Catholic Truth Society of London – Saint Walburga

statue of Saint Walburga, artist unknown, Contern, Luxembourg(710777)

As our great empire extends itself over so large a portion of the world, and as peoples of every race and colour come to group themselves beneath our flag, we are compelled to combat our naturally insular spirit and open our hearts in some degree to other nations and other lands, making their interests our own. Enterprise and commerce no doubt tend to make us larger minded, while philanthropy also is a powerful factor to interest us in our fellow-creatures, in their civilization and in their improvement. Hut the royal road to large-heartedness in its fullest and truest sense is that love of God which causes us to make His interests also ours. We then love the world because He created it, and we love all creatures because He redeemed them. We long for His glory and the extension of His kingdom, and we do not stop to consider whether the creature is Jew or Gentile, Roman or Greek, whether the place be Europe or Africa, Asia or America; it is sufficient for us that the creature is God’s, the fruit of His Redemption, and that all the uttermost parts of the earth are His creation. Our ancestors show forth by their apostolic spirit the truth of this assumption, for though they had neither books nor newspapers, neither telegraphs nor phonographs to bring other countries and other peoples as it were before their very eyes, and though commerce and philanthropy had taken no root in Saxon hearts, yet the fact remains that many of the great missionaries of Europe were men aye, and women of English birth. How can we account for this? It was the love of God which was the motive power, the incentive which drove them from a country as dear to them as it is to us into regions of which they knew absolutely nothing, beyond the certainty that they were” inhabited by people with immortal souls whom Christ had re deemed, and yet who had no one to apply to their thirsty souls the precious Blood which had been shed for them. “Oh!” exclaims a quaint old writer, “not without reason were the British called Angles; Angels they were in very deed, for an angel is a messenger, and what country has ever produced so many messengers of peace, angels of the Gospel, apostles of the nations?’s The great field of our missionary labours was undoubtedly Germany and the Low Countries, and the gift of faith which that people owes to us forms the strongest link among many lesser ones binding together the two great nations of England and Germany.

The life of Saint Walburga, which we are about to sketch, lies necessarily very much on the same lines as that of Saint Lioba. They were cousins, and went together to Germany for a like purpose. Yet Walburga has always been the more popular saint of the two, and she has a marked personality which will not be without interest. Her intercourse with her saintly brother and her faithful attachment to him is one of those touching episodes in the lives of the saints which appeals so forcibly to us; while the miraculous oil which continues to exude from her relics, working wonders even in our own times, proves how dear she is in God’s sight, and how powerful is her intercession with Him.

There are, of course, very few facts remaining to us regarding the intimate life of this saint; for a nun is meant to be a hidden saint. In this does her heroism lay, that she must pray, work, and suffer, and must endure a daily crucifixion in solitude and silence. “In silence and in hope shall her strength be.” It is there fore impossible, except in very rare cases, to give at all an adequate idea of the life of a contemplative nun. All we can do is to define the broad lines and catch here and there a light and shade which serve to show us how much that is great and noble must underlie the little that we can see. Considering our scanty knowledge of Saint Walburga’s life, the fact that her memory is still held in such veneration is all the more striking; an aroma hangs around her yet, a sweet odour which centuries have not succeeded in dissipating. Let us inhale the perfume, and cause it to sink into our hearts, enkindling devotion to a virgin saint who was a true Englishwoman, animated with that apostolic spirit which results from a supreme love for God and a consuming zeal for the souls for whom He died.

We must now ask our readers to go back in spirit some thousand years or more to an English home in Devonshire, to the castle of one of the petty Saxon kings, Richard by name; a true type of a Christian ruler and father, his deep reverence for God and His laws giving even to his exterior appearance that gravity and humility so well befitting one in authority.

His wife Winna, a sister of Saint Boniface, was beautiful, gentle, and pious, her husband’s helpmate, the seconder of all his wishes. God blessed their union with three children, destined like them to be numbered among the saints: Willibald, born in 701; Winebald, in 704; and Walburga, in 710. When Willibald was scarcely three years old he was struck with a mortal disease. The anguish of his parents may be better imagined than described; he was their eldest son, the object of their hopes and the darling of their hearts. Yet their confidence in God never faltered, and the depth ot their virtue was proved in the hour of trial. In the courtyard of the castle was a great cross, much venerated by the whole neighbourhood. Before this image of the Crucified the father and mother laid their dying child, prostrating themselves at the same time, with a strong cry to God for mercy and assist ance. Their faith was not in vain; as they prayed the child was suddenly restored to health and vigour, a vigour which he retained till his death at the ripe old age of eighty.

On account of this miracle, the parents felt that their child belonged to God in a very special manner, and made a vow to consecrate him to the divine service. When Willibald was five years of age they took him to the Abbey of Waltham, near Winchester, and entrusted him to Abbot Egbald, a man of great holiness, to be trained to monastic observance. Here the boy far outstripped even the promise his childish years had given of future holiness; and as he grew in wisdom and age he astonished his masters by his virtue and intelligence.

Meanwhile his younger brother Winebald was being brought up in his own home; he was of a less active temperament than Willibald, and his contemplative mind gave him early a taste for solitude and retirement. The usual pastimes of youth had no attraction for him, and though as heir to his father’s kingdom and as the only son at home life must have presented itself to him under the most agreeable form, yet from the outset his heart was set on a kingdom which is eternal and on pleasures which never decay. When he was six years old his little sister was born, and was christened Walburga, which is equivalent to the Greek “Eucheria,” and means “gracious.” Her name was admirably chosen, for she was gracious in body and mind. Some authors think that her mother died when she was an infant, for her father is said to have loved her all the more tenderly, seeing in her a perfect reproduction of his dead wife’s beauty of feature and virtue of character. In any case the brother and sister were thrown much together, and became everything to each other. Walburga looked up to Winebald with loving reverence; and he used his influence to lead her on in the way of perfection, teaching her to give her whole heart to God, and to seek His will and pleasure before all.

In 721, Willibald, then about twenty years of age, conceived a most earnest desire to visit the Holy Places. Pilgrimages^ were very much in favour among the Saxons, and the hardships, difficulties, and dangers attendant on such expeditions only fired their enthusiasm the more. Having obtained the necessary leave from his superior, Willibald set out for his home, where he thought he might persuade Winebald to join him. The prospect of visiting the very place where Christ had been born, where He had lived and died for us, appealed strongly to Winebald’s tender, loving nature, yet he felt loath to leave his father, who was old and leant on him; in fact, he shrank from even suggesting such a plan. Willibald, however, all on fire with eager ness, had no such scruples, and going to his father, laid their design before him. He spoke so eloquently of the glory of leaving all for Christ, and of sacrificing everything for His love, that the good old man not only gave his consent to the departure of his sons, but, after due deliberation, determined himself to accompany them.

Poor Walburga! she was but eleven years old, and the prospect of such a parting must have cost her bitter tears. She knew that it would most likely be months before she received any tidings of the wayfarers; that her father was old and might not be able to withstand the hardships incumbent on so long and dangerous a pilgrimage; and that Winebald, her inseparable companion, was himself of a delicate constitution, unaccustomed to exposure. Still, child as she was, she would not raise a finger to stop so holy a purpose; had she done so, her father would never have decided to leave her. So she determined not to be outdone in generosity, and signified to King Richard her resolve to enter a convent, and there dedicate her virginity and the freshness of her young life to God. Her father was much consoled by her decision, and himself escorted her to the great abbey of Wimbourne, in Dorsetshire, which had lately been founded by Queen Cuthberga. This royal lady was wife to King Aldfred; but her heart was wounded with Divine love, and the desire to embrace the poverty and humility of Christ grew so strong within her breast that, unable to contain it, she sought with earnest entreaties the permission of her husband to retire into a monastery. He was nQt willing to be an obstacle to so evident a call from God, and gave his consent. Cuthberga then entered as a simple nun into the monastery of Barking, where for some years she lived in subjection, a model to her sisters of discipline and regularity. After some time she received a visit from her brother, King Ina, who unfolded to her a plan he had conceived for the foundation of an abbey in his kingdom and his desire that she should preside over the new community. This, with the approval of her superiors, she consented to do, and before long a monastery was built at the king’s expense and a community settled in one of the most beautiful and fertile spots in England.

The great double monastery of Wimbourne soon became famous for the holiness of its inmates and the austerity of its discipline, which was surpassed by none. Some idea of the rigour of its observance may be gathered from the following passage, taken from The Monks of the West: “At Wimbourne the two monasteries rose side by side like two fortresses, each surrounded by battlemented walls. The austerity of primitive discipline existed in full vigour. The priests were bound to leave the church immediately after the celebration of Mass. Bishops themselves were not admitted into the convent, and the abbess communicated with the world to give hr orders to her spiritual and temporal subjects only through a barred window.” It was to this formidable-looking place that King Richard brought his little daughter, and after em bracing her tenderly and gazing for the last time on the sweet purity of her innocent face, he gave her into the keeping of the Abbess and departed never to return. The doors of the enclosure shut upon Walburga, and for twenty-six years she was destined never to cross the threshold.

The new life upon which she now entered seemed, no doubt, very strange to the young English princess, brought up as she had been in all the freedom of home life with her father and brothers. But she was naturally clever, and took to her books, and her talents were fostered by the watchful Abbess, who caused her to be carefully trained in solid learning and such accomplishments as were suitable to her state. Of these twenty-six years at Wimbourne no facts are recorded. We can only gather from the accounts we have of the life there in general what hers in particular must have been. There was a very high intellectual standard among the nuns of Wimbourne at that period. They wrote Latin and Greek fluently, and the easy way in which they quote from the classics proves their familiarity with them. They were famous, too, for their elaborate illuminations and transcriptions of Missals, Breviaries, and the sacred Scriptures tasks which they undertook for Saint Boniface, Saint Aldhelm, and others who applied for them. They excelled also in a special kind of embroidery called English work, interwoven with gold and silver thread and encrusted with precious gems. This record of a busy life of prayer and praise, mingled with study and manual labour, sounds all that could be desired, and perhaps people may think that to be a saint under such circumstances and in such a safe retreat was easy enough. Yet we must not forget the truth which Montalembert has so well expressed when he says that’s even in the safe bark of a monastery, how many storms and perils and sunken rocks are within! In the midst of the most peaceful and best regulated community, what a trial is there in the daily death of the individual will, in the long hours of obscurity and silence which succeed to the effort and impulse of sacrifice, and in the perpetual sacrifice perpetually borne, perpetually renewed! the continuity alone of the exercises, which, though varied, have something in them which goes against human inclinations, and from the moment that they are done by rule and for the service of God become fatiguing. The difficulty must be met and surmounted day by day. This is the great exertion and also the great merit of claustral life.”

Another feature of conventual life which to Walburga must have been specially trying was the very large number of her companions. She had been accus tomed, as we have seen, to all the luxuries of an only daughter, with none to cross her path or rival her in any way; she now found herself with eight hundred others, of every rank of life, of character as varied as their countenances, and she realized the truth of her holy Founder’s words, that “it is a hard and difficult task to accommodate oneself to the humours of many.” Yet her natural sweetness here stood her in good stead, and she learnt to bear patiently with the weakness of others, and “not only to follow what she thought profitable to herself.”

Walburga had not been a year at Wimbourne when the tidings reached her of her father’s death at Lucca, where the pilgrims had stopped on their way to Rome. The hardships of the journey, the exposures and privations, proved too great a tax on the age and constitution of the king, and his strength could not keep pace with his faith and courage. He was laid to rest in the church at Lucca by his two sorrowing sons, and his body was held in great veneration by the people of that city on account of the miraculous favours obtained through his inter cession. In later years over his tomb was placed the epitaph of which the following is a translation:’s The king Saint Richard was a king of England, a voluntary exile from his country, a despiser of the world, a contemner of himself. He was father of two holy men, Saint Willibald and Saint Winebald, and of Saint Walburga, their sister, a religious virgin. He quitted a king s crown for life eternal. He put off his royal purple to take a mean habit, he forsook a royal throne to visit the shrines of the saints, he laid by his sceptre and took a pilgrim’s staff. He left his daughter Walburga in his kingdom and went into a foreign country with his sons. After many internal combats, after frequent and painful sufferings from hunger, thirst and cold, all his conflicts ended in the province of Italy and city of Lucca; there he received his reward, there he was received into heaven and his sacred members were placed near the body of Saint Frigidian, where his glory shone abroad by many miracles. His feast is solemnized on February 7th.”

Meantime the two brothers continued their journey, and arrived in Rome on 11 November 722. They were hospitably received by the Benedictine monks, and Winebald determined, now that his father was gone to his rest and had no longer need of him, to follow the example of his brother and embrace monastic life. Even as a novice his fervour was so great and his virtue so deeply rooted that he rivalled the holiness of Saint Willibald, who had borne the yoke from his youth. The following year the brothers were both attacked with fever, and were very seriously ill. Willibald had a strong constitution, and was able in time to throw off its effects, but Winebald, who was of a weaker temperament, never completely recovered, and for the rest of his life remained sickly in health, though his naturally high and courageous spirit never allowed him to dispense himself from the severe rules of religious life. Winebald’s delicate health induced Willibald to set out alone for the Holy Land, while Winebald remained quietly in the monastery at Rome, his time devoted to prayer and study. After seven years spent in this retreat he returned to England, desirous, no doubt, of paying a visit to his sister, who had now reached the age when it became necessary for her to decide on her future state of life. Finding her strong in her vocation, and making rapid progress in the way of perfection, it is probable that Winebald had the consolation of assisting in person at her solemn profession and consecration. How whole-hearted was the sacrifice made by Walburga the rest of her life will show.

Winebald was received with every possible mark of affection and welcome by his people, among whom he laboured for a time, exhorting them to seek after a higher and a better life and to set their hearts on things which are eternal. Though entreated to stay longer, he would not tarry; he was a monk, and longed for his monastery, even while among the people and in the country which by every natural tie were his own, and he returned to Rome, where he remained seven years more. At the end of this period Saint Boniface came there to seek for fellow- workers for his great apostolate in Germany. An intimate friendship arose between him and his nephews, and Winebald was prevailed on to accompany his uncle to Germany, there to found a monastery in company with other monks and to work for the conversion of that country.

Soon after these events Willibald returned from his pilgrimage to the Holy Land and settled down at Monte Cassino, where for ten years he lived a very model of monastic virtues, beloved by all his brethren. Boniface, however, not content with one nephew, desired to secure the other, and wrote to ask the reigning Pontiff to send him Willibald. Willibald, in happy ignorance of what was passing, had come to Rome as companion to a Spanish monk who desired him for a guide in visiting the holy city. The Pope, hearing of his arrival, sent for him and told him that he desired him to go to Germany. Willibald, who had learnt to love his monastic home at Monte Cassino, was somewhat taken aback at such a proposal, and answered that he must seek advice and leave from his Abbot. But the Holy Father would not be put off, telling him that his commands must over rule even those of his Abbot. Whereupon Willibald generously^ made the sacrifice, and set out for the new field of his labours.

Walburga had now spent twenty-six years in her convent at Wimbourne, and no thoughts of leaving it had ever crossed her mind. She had no ambition save that of more perfect subjection and humility, and a more perfect union with God hidden in the obscurity of the cloister. One day, however, a letter arrived from Saint Boniface which caused no little excitement in the monastery, for it was destined to make a great change in the lives of many of its inmates. He asked in his letter that Lioba his cousin, Walburga his niece, and as many others as could be spared, should come to Germany to make a foundation in his diocese and to undertake to be an example to the women of that nation of what Christian virgins ought to be. The whole community united in prayer to beg the guidance of God in so weighty a matter, and while Walburga was praying she felt so strongly that the call came from God, that she could not entertain the slightest hesitation as to her decision in the event of her Abbess giving the necessary permission; and when the preparations had been made and all were ready, no one set out with a more willing heart than Walburga, who was then thirty-eight years old.

At first, wind and weather were favourable, and the voyage went well, but before long a violent storm arose, which placed the vessel in imminent danger. The sailors recklessly threw all the cargo overboard, and thus all the comforts provided by .loving hands for the poor nuns were lost to them and made instead the food of fishes. But anything was better than a watery grave! The crew was thoroughly terrified, and the nuns very naturally shared the general alarm. Walburga alone remained unmoved. Seeing this, her sisters besought her to pray for their safety, and at their instance she knelt on the deck with arms outstretched, imploring God to hear her prayer; then rising, she commanded the wind and waves, and there came a great calm, so that all who saw it marvelled. The nuns landed safely at Antwerp, and the sailors spread abroad the story of the miracle at sea. The consequence was that Walburga was looked upon as a wonder, and both she and her companions were most hospitably received by the towns folk.

In the Gallican Marty rology there is an anniversary commemoration of Saint Walburga on May 2nd. “She is,” says an old writer, “greatly venerated in that city” (Antwerp) “on account of a tradition stating that this holy virgin on her way from England to Germany made some stay in Antwerp: and there is seen in the most ancient church in that city a certain grotto in which she was wont to pray, for which reason the church was dignified by our ancestors with the title of Walburga. And indeed,” he continues, “the same church, before receiving the Roman office, was accustomed to celebrate the feast of their peculiar patroness Saint Walburga four times a year.”

The stay of the nuns at Antwerp was probably rendered inevitable by the loss of all their earthly goods in the sea. Doubtless they were obliged to live on the hospitality and charitable alms of the faithful until they could procure fresh supplies from Wimbourne. However, they at length reached Mayence safely, after a long and perilous journey through desolate lands filled with dense forests and treacherous swamps, and there found Saint Boniface and Saint Willibald awaiting them. We can picture the joy of that meeting and the deep thankfulness which filled their hearts at the thought of a great difficulty surmounted, and at the prospect of the apostolate and harvest in store for them.

Walburga was first sent to a convent in Thuringia to await the completion of the convent at Heidenheim, over which she was to rule under the guidance of her brother Winebald, who had already settled near there with his monks, and was busily engaged in the erection of the monastery, and the evangelization of what had hitherto justly been called Heidenheim (the home of the heathen), but whose name was soon to become meaningless. In 752 the convent was sufficiently advanced for occupation, and Winebald came to Thuringia to fetch his sister and those nuns who were to help her in the first difficultics of the new foundation. Thus once more God s providence united the brother and sister, and for ten years Walburga was to enjoy the help of his strong and experienced direction. Hitherto she had lived in sub jection and dependence, and had it not been for Winebald the weight of government might have proved too heavy a burden. Yet God, in His goodness, left her a support in her brother until she had gained such experience that she was able to stand alone; then, gently and tenderly, He removed the human prop, and in His strength she was able to continue her journey unaided. As to her character as Abbess, we cannot do better than quote the words of the Breviary regarding her:’s She was set over the recently-built monastery of Heidenheim, where she practised such sublime virtues that all saw in her what they could deservedly admire and advantageously imitate. She joined the greatest sweetness and prudence of manner to the other gifts of nature and of grace with which she was endowed. Her advice was never at fault; she helped all by her charity; and seeking day by day for better and more perfect gifts, she urged forward, both by word and example, those virgins who were subject to her. She never indulged in any pleasure; she macerated her innocent body by severe fasting; she joined night to day by her continual prayer, being ever intent on the contemplation of Divine things. Thus, not distracted among the cares of government, she fulfilled her ministry with sincere devotion in God’s sight. She made herself the true example of maternal and fraternal virtues, excelling as she did in all the acquirements of a prudent virgin.”

Under Winebald’s direction the monks had gradually converted the waste land around the abbey into fertile to swerve a hair s-breadth from the Rule, or from the wise ordinances of her holy brother. It was with a view to keep his memory fresh among them that she undertook to write his life in Latin, together with an account of Saint Willibald’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Two miracles which happened towards the end of Walburga’s life are related by Wolfhard, a monk who wrote her biography about a century after her death. It seems to have been the custom for the sacristan to provide lights for the church and cloister when it grew dark. One night, however, something had annoyed him, and being in a very bad temper, he determined to make himself as disagreeable as possible. Walburga, who had remained in the church after Vespers and had prolonged her prayer until late, found on leaving the church that the cloister was quite dark. Going to the sacristy, she told the sacristan to get a light, but he refused, speaking with great insolence to the Abbess. Her usual sweetness was undisturbed by this churlish behaviour, and, leaving him to recover himself, she groped her way as best she could to her cell, going supperless to bed. But our Lord, who is not wont to be outdone in generosity, vouchsafed on this occasion visibly to reward the patience and humility of His servant, for all on a sudden, to the great astonishment of the nuns, the whole monastery was illuminated by a brilliant light, the like of which they had never before witnessed. They had already retired to rest, but roused by the dazzling light, they hastily rose, and, half frightened, half wondering, they sought to discover whence it proceeded. Looking out of the windows, they saw that it came from the Abbess’s cell, and hurrying to their mother, they sought from her the explanation of the mystery. As they questioned her, she burst into tears and exclaimed: “To Thee, O God, whom I have served from my child hood, do I give thanks for this grace. Thou hast vouchsafed to comfort with this heavenly light me Thine unworthy servant, and to dispel the darkness of the night with the rays of Thy mercy, in order to encourage these my daughters to remain faithful to me, and this favour has been done to me, not on account of my merits, but in answer to the prayers of my devoted and holy brother, who now reigns with Thee in glory.”

On another occasion, when the nuns had gone to the dormitory, Walburga still remained at her prayers. As she prayed she felt impelled by a secret impulse to leave the church and go she knew not whither. She walked blindly on for a considerable distance, until she stood at length at the door of an old castle which belonged to a neighbouring baron. He was a huntsman, and had a number of boar-hounds that at night were unchained to serve as watch -dogs. These savage beasts gathered round the gentle nun as she stood on the threshold, barking and whelping, but not one of them touched her. The baron came hurriedly to the door at the sound of the barking, and seeing her alone, was amazed because his dogs did not try to harm her; he told her that she was in great danger, and asked her how she came there. But she seemed unmoved, and told him not to fear, for she knew the dogs would not touch her, since God Himself had brought her there, and would take her safely back whither she had come. She then told him her name, and that she had come by Divine inspiration to bring health and consolation to his house in the hour of trial, if he would believe with his whole heart that God alone is the true Physician who has power over life and death. At these words the baron threw open the meadows, which now began to yield ample crops; but Winebald and Walburga looked upon themselves merely as God’s stewards, and their delight was to bestow every thing available upon the poor and needy. Heidenheim soon became famous for its hospitality; while the monks ministered to the men, Walburga and her nuns opened their doors and their hearts to the poor half-civilized women whose souls were even more destitute than their bodies. Walburga would herself wait upon her guests, washing their feet and dressing their sores with her own hands; teaching them, in short, by an example more forcible than words, the lessons they so much needed of meekness, charity, and humility. Ozanam has aptly described the influence of those high-born English ladies.’s The humble work of the nuns hid itself in its silent extension, yet history points out its place in the first development of German civilization; and is it not the will of God that women should be found by the side of every cradle?”

In 761 the death of Winebald made Walburga’s sacrifice complete. He had, as we have seen, never been strong, and one illness after another had left him crippled and infirm, so that he could with difficulty get about; yet, feeling his end approach, nothing would satisfy him but to set out on a farewell pilgrimage to the tomb of his beloved master and uncle, Saint Boniface, at Fulda. The effort was more than he could bear, and he fell dangerously ill. However, he rallied enough to return with the greatest difficulty to Heidenheim. As his weakness increased and he could not leave his room, he would say Mass at an altar which he had caused to be erected, and no illness could induce him to shorten his long vigils or omit his fasts. Three days before his death he warned his brethren of its approach, and his brother, the bishop, and Saint Walburga were both with him at the last. “Thus,” says an old writer, “after many years spent between the exercises of Martha and Mary, some times attending in the solitude of his monastery to prayer and contemplation, as likewise to the establishment of regular observance, and sometimes travelling about to win souls to Christ, he, perceiving his last hour to approach, after many pious exhortations made to all that were present, quietly yielded up his soul to God on 18 December 761.”

Winebald’s body was clothed in his priestly vestments, after which he was laid in a stone coffin and buried in the church which he had himself built. Saint Willibald performed the last rites of the Church for his departed brother, and then remained some little time at Heidenheim to make the necessary arrangements for the future government of the monastery, now left with out a head. The monks, who had long had occasion to note Saint Walburga’s virtue and prudence, and knew how she was impregnated with her brother’s spirit, felt that no one could better carry on the work that he had begun. They had a precedent for maternal govern ment in some of the great English monasteries Wimbourne in particular, where Walburga had been trained; and when the matter was laid before the bishop he felt the justice of the petition. Yet it was not without extreme reluctance and in obedience to an express command that Walburga undertook the government of the monks as well as of the nuns. Nevertheless, as had been foreseen, she, in spite of her natural meekness and retiring spirit, knew well how to keep intact monastic observance in the monasteries beneath her rule, and during her lifetime she would never allow her subjects door, and, with every expression of respect, invited her to enter, acknowledging that he was unworthy to receive so illustrious a lady and so great a servant of God into his house. He marvelled at God’s goodness in bringing her to comfort them in the hour of need, for in truth his only daughter lay at that moment at the point of death. He led Walburga to the sick-room, where she found the girl gasping for breath and apparently already in her agony. The mother was bending over her, sobbing in her anguish, while at the sad sight the poor father could not restrain his grief. Then Walburga asked to spend the night in prayer beside her, telling the parents to put their trust in God, who killeth and yet maketh to live, who striketh and yet can heal, and who would surely in their case also show mercy and hear their prayer. All through the night Walburga knelt by the bed, wrestling in prayer for the life of the dying girl, and before the morning dawned the victory was won: her prayer had prevailed and the child was saved. The parents, in ecstasy of joy and thankfulness, broke forth into praises of God, and, trembling with emotion, cast themselves at Walburga’s feet, asking how they could show their gratitude, offering her rich presents, lands or money, or anything she would like to name; but she sweetly refused any reward, telling them that she was but an instrument in God’s hands, and that having fulfilled her task she would now return as she had come, alone and on foot.

This miracle was not without its effect upon the Saint herself; it made her realize more deeply her nearness to God, and caused her to see more clearly her great obligations to Him, for to whom much is given, of him much shall be expected. “From that day forward,” says her biographer, “she devoted herself to a yet stricter manner of life, and strove ever more fervently after perfection.” Not long before her death a great consolation was afforded her by the translation of Saint VVinebald’s relics to a more suitable shrine. The fame of his holiness had extended itself far beyond the neighbourhood of Heidenheim, and God had rewarded the piety of the many pilgrims to his tomb by miraculous favours and cures. These miracles having been carefully investigated, Saint Willibald, who had been rebuilding the monastic church on a large scale, determined to prepare also a special chapel to receive the relics of his brother, who was really its founder.

In 776, on September 23rd, when the chapel was complete, Willibald came to preside over the solemn translation, at which a great concourse of people was present. The monks exhumed the coffin and placed it on the bier prepared for it, upon which the Bishop, before the whole assembly, lifted the lid, and, O joy and wonder! the holy Abbot looked as fresh and beautiful as if he had but now fallen asleep; fifteen years in the damp earth had left no trace of decay, they only served to enhance the miracle. All were eager to gaze on so wondrous a spectacle, and in order to satisfy their piety, Willibald allowed each in turn to approach and venerate the relics. The first to kiss the holy body was Walburga, and who shall describe the emotion of the sister as she gazed on the well-known features of the brother she had loved so well!

For the short time which remained to her on earth her life was rather angelic than human. She was frequently found in ecstacy, kneeling absorbed in prayer at her oratory.’s At length,” says her biographer, “being confirmed in God’s holy love, having overcome the world and all its attractions, filled with faith, im pregnated with charity, adorned with wisdom and the jewel of chastity, conspicuous for her benevolence and humility, she went to receive the reward which was to crown so many virtues.” As the summons sounded in her heart, inviting her to the marriage feast of the Lamb, she left this valley of tears with unmingled joy, for even while she had lived on earth her heart had always dwelt in heaven; and as a bride adorned with her jewels, clothed in her wedding-garment, she went forth to meet her celestial bridegroom.

She was no sooner dead than God glorified His holy servant, surrounding her body with a halo of light which made it appear as though already endued with immortality, while from -it exhaled so sweet a perfume that it filled the whole church and monastery, bearing testimony to the spotless virginity and purity of her immaculate body, in which sin had not sown the germ of decay. Saint Willibald, who had been privileged to assist Walburga in her last moments and to administer the Holy Sacraments to her, had now the last consolation of laying her to rest beside her brother Winebald. Willibald himself survived for some years, robust and vigorous in health, until he was more than eighty years old; then, feeling that his work was done, he warned his disciples of the near approach of the time of his death. On the very day of his happy departure from this world he was able to say Mass and give Holy Communion to his flock. Then he died, and was buried with the honour his great work as an apostle and a bishop deserved, in his cathedral church at Eichstadt, 7 July 781.

After his death, devotion to Saint Walburga gradually diminished, and her tomb was neglected. However, about the year 870, Otkar, the sixth bishop of Eichstadt, determined to restore the church and monastery of Heidenheim, which were both in a very dilapidated state. The workmen to whom the work was entrusted did not know much about Saint Walburga, and treated her tomb with scant reverence, making a path over it for convenience. One night, when the good bishop was asleep, he was aroused from his slumber to find the Saint standing beside his bed, reproaching him for his neglect in suffering her relics to be thus desecrated and trodden underfoot by every passer-by; and she warned him, as a proof that the vision was no idle dream, that a sign should be given him on the morrow. A sign was indeed given him, as the Saint had foretold, for during the course of the day news was brought to him that the north wall of the newly-erected church of Heidenheim had fallen in during the night. Otkar was much impressed by this event, and he resolved that the Saint should never again have cause to reproach him. He therefore set out for Heidenheim with a great number of priests and people, and with all possible honour exhumed the body of the Saint, which was found to be not only incorrupt, but covered with a wonderful moisture like the purest oil. The holy body was brought to the Cathedral at Eichstadt and laid in a temporary resting-place. In 893, Bishop Erchanbold, Otkar’s successor, placed the relics under the high altar of the church which he dedicated to her. On raising the body the same remarkable phenomenon was noticed, and her biographer, who was present at the time, tells us that no dust or dirt could soil the manna or oil that distilled from the corpse.

The oil has continued at stated times to flow from her tomb drop by drop into a silver shell placed to receive it. The times when it generally oozes out are from October i2th, the feast of her translation, till February i5th, her feast day; also when Holy Mass is said over her relics. The oil is collected into bottles and sent to all parts of the world, and has worked miracles without number even in our own days, as the beautiful church of Saint Walburga testifies, which was built at Preston, in Lancashire, in thanksgiving for a great favour obtained through her. One remarkable feature of the miraculous liquid is that if treated with disrespect it nearly always evaporates, and once when Eichstadt was under an interdict the oil ceased to flow. Again, if the receiving vessel is removed, the oil is never known to drop on to the ground, but it hangs in clusters until the vessel is replaced. Other saints, for instance Saint Nicholas of Myra, have enjoyed a similar privilege, given to them, it would seem, as a reward for their charity and compassion towards their fellow-men. Certain it is that if Saint Walburga was full of pity in life for every form of human suffering, the cures which she still works amply prove that in heaven she is not less mindful of the miseries of this our life and pilgrimage. And while the oil from her holy body continues to bring its healing power to the suffer ing members of many a shattered frame, may we not also believe that the oil of heavenly grace flows still more plentifully at her intercession to soften the hearts which have been hardened by the cold blast of heresy both in England and Germany?

“God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness.” (Psalm 44:8)

– text taken from the booklet Saint Walburga, author unknown, published by the Catholic Truth Society of London