Saint Walpurga

Saint Walpurga

Painting by the Master of Meßkirch, c. 1535–40.
Born c. 710
Died 25 February 777 or 779
Heidenheim (Mittelfranken)
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Canonized 870 by Adrian II
Feast Various days
Patronage Eichstätt, Antwerp and other towns

Saint Walpurga or Walburga (Old English: Wealdburg, Latin: Valpurga, Walpurga, Walpurgis; c. AD 710 – 25 February 777 or 779), also spelled Valderburg or Guibor,[1] was an English missionary to the Frankish Empire. She was canonized on 1 May ca. 870 by Pope Adrian II. Walpurgis Night (or "Walpurgisnacht") is the name for the eve of her day, which coincides with May Day.

Early life

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. Saint Richard is buried in the Basilica of San Frediano, Lucca, where he died on pilgrimage in 722. Saint Richard is also known as Richard the Saxon Pilgrim, of Droitwich.

Religious career

St. Richard, when starting with his two sons on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, entrusted Walburga, then 11 years old, to the abbess of Wimborne.[2] Walpurga was educated by the nuns of Wimborne Abbey, Dorset,[3] where she spent 26 years as a member of the community.[2] She then travelled with her brothers, Willibald and Winebald, 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 able to write her brother Winibald's vita and an account in Latin of his travels in Palestine. As a result, she is often called the first female author of both England and Germany.[2]

Walpurga became a nun in the double monastery of Heidenheim am Hahnenkamm, which was founded by her other brother, Willibald, who appointed her as his successor. Following his death in 751, she became the abbess.[3]


Walpurga died on 25 February 777 or 779 (the records are unclear) and was buried at Heidenheim; the day carries her name in the Catholic church calendar. In the 870s, Walpurga's remains were transferred to Eichstätt. In Finland, Sweden, and Bavaria, her feast day commemorates the transfer of her relics on 1 May.


The St. Walburga Church in Bruges was originally a Jesuit church

Walpurga's feast day is 25 February, but the day of her canonization, 1 May (possibly 870), was also celebrated during the high medieval period, especially in the 11th century under Anno II, Archbishop of Cologne, so that Walpurgis Night is the eve of May Day, celebrated in continental folklore with dancing.

At Eichstätt, her bones were placed in a rocky niche, which allegedly began to exude a miraculously therapeutic oil, which drew pilgrims to her shrine.

The two earliest miracle narratives of Walpurga are the Miracula S. Walburgae Manheimensis by Wolfhard von Herrieden, datable to 895 or 896, and the late 10th-century Vita secunda linked with the name of Aselbod, bishop of Utrecht. In the 14th-century, Vita S. Walburgae of Phillipp von Rathsamhaüsen, bishop of Eichstätt (1306–22) the miracle of the tempest-tossed boat is introduced, which Peter Paul Rubens painted in 1610 for the altarpiece for the church of St. Walpurgis, Antwerp.[4]

Statue in Contern church.

The earliest representation of Walpurga, in the early 11th-century Hitda Codex, made in Cologne, depicts her holding stylized stalks of grain. In other depictions the object has been called a palm branch, which is not correct, since Walpurga was not martyred. The grain attribute has been interpreted as an occasion where a Christian saint (Walpurga) came to represent the older pagan concept of the Grain Mother. Peasant farmers fashioned her replica in a corn dolly at harvest time and told tales to explain Saint Walpurga's presence in the grain sheaf.[5]

The Church of St. Walburge, a Roman Catholic church in Preston, Lancashire, England, is a church famous for having the tallest spire of any parish church in England.


Walpurga is the patroness of Eichstätt and Weilburg, Germany; Oudenarde, Veurne, Antwerp, Belgium; and Zutphen the Netherlands; and she is invoked as special patroness against hydrophobia, and in storms, and also by sailors.[2]


St. Walburga's Abbey is located at Eichstätt. Bavaria. A second Benedictine Abbey of St. Walburga is located in Virginia Dale, Colorado, near the Wyoming border. The abbey is home to approximately 20 contemplative Catholic nuns and also has a retreat center.[3]

At 309 ft., the spire of St. Walburge's Church in Preston is the tallest of any parish church in England with only the spires of Salisbury and Norwich Cathedrals reaching higher.[6]

St. Walburga church in Antwerp (Belgium)

Central in the first fortified city of Antwerp, from the 11th century, was the church dedicated to St. Walburga. Under French occupation in 1798 the church was confiscated and sold, it served as a warehouse. In 1816 the Dutch government confiscated the church building, and in 1817 it was demolished. The city mayor and aldermen decided to erect a statue of Pieter Paul Rubens on the burg square left after the demolition. In 1880 when the (current) Scheldt quais were built most of the area of the first fortified city form the 11th century was demolished and even the foundations of the St. Walburgis church disappeared, and the statue was moved to the (current) Groenplaats.
Some parts of the interior of that ancient church, which actively served for more than 700 years, were recovered: the altar piece painting The Elevation of the Cross (Rubens) and the predella (foot of the altar) have been reused in the main altar of the Cathedral of Our Lady (Antwerp). Another altar was moved to the nl:Heikese kerk in Tilburg where it serves as main altar.
In 1936 the city master builder (architect) nl:Flor Van Reeth constructed a new modernistic church building with the same name on the Volkstraat near Het Zuid. This building was declared a monument 1995 and was restored in 2007.

See also


  1. Other spellings: Valborg (the Swedish name for her), Walburge, Valpuri, Auboué, Avangour, Avongourg, Falbourg, Gaubourg, Gualbourg, Valburg, Valpurge, Vaubouer, Vaubourg, Walbourg, Walpurd, Warpurg. She is also known by the seemingly unrelated names Perche and Eucharis.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Casanova, Gertrude. "St. Walburga". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 18 May 2013
  3. 1 2 3 Abbey of St. Walburga
  4. the altarpiece is now disassembled. Susanne Heiland, "Two Rubens Paintings Rehabilitated" The Burlington Magazine, 111 No. 796 (July 1969:421-427) p.
  5. Pamela Berger, The Goddess Obscured: Transformation of the Grain Protectress from Goddess to Saint, 1985:61-64, gives several examples and bibliographical notes.
  6. Morgan, Ann. "Local landmarks: St Walburge's", BBC, 15 August 2008
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Saint Walpurga.
Wikisource has the text of the 1885–1900 Dictionary of National Biography's article about Walburga.

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