St. Walburga – A Soul Ever Faithful to the Divine Will

Walburga left her homeland to dedicate herself to the expansion of the Church in other lands, and even today she continues to shine for her virtues and miracles.

It is certainly not without reason that Britain has often been called the Isle of Saints. In fact, from the earliest times of its evangelization, countless saints were born in these northerly regions.

These saints have often distinguished themselves for their missionary zeal, which did not restrict itself to the British Isles. The Holy Spirit led them to other corners of Europe, the continent where the Church was to put down deep roots.

St. Walburga was one such soul: for her love of Christ she left her native country and dedicated herself to the conversion of the pagans in Germanic lands.

Born into a noble and holy family

She was born in England in 710, the youngest daughter of St. Richard, King of Saxony, and Wuna, sister of St. Boniface. She also had two brothers, Willibald and Winibald, who were also canonized by the Church.

Stained glass representing scenes from the life of the Saint – St. Emma Monastery, Greensburg (PA)

Her childhood was spent in the affluent home of her father, where she received a thorough education until her family made a pilgrimage to Italy and the Holy Land. Walburga was then entrusted to the care of the nuns of Wimborne Abbey in Dorsetshire.

The journey of her parents was only a pretext of Providence for the girl to open her eyes to a religious vocation already at a young age.During the several years she lived at Wimborne, she learned various crafts and received lessons in Latin, a language she later used to write the history of her saintly brothers. However, her main occupation in community life was singing the glories of God and devoting herself to prayer, to which her keen contemplative spirit contributed greatly.

Formed in the school of sanctity

The temperament Walburga inherited from her parents was very fitting for a noble maiden. Her affectionate heart, overflowing with sympathy and kindness, made her company agreeable. She tended to empathize with the weaknesses of others and she used kindness in helping her neighbour.

Entrance into Wimborne Abbey

However, contact with the world could be easily mar these qualities, leading her a superficial indulgence towards evil, unaware of its dangers and snares. Souls like hers, if left uncorrected, become unable to bear reproach and are distressed by the little crosses and adversities of daily life.

However, convent life provided her with all the elements necessary for the correct formation of her character, giving her strength and constancy, and she knew how to take advantage of it during the twenty-eight years she spent under monastic discipline. The corrections and inner trials, prayer and silence, the weight of routine and the stability to which she had become accustomed in those long years forged her spirit for the mission to which she would be called in distant lands.

Her religious profession

The winds and waters heard her voice

Around that time, St. Boniface, her uncle, was working tirelessly for the evangelization of present-day Germany. He realized what precious fruits this land could bear for the Holy Church and decided to ask the superior of Wimborne Monastery to send nuns to help him in the apostolate. Walburga, Lioba, Thecla and thirty other nuns were appointed.

History tells us that, shortly after leaving port, a terrible storm broke out. Shipwreck seemed certain. Panic gripped everyone, and even the most experienced sailors doubted they would make it out alive.

During the storm at sea

Walburga, however, began to pray and then she ordered the elements of nature to be still. “The winds and waters heard the voice of God speaking through His servant, and they obeyed. A miraculous calm then followed, as if the peace and sweetness that dwelt within her had been poured out like oil upon the sea.”1 Thanks to the miracle, in a short time they were able to reach the continent.

Abbess at Heidenheim

The nuns were joyfully received by the Archbishop St. Boniface, as well as St. Willibald, Walburga’s brother and Bishop of Eichstätt, who listened with admiration to the miracle that had taken place during their journey.

It was necessary to begin the mission for which they had been called. St. Thecla and St. Lioba were entrusted with the government of monasteries in other parts of Germany, while Walburga remained in the newly founded community in Heidenheim, which was made up of separate houses for men and women. There, her other brother, St. Winibald, was the abbot of the monks, and she was to be the superior of the nuns. It was the year 752.

Being received by her brothers

The evangelization of Heidenheim entailed much work for them. The populace was suspicious of this new army of men who, axe in hand, felled trees they held sacred. However, as soon as they saw the benefits brought about by the teaching and agricultural techniques of the religious, they began to harbour real admiration for them. Gradually, the monasteries were filled with converted Germans, and the nobles of the region, in support of the work of these servants of God, provided them with more and more land.

Around the year 761, Winibald, weakened by age and infirmity, surrendered his soul to God. As his death left the monks without an abbot, Bishop Willibald appointed Walburga as superior of the monks as well.

Maternal kindness and exemplary teacher

Walburga lived for another sixteen years after the death of her beloved brother. If the care of the nuns already made her worthy of the esteem of her subordinates on account of the dedication, tenderness and spirit of sacrifice she showed, the direction of the monks only increased her sanctity. She was regarded as a mother by all.

Caring for the sick

Little bibliographical data has come down to us from those years, but some of the miracles she worked date from that period.

On one occasion, late at night, she went to the house of an important nobleman whose little daughter was dying. The abbess stood at a distance from the entrance to the residence, shrouded in shadows, without identifying herself. The nobleman was a hunter and owned ferocious dogs which were hungry and threatened the mysterious visitor. Fearing what might happen, he asked aloud who she was and what she wanted. He received the answer that he should not fear, for the dogs would not touch Walburga. He who had brought her there safe and sound would also lead her home unharmed.

When he heard the abbess’ name, the nobleman’s hope for his daughter was revived, and he invited her to come in. At the beside of the agonizing girl, Walburga knelt down and remained in prayer all night long. The next morning, the child awoke in perfect health! God had restored her to health, thanks to the intercession of the nun. Filled with gratitude and amazed by this great miracle, the family offered her valuable gifts, which she declined, returning on foot to the monastery.

Finally, having been a mother and sister in Faith to all her subordinates, over whom she had exercised gentle authority, she entered the heavenly abode around the year 777. St. Willibald buried her body in the monastery itself, next to that of Winibald.

A surprise when her relics were transferred

St. Willibald and St. Walburga, by Lucas Cranach, the Elder – Neue Residenz, Bamberg (Germany)

About sixty years after her death, the monastery in Heidenheim was in very poor condition and in need of repair. Otgar, then Bishop of Eichstätt, decided to undertake a renovation. During the work, however, the grave where the body of the deceased abbess lay was trampled on and desecrated through the carelessness of the workmen.

That very night, she appeared in vision to the prelate and asked him sternly why her tomb had been dishonoured. “Know that you will have a sign that you have not acted well with me or with the house of God,”2 she warned him.

At dawn, a monk from Heidenheim brought word that part of the restored ceiling had collapsed! Seeing that the threat had been carried out, the Bishop called together the local clergy, went to the Saint’s grave and held a ceremony of reparation there. Then, to the ringing of bells and to the sound of hymns, he carried Walburga’s relics in solemn procession to Eichstätt, a town in Bavaria, where they remain to this day.

When they were able to touch the bones of the precious Abbess, they had a great surprise: they were moistened with fragrant and very pure oil. The priests gathered a small portion of the precious liquid and decided to carry it in procession to the city of Monheim, which had a monastery.

From then on, miracles followed one after the other. On the way, an epileptic boy approached the litter bearing the oil and was cured. A sweet and very pleasant fragrance immediately emanated, proving the supernatural authenticity of the event.

In Eichstätt, the monastery which received her relics was renamed St. Walburga’s Abbey and became a place of frequent pilgrimages. In 870, Pope Adrian II solemnly canonized her.

St. Walburga’s oil

Since the day the remains of the abbess were transferred to the monastery in Eichstätt, the so-called St. Walburga’s oil has been flowing from them at regular intervals, usually on the feast of St. Mark and the commemoration of the transfer of her body on February 25. Small drops of the miraculous liquid flow from a hole made in the grave to channel the distillation, and these are collected in a silver vessel and then distributed to the faithful.

There are also reports that if used by someone irreverently or treated disrespectfully, the oil evaporates. Moreover, when a container is not immediately put in place to collect the liquid, the drops remain suspended, like grapes on a cluster or honey in a comb, refusing to flow out.

Tomb of St. Walburga at the Abbey of Heidenheim (Germany)

But the miracles were not restricted to the years following St. Walburga’s death and the transfer of her body. It is said that in the 19th century, after having used the holy oil with faith and devotion, a resident of Eichstätt named Müller who was on the point of blindness recovered his sight. Full of gratitude, after the cure the man did not allow any blind man to pass his door without giving him some alms.

She continues to shine through the brilliance of her virtues!

Perhaps one of the most beautiful aspects of the Church is the variety of Saints, as St. Paul states: “some should be Apostles, some prophets, some Evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the Saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12).

From the cloister of a monastery, St. Walburga was able to leave her mark on the history of the Church, embellishing religious life with noble virtues, drawing souls to sanctity and contributing to the uprooting of the Germanic people from paganism and barbarism.

Her life, which was perhaps lived in apparent normality, was certainly followed attentively by the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Angels. Every act of correspondence to grace meant an advance of the Church in the victory against evil in those lands and a new splendour for the civilization that would germinate there. And still today, the holy abbess continues to care for, help and heal those who turn to her with faith and devotion.

In this way St. Walburga teaches us that sanctity does not require great feats, but rather entire conformity to the divine will. Let us ask her to intercede for us before Our Lady and the throne of the Blessed Trinity so that we may completely fulfil the vocation to which we are called. 



1 ST. JOHN HENRY NEWMAN. The Family of St. Richard, the Saxon. London: Gilbert and Rivington, 1844, p.82.

2 Idem, p.90-91.



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