Walpurgis (c. 710–777)

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Walpurgis (c. 710–777)

English saint and missionary . Name variations: Walberga; Walburg; Walburga; Walburge; Walpura; Walpurga. Born around 710; died in 777 (some sources cite 779) at the monastery of Heidenheim (also seen as Heidenham), Germany; sister of St. Willibald and St. Winibald; never married; no children.

Christians of early England revered Walpurgis as a saint. She was the daughter of a petty noble of Wessex; when he died, Walpurgis entered the convent of Wimborne. After several years, the abbess of Wimborne was approached by the missionary St. Boniface, who asked her to send some of her nuns with him to Germany to help convert the Germanic tribes. The intelligent, well-educated, and deeply pious Walpurgis was chosen to accompany Boniface, as were Lioba and a number of other nuns. Walpurgis spent two years traveling among the German people; then she was made abbess over the nuns at the foundation of Heidenheim, a double monastery established several years earlier by Walpurgis' own brothers, Saint Willibald and Saint Winibald.

On Winibald's death, Walpurgis was given responsibility for the monks as well, putting her in a position of considerable power. She managed the house and its adjacent lands with competence, all the while developing a reputation for having a special relationship with God. Walpurgis was believed to be able to effect miracles of healing, and was widely sought out by the ill for this power. After her death and subsequent canonization, miraculous powers were also attributed to her relics; the nuns at Heidenheim sent them, upon request, to churches across Germany, Belgium, and other countries, for Saint Walpurgis' reputation had spread across Western Europe.

Though Engelbert's Lives of the Saints lists her feast days as February 25 and May 1, Walpurgis Night is commonly celebrated on April 30, the eve of May Day. During Walpurgis Night, witches were supposed to ride on broomsticks to the ancient places of sacrifice in order to revel with Satan. One of the best known of witch hills was the highest point of the Harz, the Brocken, in Germany, the scene of the witches' Sabbath in Goethe's Faust.


Dunbar, Agnes. Dictionary of Saintly Women, vol. I. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1904.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California