, which manifests a deep and tender devotion to the Passion. To strength of purpose and resolution of character, she added great meekness, gentleness, and humility. The following circumstances related of her show her patience under contempt, her compassionate kindness, and her fearlessness in encountering danger.

After her brothers death she remained on one occasion a long time to pray in the church of the monastery. Night was closing in, and she asked for a light to retire to her cell. The sacristan refused it her; and without making any reply, or resenting the contempt of her authority, she went to her chamber, the angels giving a light to her path, and a bright supernatural light from the cell of Saint Walburge lit up the whole convent through the night until the hour of Matins. This miracle she ascribed to the intercession of Saint Winibald.

Another miracle is related of her during her lifetime, while she was abbess, after the death of Saint Winibald. The daughter of a neighbouring lord was dying. Her parents were in the greatest affliction, and the father, who was a rough huntsman, unmindful of the chase, sat full of grief. Saint Walburge, acquainted with their misfortune, and feeling for their sorrows, received an impulse to visit them. It was in the evening when she approached the castle, and the hungry wolf-hounds surrounded the door. The master of the house being told that a stranger stood without, bid her be called in lest the savage dogs should tear her down. On receiving the message she replied, “Do not fear, the hounds will not hurt Walburge.” When the Baron heard that it was the Abbess of Heidenheim, he came to receive her with respect, and being told that she was come to visit his dying child, accompanied her to the chamber. There she remained through the night in prayer, and in the morning restored their daughter in health to her parents. In gratitude they offered her rich presents, which she refused.

The Death of Saint Walburge

By these her virtues, miracles, and holy life, Saint Walburge having given glory to God, and spread the faith, gave up her pure soul to Him on the 25th of February, 776. She was laid by the side of her brother, Saint Winibald, by the hands of Saint Willibald, who survived her ten years. He died in 786, and was buried in his church at Eichstadt. He was canonized in the Pontificate of Leo VII, and his festival solemnly kept throughout Bavaria on the 7th of July.

Three miracles are recorded at the death of Saint Walburge. Her face appeared illuminated and radiant with beauty. A sweet fragrance from the sacred remains filled the church, and the torches around the bier were lighted without hands. The convent of Heidenheim was rebuilt soon after on a larger scale, and the body of Saint Winibald being moved on the occasion, was found uncorrupt after the space of sixteen years.

The feast of Saint Walburge is kept in May, to commemorate the translation of her relics. The first translation to Eichstadt took place in the following century, when Otkar, the sixth in succession from Saint Willibald, was Bishop of Eichstadt. The church and monastery of Heidenheim had fallen into decay, and a new building was raised, but the tomb of Saint Walburge was neglected. The saint appeared in a vision to Otkar, and asked him “Why her sepulchre was dishonoured in which her body lay expecting the resurrection?” and assured him that he should have a sign that he had not dealt well with her, nor with the house of God. Next day the northern wall of the new building fell to the ground. The bishop called together his clergy, and opening the tomb, carried the sacred remains to Eichstadt in solemn procession. On the way to the cathedral the procession passed the Church of the Holy Cross, and the mules that drew the coffin refusing to proceed, the relics were placed there, and it became the Church and Convent of Saint Walburge. Shortly after the remains of Saint Winibald were translated to the same church.

The second translation of a part of her relics to Monheim was made in the time of the successor of Otkar. The abbess of the convent of Monheim begged of the Bishop Erconwald a portion of the relics of Saint Walburge, consigning to him on those conditions the convent of Monheim. The tomb in which she had been laid by Otkar was opened, and the bones were found moistened with drops of pearly dew which nothing would soil. A portion of, these was taken and conveyed to Monheim. As the procession approached Mulheim, a place where Saint Boniface had resided, an epileptic boy touched the bier and recovered, and immediately “there gushed forth in that place an odour so strong and so marvelously sweet, that the senses of those who preceded and those that followed and of those who bore the bier could scarce endure it.” The abbess Liubila received a miraculous cure. She was afflicted with gout in the feet, and as she slept, an aged man in priest’s robes, with snowy hair, appeared to her, saying, “Liubila, do you sleep? Rise and go to the church.” She replied, “The Matin bell has not sounded; and, moreover, I cannot go except they carry me.” “Arise quickly,” he said, “and go, for Saint Willibald is come to see how you have laid his sister, accompanied with a host of angels.” She arose immediately, found herself perfectly cured, and went to the church to return thanks to God and Saint Walburge. Our saint is said to have been canonized by Adrian II. after the miracles that occurred at this translation, and this is the festival that is kept on the ist of May. Probably in those early times the fact of the translation and the miracles that occurred, together with the popular voice and the bishop’s authority, were accounted a sufficient declaration of sanctity.

The shrine of Saint Walburge became famous through all Germany, and a vast number of cures are recorded, beginning from the close of the ninth century, when the translation of her relics took place. The lame and crippled recovered the use of their limbs, and many blind received their sight In the year 896 a girl blind from her birth was given her eyesight. Others were restored from gout, dropsy, and paralysis. Miracles almost of a playful character are recorded. One who prayed in her church at Mass with his gauntlets on his hands, found them suddenly gone, and some days after saw them lying beside him. A little girl of the convent was cured of her fondness for play by the ball remaining fast to her hand, from which she was freed by praying at the shrine. A woman who spun on holidays was corrected in the same manner by the ball of wool clinging to her hand until she was freed by the intercession of Saint Walburge.

But the most remarkable and continual miracle, for which she is still renowned, is that which reckons her among the saints who are called eleophori, or whose bones distill a miraculous oil. Among these are said to have have been Saint Andrew the. Apostle, the lover of the Cross, Saint Matthew the Evangelist, Saint Nicholas of Myra, celebrated for his compassion, and Saint John the Almsgiver; to these may be added Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, Saint Euphemia of Byzantium, and Saint Agnes of Tuscany. These were all distinguished by the gift of piety and mercy, and this was the special characteristic of Saint Walburge, a tender piety and compassion.

It is not merely a pious imagination, but a custom consecrated by Catholic usage and faith, to attribute to certain saints special gifts and prerogatives, to have recourse to them in particular wants, and for particular remedies. Their lives are not all the same, nor their virtues of the same character. The grace of God, which works in them all, is multiform,, producing fruits suitable to every age and people. Some are examples of simplicity and poverty, some of meekness and forgiveness, some of long suffering and patience; others are merciful, others penitent, or patterns of innocence, according to the changes of times and the necessities of the world. The flow of pure oil from the relics of Saint Walburge, especially from the breast- bone, continuing for a thousand years, and working innumerable cures to the present day, may be justly considered an emblem of the piety and mercy and lively faith of the saint herself, who was an example of that true type of a gentle and affectionate, but manly and courageous heart, raised by the love of the Cross to heroic patience in sufferings.

Her first sorrow was her separation at an early age from all her family, when she was left in England at the departure of her father and brothers. After a peaceful life of many years at Wimburn, she is separated from it by a call to a distant and arduous mission. She joins her brother in Franconia, and is no sooner settled there than again she is summoned to follow him to the depths of the German forests. Lastly, she is separated from her saintly brother to bear the burden of the Cross alone. These are the successive forcings of the olive press beneath the weight of which that gentle but generous soul gave forth its virtues of patience and charity.

Her life may be considered as active rather than contemplative, yet it was spent in seclusion for the most part. The history of this interior life, except in rare instances, is never told. The fragments that come to us of saints lives are mostly the external marks of sanctity; hence the complaint that they are full of miracles. Their secret history of cloistered life, apparently so monotonous, but so full of true and varied interest, is unknown.

The Oil of Saint Walburge

The oil of Saint Walburge distills from the coffer in which her relics are enclosed, in her church of Eichstadt; the principal relic is the pectoral, or breast-bone. “You may see,” says Philip, the Bishop of Eichstadt, who was himself miraculously cured at point of death by the holy oil, “the drops, sometimes larger sometimes less, dropping into the silver bowl from beneath the stone slab on which they hang. If the holy oil, when carried away, is handled irreverently, or in any way treated disrespect- fully, it disappears. It must be kept with reverence, and stored in a holy place. If the vessel is not placed under to receive it, the oil hangs clustering like honey in a comb, refusing to fall; nor will it run unless the phial to receive it be clean.” When the church of Eichstadt was laid under an interdict on account of the aggressions of the neighbouring nobles on the rights of the bishops, the oil ceased. Nor did it flow again until, after the interdict had been removed, the bishop, barefoot and having proclaimed a fast, went publicly to pray that the city might not be deprived of such a benefit, and upon the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice the oil flowed again. This is another property of the miraculous oil, that it flows more freely during the time of Mass and the festivals of the saint.

The pious and laborious Gretser has written at length the miracles worked by the oil of Saint Walburge, and adduced abundant evidence to prove its miraculous power. To those who do not believe, the most evident proofs are absurdities, and to those who have faith argument would be superfluous. But there is a strong presumption in favour of such miracles as last through a long duration of ages. It is hard to suppose that men will deceive, or that men can be deceived, for a thousand years together. The blood of Saint Januarius has continued to flow year by year for centuries; the well of Saint Winefride is still miraculous; and cures are still obtained by the oil of Saint Walburge. It is hard for the blindest prejudice to resist evidences of this nature if only it will give them fair consideration.

One of the frequent miracles of the oil of Saint Walburge is restoration of the sight George Muller, a citizen of Eichstadt, a fuller by trade, had for many years been nearly blind, and by application of some pretended remedy, became completely so for four months. By three times applying the oil of Saint Walburge, he recovered his sight It is related of him that both before and after his cure, he never permitted a blind man to leave his door without an alms.

A Lutheran soldier who robbed the shrine of Saint Walburge was struck blind, and his companion went mad. They were both restored at the shrine of the saint, the one to his eye-sight and the other to his senses, and became converts to the Catholic faith.

Many other miracles of restoration of eye-sight and of the use of the limbs recovered, too numerous to be inserted, are recorded; but instances occur in our own time and country to enliven our faith. And it ought to awaken our gratitude that the names of our ancient English saints, long almost forgotten, are again remembered, and their glorious deeds recalled after the lapse of ages. In the lives of saints the least part is known and the greater part is concealed, and this is the case even with those whose history is best known: their secret is with God, and remains to form part of what will be revealed hereafter in a better life, much more is it true of those who are removed from us by many ages that have elapsed, and of whom we have but scanty notices even as to the principal facts of their lives. But the glory of their miracles speaks with a clear voice, that cannot be mistaken, of the greatness of their virtues and glory with God. It is a consolation to believe that the merits of so many holy confessors, so many virgins, so many martyrs of England, are in remembrance before Him, and that, notwithstanding its errors and sins, He will one day look again with compassion on our country, and give it the light of faith to open its eyes and restore to its misdirected powers their legitimate use, that it may employ its noble energies in His cause, and for the glory of His Name.


Pray for us, Holy Saint Walburge, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

God, Who, among the innumerable gifts of Thy grace, workest Thy wonders even in the weaker sex, bountifully grant that Thy servant Saint Walburge, who instructs us by the example of her chastity and delights us by the glory of her miracles, may also intercede for us at the throne of Thy mercy. Through Jesus Christ Thy Son, etc

– text taken from A Life of Saint Walburge, by Father Thomas Meyrick, SJ, 1873