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The saint who inspired a Harry Potter character

Saint Walpurga reliquary, Peterskirche, Munich, Bavaria, Germany (Wikimedia Commons)

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.