Lockdown Lent 10: a woman against pandemics

Saint Walburga (c.710 – 779) was the daughter of Saint Richard the King, and her brothers were Saints Willibald and Winebald. She went to Wimborne monastery, in Dorset, SW England, to study under Saint Tatta, and later became a nun there.

In 748 she went with her brothers and a couple of friends on a mission to what is now Germany, and healed many people. This healing ability reportedly continued even after her death, as an oil with healing properties began to seep out from a rock on which her relics were placed. This healing ability led to her becoming the patron saint against coughs, rabies, and plague. She’s also the patron saint of two dioceses – Eichstätt, Germany, and Plymouth, England, and of 4 cities.

Walburga’s relics were moved to Eichstatt on 1st May, 870, which coincidentally is the date of a pagan festival associated with witches. Walburga had absolutely no connection with the festival, or with paganism, but the coincidence of dates led to her being strongly associated with witchcraft and superstition. It’s a curious thing that even now, in the 21st century, men who do extraordinary things are generally treated as heroes, while women who do extraordinary things are frequently treated with suspicion. ‘Witch’ is still hurled at women as an insult. Curious, huh?