Walpurgis, or Walpurga, St

Walpurgis, or Walpurga, St.

was the sister of Willibald, the first bishop of the diocese of Eichstadt after it had been founded by Boniface. She was of English birth, and went as a missionary to Germany at the solicitation of Boniface. After a period of labor in Thuringia, she became abbess of the convent at Heidenheim, in Eichstaidt, where Wunnebald, another brother, exercised supervision. Tradition states that Walpurgis exercised control over monasteries also, after Wunnebald's death; she herself died in 776 or 778, and several days are still observed in her honor; e.g. Aug. 4, in memory of her departure from England; Feb. 25, in commemoration of her death; May 1, in honor of her canonization. It is customary in certain sections of Germany to adorn the doors of houses with birch twigs on the last-named of these days, as a protection against witches; and, in explanation of this custom, tradition relates that Walpurgis was in the habit of accompanying the apostles James and Philip in their missionary journeys, thereby incurring the suspicion of maintaining unchaste relations with them. To remove that suspicion, she planted a dry twig in the ground, which immediately produced leaves. The night of Walpurgis, May 1, has long been regarded as the chosen time when witches begin their infernal practices. To banish them, it was customary to bind wisps of straw to long poles and burn them — a custom which became known under the name of Walpurgis-fire. The bones of this saint, especially of the breast, are said to exude an oil which is a specific against the diseases of domestic animals, and which is distributed in the Convent of St. Walpunrgis at Eichstadt. See Bollandus et Godefr. Henschenius, Acta SS, Februarius 25 (Antw. 1658), 3, 511-572; Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v.

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