Thursday, January 24, 2013

Saint Walburga

Saint Walburga (c.710-779), mentioned yesterday because of the "Oil of Saints" that flows from the stone and metal on which her relics rest, deserves a little more attention.

Walburga taming the water, by Peter Paul Rubens.
She was born in Devonshire in England. Her whole family was very devout: her father was St. Richard the Pilgrim, her uncle was St. Boniface (d.754), and her brothers Winibald and Willibald also became saints. She was raised by the nuns of Wimborne Abbey. Her education was very thorough. She is presumed to be the author of a life of St. Winibald and an account of the travels through Palestine of St. Willibald, making her the earliest known female author in Western Europe.

While St. Boniface was christianizing Germany, he called for help from women as well as men. St. Walburga and many other nuns started a voyage to Germany. When a storm threatened to capsize the craft, Walburga knelt on the deck and prayed for deliverance, whereupon the waters immediately became calm. Upon landing, the sailors told everyone who would listen of the miracle, and Walburga's fame grew.

Arriving at Mainz, she joined St. Boniface and St. Willibald, and later was made abbess of Heidenheim, putting her near Winibald who was abbot of the companion monastery of Hahnenkamm. When Winibald died in 751, she became the abbess of both monasteries. When she died in 779 (or 777, the records not being clear), Willibald placed her remains near their brother's; traffic to the tombs for cures and miracles was substantial. Willibald himself died in 786, after which Walburga's fame faded.

In 870, Bishop Otkar of Eichstadt decided to restore the now-decrepit monastery of Heidenheim. In the process, the remains of Walburga were disturbed. She appeared to Otkar in a dream one night, reproaching him for the actions of the workmen. The bishop resolved to move her remains with great care to Eichstadt to the Church of the Holy Cross, which was renamed for St. Walburga. This is where her relics, placed in a stone and metal receptacle, began to produce the liquid that is reputed to have curative properties. The substance was first noted in 893 when Otkar's successor, Bishop Erchanbold, opened the tomb to share the relics with the abbess of Monheim. It still appears to this day, and only has not appeared when Eichstadt was under church Interdict, and an occasion when robbers shed the blood of a bell-ringer in the church.

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