Feast Day : February 25
Patronage: crops; against famine; against plagues
Walburga was born in Devonshire, England, around 710. She was the daughter of a West Saxon chieftain and the sister of SS. Willibald and Winebald (also given as Winnebald and Wunebald). She was educated at Wimborne Monastery in Dorset, where she became a nun. In 748, she was sent with St. Lioba to Germany to help St. Boniface in his missionary work. She spent two years at Bishofsheim. Her brother Winebald, bishop of Eichstadt, appointed her abbess of the Benedictine double monastery at Heidenheim, which he had founded. Walburga served as superior of both men and women until her death in 779. She was buried first at Heidenheim. Between 870 and 879 her body was interred next to that of her brother Winebald in the Holy Cross Church at Eichstadt. The Church of St. Walburga is there today. After the remains were moved, Walburga’s bones began to secrete a manna called “pearls,” a clear, tasteless and odorless liquid described as resembling fresh water and said to have great healing power. For more than 10 centuries, this manna—also called an oil— has been collected by Benedictine nuns, bottled and given out to the faithful. It is consumed and used as an ointment. The bones are housed in a reliquary that has two compartments separated by a shelf. The bones rest in a silver bowl in the top compartment. A silver shell is in the bottom compartment. Oil from the bones drips through silver pipes into the shell. It is collected and placed into ampules. The oil flow begins every year between October 12, the date her remains were moved, and stops on February 25, the date of the anniversary of her death. In the Roman Martyrology, Walburga’s feast day was observed on May 1, which became known as Walburga’s night, or Walpurgisnacht. May 1 was a major pagan festival, Beltane, which became demonized as a night of witches’ revelries. Rites were performed on this night for protection against witches and witchcraft.