Saints of the Day – Walburga, Abbess

statue of Saint Walburga, artist unknown, Contern, LuxembourgArticle

(also known as Bugga, Gaudurge, Vaubourg, Walpurga, Walpurgis)

Born in Devonshire, Wessex, England; died at Heidenheim, Swabia, Germany, February 25, 779; feasts of her translation are celebrated May 1, October 12 (to Eichstätt), and September 24 (to Zutphen).

When Saint Boniface evangelized the Germans, he took with him as fellow apostles his two nephews, Willibald and Winebald, who were the sons of Saint Richard, king of the West Saxons. So successful was their enterprise that fresh reinforcements of missionaries were requested and the monasteries of England were stirred by the news of their progress. Indeed, it was hardly possible to restrain the ardent faith and enthusiasm of those who wanted to join them, and there sailed boat after boat of eager volunteers.

Nor in that stirring hour were the womenfolk unmoved in their wish to follow, and Boniface asked for a colony of nuns to be sent out. Among them was his own niece, Walburga, a nun of Wimborne under Saint Tatta and sister of Willibald and Winebald, for she, too, had heard the call and had immediately followed Saint Lioba to Germany.

Walburga had been educated at the double monastery of Wimbourne in Dorset and decided there to consecrate her life to God by becoming a nun. When she answered the call to Germany, she spent two years evangelizing in Bischofsheim, impressing the pagans with her medical skills.

Winebald founded a double monastery at Heidenheim, where she was appointed abbess and Winebald ruled the men. She must have been a remarkable woman, for so great was her influence that on his death the bishop of Eichstätt appointed Walburga in his place and gave her charge over both the men’s and women’s congregations. Walburga died as abbess of Heidenheim, whence her relics were translated to Eichstätt.

This English woman had the curious destiny of attaining a place in German folklore. The night of May 1 (the date of the transfer of her relics to Eichstätt in 870) became known as Walpurgisnacht. May 1 had been a pagan festival marking the beginning of summer and the revels of witches, hence the traditions of Walpurgisnacht, which have no intrinsic connection with the saint. Nevertheless, her name became associated with witchcraft and other superstitions (cf. Goethe’s Faust, pt. i, Walpurgis night in the Hartz mountains). It is possible, however, that the protection of crops ascribed to her, represented by the three ears of corn in her icons, may have been transferred to her from Mother Earth (Walborg).

Her shrine was an important pilgrimage site because of the ‘miraculous oil’ that exudes from the rock on which her shrine is placed. A fine collection of 16th- to 20th-century phials for its distribution is kept at Eichstätt. In 893, Walburga’s relics were inspected and diffused, some to the Rhineland, others to Flanders and France, which spread her cultus to other countries. One important center was Attigny, where Charles the Simple established a shrine in his palace chapel and named her patron of his kingdom. Today she lies peacefully in the vault of the 17th- century Baroque church bearing her name – a symbol not of witchcraft, but of Christian healing and mission (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Gill).

In art, Saint Walburga is generally portrayed as a royal abbess with a small flask of oil on a book. At times (1) she may have three ears of corn in her hand; (2) angels hold a crown over her; (3) she is shown in a family tree of the Kings of England; (4) she is shown together with her saintly brothers; or (5) miracles are taking place because of the oil extruding from her tomb (Roeder). She is venerated at Eichstätt (Roeder). Walburga has been portrayed by artists from the 11th until the 19th centuries. Especially noteworthy is a 15th-century tapestry cycle of her life. A modern abbess of Eichstätt was sufficiently important to be selected to negotiate the surrender of the town to the Americans at the end of the Second World War.

Saint Walburga is invoked against coughs, dog bite (rabies), plague, and for good harvests (Roeder).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 22 May 2020. Web. 3 June 2020. <>