Saxon Saints: St Walburga
Abbess of Heidenheim, Bavaria, South Germany
Article supplied by Sr Beda Brooks OSB from the Abbey of St Walburga in Eichstätt, Germany
St Walburga was born in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex in southern England. Her parents, St Richard and Wuna, prayed with their family of at least six children at the cross on their country estate. It is highly probable that the noble Walburga was educated at Wimborne, a famous Wessex monastery and took vows there.
In 720 her father and two elder brothers set off as a pilgrims to Rome. St Richard died in Lucca, Italy, but the youths reached Rome where St Wunibald (c701-761) became a monk, while St Willibald (c700-787) went on to the Holy Land. When Abbess of Heidenheim, St Walburga chose her nun Huneberc, a kinswoman, to write their biographies. Thus we discover that her great kinsman was St Boniface (675-754), the Apostle of Germany, who needed missionaries. In 741 he created the diocese of Eichstätt, consecrating St Willibald, also Benedictine monk, as its first bishop. In 752 Walburga’s family founded a monastery nearby at Heidenheim with St Wunibald as its abbot.
Probably in the 740s the zealous St Walburga left England to aid the work of evangelisation. Perhaps she went to Tauberbischofsheim where the Wimborne-educated abbess, St Leoba, was also Boniface’s kinswoman. When St Wunibald died in 761 she was aasked to become abbess of Heidenheim. Obediently she came with some nuns to face the difficult task of ruling both monks and nuns. One dark night, according to a legend significantly derived from a living tradition, she went alone to a nobles home, prayed all night at his dying child’s bedside and by dawn the girl was healed. Prayerfully and patiently she persevered until her death on 25 February 779 and was buried at Heidenhem.
During the 870s St Walburga’s remains were solemnly brought to Eichstatt for reinternment in the cathedral beside St Willibalds. However the oxen drawing the cart refused to go further than a small church to which canonesses were attached. This was taken as a sign from God, and there she was interred. In 893 as some of her relics were being transferred elsewhere a cripple, on touching the holy reliquary, was healed and devotion to her developed rapidly. In 1035 the Eichstätt canonesses were replaced by the foundation of the Abbey of St Walburga, a Benedictine monastery of nuns existing to our own day, and over the centuries countless pilgrims have prayed at her shrine. From the 1850s these nuns have founded daughter houses in the USA, and devotion to her has spread far and wide. She is renowned for her powerful and compassionate intercession on behalf of the sick, the dying, the distressed and all who pray with deep faith.
St Walburga drew strength from the Holy Mass, the singing of God’s praises seven times a day and prayerful reading of the Bible. Indeed she lived in the very presence of God.