St. Walburga: Missionary, Benedictine Nun, and First Woman Author in England and Germany
Today is the feast of St. Walburga (710-777) missionary, Benedictine nun, author, and abbess of Hiedenheim. She had two brothers, St. Willibald and St. Winibald. She wrote a biography of Winibald and an account in Latin of St. Willibald’s travels in Palestine and is thus, considered to the first woman author in both England and Germany.
St. Walburga was born in Wessex, England, about 710, the daughter of St. Richard and Winna, the sister of St. Boniface. When St. Richard set out for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with his sons, he entrusted 11-year-old Walburga to to the abbess of Wimborne. She was educated by the nuns at the monastery school at Wimborne, and became a nun there, remaining with the community for twenty-six years.
When St. Boniface requested nuns to help him in the evangelization of pagan Germany, St. Walburga responded to that call. On the way to Germany, there was a terrible storm at sea. Walburga knelt on the deck of the ship and prayed. The sea immediately became calm. The sailors who witnessed this spread the word that she was a miracle worker, so she was received in Germany with great respect.
Initially, Walburga lived at Bischofsheim, under the rule of St. Lioba. Then she was made abbess at Heidenheim, close to where her brother, Winibald served as an abbot over a men’s monastery. After his death, she ruled both monasteries. She worked many miracles in the course of her ministry.
On September 23, 776, she assisted Willibald in translating the uncorrupt relics of their brother, Winibald, to a new tomb in the church at Heidenheim. Shortly after this, she became ill. Willibald cared for her until she died on February 25, 777, and then placed her next to Winibald in the tomb.
After St. Willibald’s death in 786, people gradually forgot St. Walburga and the church fell into disrepair. In 870, Bishop Oktar was having Heidenheim restored when some workmen desecrated Walburga’s grave. She appeared in a dream to the bishop, who then translated her relics to Eichstadt.
In 893, St. Walburga’s body was found to be immersed in a mysterious sweet-smelling liquid. It was found to work miraculous healings. The liquid, called St. Walburga’s oil, has flowed from her body, ever since, except for a brief period when the church was put under the interdict after robbers shed the blood of a bell-ringer in the church. Portions of St. Walburga’s relics have taken to several other cities and her oil to all parts of the world.
St. Walburga is the patroness of Eichstätt and Weilburg, Germany; Oudenarde, Veurne, Antwerp, Belgium; and Zutphen the Netherlands. She is invoked as special patroness against hydrophobia (extreme or irrational fear of water), in storms, and also by sailors. She is also patroness against coughs, dog bites, and rabies.