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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 Anglo-Saxon missionary to the Frankish Empire. She was canonized on 1 May ca. 870 by Pope Adrian II. Saint Walpurgis Night (or "Sankt Walpurgisnacht") is the name for the eve of her feast day, which coincides with May Day.

Saint Walpurga
Heilige Walburga.jpg
Painting by the Master of Meßkirch, c. 1535–40.
Bornc. 710
Died25 February 777 or 779
Heidenheim (Mittelfranken)
Venerated inCatholic Church
Lutheran Churches
Eastern Orthodox Church
Canonized870 by Adrian II
FeastVarious days
PatronageEichstätt, Antwerp, Zutphen and other towns


Early lifeEdit

Walpurga was born in the county of Devonshire, England, into a local aristocratic family. She was the daughter of Richard the Pilgrim, an underking of the West Saxons, and of Wuna of Wessex, and had two brothers, Willibald and Winibald.[2]

Religious careerEdit

Statue of Walburgis at Walburgis Kapelle at Kirchehrenbach, Germany

In 721 Richard set out on a pilgrimage to Rome with his two sons. Before leaving he entrusted Walpurga, then 11 years old, to the abbess of the double monastery at Wimborne Abbey in Dorset.[3] She had been there but a year, when she received word that her father had died at Lucca. After seeing to their father's burial in the Basilica of San Frediano, her brothers completed the pilgrimage to Rome, where they both became seriously ill. (Hygeburg, who wrote the Vita S. Willibaldi, says they contracted the Black Death; Francis Mershman suggests malaria).[4]

After recovering, Winibald, who was not of a particularly strong constitution, remained at Rome to pursue further studies, while Willibald set out for the Holy Land. After about seven years of traveling, Willibald returned to Italy and became a monk at Monte Cassino. In 730, Winibald returned to England and engaged a third brother and several amongst his kindred and acquaintance to accompany him in his journey back to Rome to begin a monastic life there.[5]

During this time Walpurga remained at Wimborne where she was educated; and in the course of time became a nun. The nuns of Wimborne were skilled at copying and ornamenting manuscripts; and celebrated for Opus Anglicanum, a fine needlework utilizing gold and silver threads on rich velvet or linen, often decorated with jewels and pearls. Such English embroidery was in great demand across Europe.[6] She spent 26 years as a member of the community.[7]

In 737, Boniface was in Rome and recruited his nephews to assist him in his work in Germany. Winnebald arrived in Thuringia on 30 November, 740, and after being ordained a priest,[4] was placed in charge of seven churches.[8] Willibald, upon arriving at Eichstätt, was ordained by Boniface on 22 July, 741 and began missionary work in the area.

She then travelled with her brothers, Willibald and Winibald, to Francia (now Württemberg and Franconia) to assist Saint Boniface, her mother's brother, in evangelizing among the still-pagan Germans. Because of her rigorous training, she was 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.[7]

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.[9]

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.[10]


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, in storms, and also by sailors.[7]


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]

The Church of St. Walburge, a Catholic church in Preston, Lancashire, England, is a church famous for its spire. At 309 feet (94 m) the spire is the tallest of any parish church in England with only the spires of Salisbury and Norwich Cathedrals reaching higher.[11]

St. Walburga Church in Antwerp (Belgium)Edit

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 from the 11th century was demolished and even the foundations of the St. Walburga 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 the 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 alsoEdit


  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. ^ Meyrick S.J., Thomas. A Life of St. Walpurg3, 1873  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ a b c Abbey of St. Walburga
  4. ^ a b Mershman, Francis. "Sts. Willibald and Winnebald." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 24 Apr. 2019   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  5. ^ Stevens, Clifford. The One Year Book of Saints, OSV Publishing
  6. ^ Brownlow, Canon. "The Brother and Sister and Saint Willibald", Report and Transactions - The Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, Vol. 23, 1891, p. 228  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  7. ^ a b c Casanova, Gertrude. "St. Walburga". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 18 May 2013
  8. ^ Butler, Alban. “Saint Winebald, Abbot and Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 16 December 2013   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  9. ^ the altarpiece is now disassembled. Susanne Heiland, "Two Rubens Paintings Rehabilitated" The Burlington Magazine, 111 No. 796 (July 1969:421-427) p.
  10. ^ Pamela Berger, The Goddess Obscured: Transformation of the Grain Protectress from Goddess to Saint, 1985:61-64, gives several examples and bibliographical notes.
  11. ^ Morgan, Ann. "Local landmarks: St Walburge's", BBC, 15 August 2008