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Saint of the week

The saint who inspired a Harry Potter character

St Walburga (February 25) was educated by the nuns of Wimborne Abbey in Dorset

By on Thursday, 20 February 2014

St Walburga was born in Devonshire and descended from an aristocratic family. She was an English missionary to the Frankish Empire, and was canonised on May 1, 870 by Pope Adrian II. Walpurgis Night (or Walpugisnacht) is the name for the eve of her day, which coincides with May Day.

Walburga was the daughter of St Richard the pilgrim, one of the under-kings of the West Saxons and of Winna, sister of St Boniface, the Apostle of Germany who had travelled from his native Devon to convert the Saxons on the continent. Her brother St Winibald is buried in the Basilica of San Frediano, Lucca, where he died on pilgrimage in 722. Her other brother was St Willibald, makings hers one of the saintliest families in English history.

When St Richard went on pilgrimage with his two sons to the Holy Land, he entrusted St Walburga, just 11 years old, to the abbess of Wimborne. She was educated by the nuns of Wimborne Abbey in Dorset and remained there for 26 years. She then joined her brothers and mother in Germany in order to evangelise the pagans there.

Walburga became a nun in the double monastery of Heidenheim am Hahnenkamm, which was founded by her brother, Willibald, who she succeeded following his death in 751, when she became the abbess. Walburga died on February 25 in 777 or 779 and was laid to rest at Heidenheim. In the 1870s her remains were transferred to Eichstätt.

Walburga is the patroness of Eichstätt, Oudenarde, Furnes, Antwerp, Weilburg, and Zutphen, and is the patron saint against hydrophobia (the condition that rabies victims suffer from) storms, and also sailors.

St Walburga’s Abbey is situated in Eichsmett, Bavaria and there is another Benedictine Abbey of St Walburga in Virginia Dale, Colorado.
She also gave her name to the historic St Walburge’s church in Preston, which at 309ft remains the tallest parish church in England, and shorter than only two cathedrals.

She also inspired Walburga Black, one of the witches in the Harry Potter series of children’s books.

  • Scyptical Chymist

    Another Anglo Saxon Saint’s name used in Harry Potter is Godric, as in Godric Gryffindor.

    Godric 1065 -1170 (Feast Day 21st May), hailed from East Anglia and was a steward to a Norman overlord in Norfolk and after he fell out with him, became a merchant, later plying the North Sea to the near continent and was not averse to a bit of piracy. He travelled far afield and was probably Godric, an English pirate who helped Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem, escape to Jaffa after a Christian defeat in the Holy land. Later, after several landings on the Farnes and Holy Island, he was smitten by the story of the great St Cuthbert and vowed to become a holy hermit. This he did, settling at Finchale, near Durham, remaining there for the rest of his long life. Reginald a local monk wrote his biography, at the instigation of Abbot Ailred of Rievaulx, a great admirer of Godric’s holiness. He was devoted to Our Lady and wrote the first hymn in English to her praise and as a plea for help. His music is still performed. Before St Francis, and like Cuthbert too, he had a great love of animals.

    Godric is one of our great English saints who gets little mention these days – try Googling St Godric to get more information and I recommend “Godric” by Frederick Buechner (fictional autobiography) which contains the wonderful short hymn and plea to Our Lady. At the time of writing it was nominated for a Pulitzer prize. Reginald of Durham’s “Life of Godric* is widely available to read on the internet.

    Described as both a stubborn outsider and a true child of God who fights his inner pride and lusts, he stands out as an example to be followed in today’s “anything goes” lifestyle and the permissive attitudes to this of many of our clergy.

    “St Godric, Father, pray for me, pray for us all”.

  • fredx2

    I doubt that the inspiration for the Harry Potter Character was St. Walpurga. Rather, the inspiration for this witch character was probably Walpurgis Night, which according to Gorthe’s Faust and German legend, was a night when all the witches gathered on a mountain in Germany.

    Walpurgis Night (in German folklore) the night of 30 April (May Day’s eve), when witches meet on the Brocken mountain and hold revels with their gods…

    Brocken is the highest of the Harz Mountains of north central Germany. It is noted for the phenomenon of the Brocken spectre and for witches’ revels which reputedly took place there on Walpurgis night.”

    As a result of reading Faust, many were familiar with Walpurgis night, but very few had any idea there even was a St. Walpurga. I suspect JC Rowiing was well aware of Walpurgis night, since she must have studied a lot of witchcraft legends in order to write Harry Potter, but I doubt she thought at all of St. Walpurga. You certainly have presented no evidence that she did.

  • Richeldis_de_Faverches

    Alas – the suffix -berga makes it unlikely that she will gain many protegees as a patron saint these days. Bertha has a similar problem, as does Hilda. Saxon boys’ names such as Alfred and Harold seen to be creeping back into fashion though – and I have recently met a young Boniface – so who knows?

  • James M

    ## Not really. Walpurgisnacht is called by her name, but her night is just a date in the Potterverse. No-one in the Potterverse treats the Saint as of any importance, not least as she is not mentioned. It would be far more convincing to say that Santa Susanna influenced the Potterverse, b/c Susanna = lily = Lily, the name of Harry’s mother. Lily doesn’t appear in person, but she influences the story in many ways: by giving Snape the brush-off, by ticking off James Potter, by marrying James Potter, by having Harry, by protecting Harry at the cost of her own life so that Voldemort kills her as well as James Potter. All this has very far-reaching consequences in the Potterverse. The mention of Walpurgisnacht – not so much.

    Did Blessed Henry VI “inspir[e] a Harry Potter character”, in the person of Harry himself ? Again, not really. Those keen to make such a case, could make it, if they really had to. But such ideas are like the painfully strained attempts to make out that Frodo & Gandalf in TLOTR are “Christ-figures” – Catholicism did influence TLOTR, but not in that cack-handed way – the book’s artistic vision is Catholic; its contents are not, unless inconsistently & fleetingly. Strained attempts at Christianising books that are not Christian – such as the HP books – are best left to over-earnest US commentators unable to read properly.

    For real influences on the Potterverse, one has to look to astronomy, alchemy, the Arthurian cycle, Middle European folklore, Classical mythology, Roman history, that sort of thing – not to Christianity, & not to the Saints.

  • James M

    Does Edward count ? Possibly not. How many Edmunds & Edgars are there ? Some.

  • James M

    St Cuthbert deserves – like St Bede, Doctor of the Church – to be far better known. Bede is very readable – not bad for an author who died almost 1280 years ago.

  • Scyptical Chymist

    Yes, very much so. Cuthbert brought Christianity back to the north of England and of course helped to Christianize Southern Scotland from whence he came. So Christian indeed, that by the time of the divine sage Bede it was probably the cultural centre of Europe. Of this, the vast majority of our countrymen are ignorant. His monumental Ecclesiastical History of the English People (to which you probably refer) made him the father of English History. These northern English holy men helped make this land of England, indeed to some extent, Britain, but their contribution is not well enough known, though TV is beginning to pick up on them.

  • TieHard

    Madeline you don’t seem to mind that this Sainted woman is equated (by you at least) with a witch Do you not see any incongruity in this? you are writing for a Catholic paper. Do you think witches are harmless .. then read the works of Fr Gabriel Amorth or Google him. Otherwise an interesting piece. Liked the bit about the several saints in the family.

  • Nic Doye

    Had her confused with St Werburgh, whom I’ve only heard of as an area of Bristol.