Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Walburga: A Saint from a Family of Saints

By Kim Rendfeld

16th century painting
by Meister von Meßkirch
When Saint Walburga was 37, she left her sheltered life to make a long, risky journey and live among strangers.

Walburga was a daughter of privilege. She was born to Saint Richard, an under-king of the West Saxons, and Winna, a sister of Saint Boniface, and had at least five siblings. When she was 11, her father entrusted her to the double monastery of Wimbourne while he and two sons went on a pilgrimage. Richard died in Lucca, Italy, but the sons made it to Rome, where Saint Winibald became a monk. Saint Willibald would later take the cowl.

Walburga remained at Wimbourne, whose monks and nuns adhered closely to the Rule of Saint Benedict, and took her own vows. She likely expected to stay there the rest of her life.

But in 748, her maternal uncle asked her and other nuns to leave their familiar, safe home for the sake of Christianity in today’s Germany.

Walburga’s brother Willibald was already on the Continent, where he was the bishop of the recently created diocese of Eichstätt. We don’t know whether that played a role in her decision, but she accepted the mission. So did Saint Lioba, another relative of Boniface, and other disciples of Mother Tetta.

If we are to believe legend, the sisters soon experienced the hazards of travel firsthand. During the crossing, the boat got caught in a storm. Walburga prayed and knelt on the deck, and the storm quieted.

Saint Walburga reliquary at
Peterskirche in Munich (by Jebulon)
At Mainz, she was welcomed by Boniface and Willibald and lived under Lioba’s rule in Tauberbischofsheim, east of the Rhine, for a few years. In 752, Walburga’s family founded the abbey of Heidenheim, a week’s journey, give or take, to the southeast and a few days away from Willibald in Eichstätt. Walburga’s brother Winibald oversaw the men, while she ruled over the women.

After Winibald died in 761, Walburga led his monastery in addition to her convent. Abbesses were women of authority, expected to act independently and manage people and lands.

Like most saints’ stories, hers includes miracles. During this time, another legend has her praying all night at the bedside of a dying girl in a noble house, and by dawn, the girl was healed.

Walburga continued her mission until her death on February 25, 777 or 779. Willibald was with her in her final moments and had her interred beside Winibald. As close as the siblings were in life, they would be in death.

Images are in the public domain and via Wikimedia Commons.


St. Walburga” by Gertrude Casanova, The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15.

St. Emma’s Monastery

Kim Rendfeld was drawn to early medieval times by a legend and stayed for the history.

Her latest release, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (2014, Fireship Press), is about an eighth-century Saxon peasant who will go to great lengths to protect her children after she has lost everything else - her husband, her home, her faith, and even her freedom.

To read the first chapters of Ashes or Kim’s debut, The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press), or learn more about her, visit kimrendfeld.com or her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com. You can also like her on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.

Kim's book are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers.

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