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St. Walburga icon

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St. Walburga icon
© Cecilia Lawrence
January 16th, 2020
6 x 9 inches
9 Hours
Ink, watercolor, gold leaf


“May she who came so far from her Anglo-Saxon home,
bring us nearer to our heavenly home.”

~ Latin inscription from the Gundecar Pontifical (c. 1070)

“Greetings to you, O virgin of the Lord, St. Walburga,
renowned sister of Willibald and Wynnebald,
you who consecrated yourself willingly to Christ.
Amidst the throng of holy people,
England, your mother, lovingly nourished you
and sent you to us, angel-like virgin.
And the Mother of the Lord, Mother and Virgin,
ranks you among the choir of rejoicing virgins,
consecrates you as the blessed bride of her Son.
Behold the choir of angels bids you welcome
with the call of the Lord, ‘Beloved virgin,
come to Me into the kingdom of everlasting joy!’
To the Triune God, creation pays homage;
virgins, prudent, and proved true, sing Him hymns.
Intercede for us, O virgin Walburga.”

~ Ave flos Virginum by Bishop Heribert of Eischstatt (c. 1030)

I was commissioned to make an icon of St. Walburga for a client who wished to gift it to the Benedictine nuns of the Abbey of St. Walburga in Colorado. I have depicted the saint in the habit of a Benedictine nun, holding a vial of her miraculous oil in one hand and a book of the Gospels in the other (symbolizing her missionary activities in Germany), with a small crown draped over her arm (symbolizing the Anglo-Saxon nobility from which she came), with the crosier of an abbess in the crook of her arm. The crosier is decorated with a cloisonné cross based on the contemporaneous Trumpington Cross.

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:+: A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF THE SAINT :+:

Saint Walburga (c. 710 – February 25th 779 A.D.), also known as Walpurga was born to a noble and holy Anglo-Saxon family in the southwestern region of Devonshire in England. Her parents were both of the West Saxon nobility. Her father, St. Richard the Pilgrim, was a chieftain or under-king under the West-Saxon King Ine. Walburga’s mother was St. Wuna of Wessex, an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman and the sister of St. Boniface. Two of her older brothers were St. Willibald and St. Winibald, but she had three other siblings whose names have not been recorded. Her parents were very devout Christians and made it a point to pray together as a family. When their oldest son Willibald was only three years old, the boy became desperately ill and his parents took him before a large cross in their courtyard and offered him to God, promising the Lord that if he recovered, they would dedicate the boy to the service of the Church. Willibald did recover, and once he had begun to have a better understanding of spiritual things, they brought him to the monastery of Waldheim where he was accepted as a novice and began his monastic education.

Walburga, too, at a young age was most likely sent to a women’s monastery under the Abbess Tetta where she was raised and educated, and this probably at the monastery of Wimborne where her older cousin Lioba was also a nun.

When her brother Willibald was about twenty years old, he desired earnestly to go on a pilgrimage to Italy and to the Holy Land and visit the shrines and churches dedicated to the martyrs and other holy saints. As his biographer, the nun Huneberc of Heidenheim relates:
“The young servant of Christ, as we have already mentioned, was eager to go on pilgrimage and travel to distant foreign lands and find out all about them. When he had decided to brave the perils of the pathless sea he went immediately to his father and opened his heart to him, telling him the secrets he had concealed from others. He begged him earnestly to advise him on the project and to give his permission; but not content with that, he asked his father to go with him. He invited him to share in this hazardous enterprise and to undertake this difficult mode of life, eager to detach him from the pleasures of the world, from the delights of earth and from the false prosperity of wealth. He asked him to enter, with the help of God, into the divine service and to enroll in the heavenly army, to abandon his native country and to accompany him as a pilgrim to foreign parts. Using all his powers of persuasion, he coaxed him to join his sons on a visit to the sacred shrine of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles. At first his father declined, excusing himself from the journey on the plea that he could not leave his wife and small children. It would be cruel, and unchristian, he said, to deprive them of his protection and to leave them at the mercy of others… In this way, employing every means of persuasion and speaking to him heart to heart, he strove to extort from him his agreement to the plan. At last, by the help of Almighty God, his insistence prevailed. His father and his brother Winibald gave their promise that they would embark on the enterprise he had in mind and in which he had persuaded them to join.”

Eventually the pilgrims left England, traveling first through France and then down into Italy, stopping at Lucca, their father became desperately ill, and after a short illness, he passed away. The two brothers then, after burying their father, continued on their pilgrimage. While in Rome, the two brothers also fell ill, but eventually recovered. Winibald’s health was more fragile than his brother’s, so he stayed on in Rome and continued his studies there. Willibald, however, continued his pilgrimage, leaving Rome in 724 and traveled to the Holy Land, visiting Sicily, Greece, Asia Minor, and Cyprus along the way. On his return to Italy, he stopped for two years in Constantinople, and then traveled to Nicaea, then Sicily, returning again to Italy where he became a monk at Monte Cassio in 729.

Their sister, Walburga, in the meantime, was only ten or eleven years old when the news reached the family that their father had died in Lucca. She remained at Wimborne and continued her education, learning to read and write in Latin and learning the art of fine embroidering and other decorative arts. She and her sisters were also trained and skilled in the art of illumination and the copying and ornamenting of manuscripts. She eventually became a nun and lived for twenty-six quiet years as part of that monastic community.

In 737, her uncle St. Boniface was in Rome to ask Pope Gregory III for aid to the German missions. He specifically asked that his nephews Willibald and Winibald be sent for to assist him. The two brothers agreed to help their uncle. Winibald arrived first in Thuringia, and was ordained as a priest. When Boniface and Willibald arrived in southern Germany, Willibald was also ordained as a priest on July 22nd 741. While doing missionary work in Thuringia, the two brothers met again for the first time in eight years and founded the double monastery of Heidenheim, which became an important spiritual center for the training of priests, for the education of the young, and as a center for learning with Winibald as its first abbot.

In time, the Abbess of Wimborne back in England was asked by St. Boniface to send more missionaries into Germany. Walburga and some of her other sister nuns were chosen as her companions and soon set out across the Channel to make their way to Mainz, where her uncle St. Boniface awaited them. When the nuns arrived, they were warmly welcomed by Boniface, and Walburga and her companions spent some time in training in the monastery of Tauberbischofsheim where her cousin Lioba was Abbess.  After her brother Winibald’s death in 761, her other brother (now also a bishop) Willibald asked her to come to Heidenheim and become the Abbess of the monastery there. She consented, and at the age of fifty-one, she became the Abbess of the double monastery of monks and nuns at Heidenheim. One biographer describes her thus: “She began at the before-mentioned place at Heidenheim to fulfill the commandments of the Lord with great fervor. She persevered in prayer day and night and devoted herself often to vigils and ascetical practices. While guarding her chastity with great vigilance since the earliest years of her youth, she consecrated herself totally to the Lord, in order that He might strengthen her faith and guard her purity of heart. Therefore the Lord was at all times and in all her undertakings a strong Protector and Companion, and she won from Him all the favors she requested.”

After the death of her brother Winibald (who had been regarded by many even during his lifetime as a holy man), many miracles were attributed to his intercession. So in 776, Bishop Willibald made arrangements to exhume his brother’s body and have a larger church built over the tomb to replace the smaller previous chapel. As they opened the lid of the coffin, they were astonished to find that even after fifteen years his body was not only not decayed, but, as one person put it “Not even a hair on his head was missing.” Walburga and her brother Willibald were overjoyed and kissed the body of their brother and had the body taken up and placed in the new tomb.

Once, while she was Abbess at Heidenheim, Walburga felt impelled to go to the house of a rich man in the neighborhood of the monastery. The household did not recognize her, and when a pack of barking dogs seemed to threaten her, they called out to her to ask who she was. She replied, “Your wild dogs would not bite me nor harm me in any way; for I, Walburga—for that is my name—have come to your house by the guidance of Him who will also lead me back safe and sound. God who directed me to your house will grant you the grace of healing, if you believe in Him who is the highest of physicians.” The owner leapt up and let her into the house. They treated her with great reverence and hospitality, but as night fell and Walburga initiated that it was time for her to return to the monastery, the rich man led her to the bedside of his sick daughter. Her breathing was very faint and her death seemed near at hand. The father mournfully began to give orders to arrange for his daughter’s funeral, and the mother was her herself so grieved at heart that she almost seemed on the point of death as well. Walburga, however, stayed the whole night at the girl’s bedside and prayed for her health while the funeral arrangements were being made. When morning came, however, the girl arose in perfect health. The astonished and happy parents begged her to accept many gifts as thanks for her prayers, but Walburga refused them all and returned to her monastery.

As her biographer Wolfhard of Herriden writes, “After Walburga had attained to the fullness of love for God and neighbor and had overcome the world with all its empty vanities, she went to meet the Lord who called her to Himself. She died, filled with faith, excellent in her Christian virtues of chastity, humility, compassion, wisdom, and love. She accepted death in willing surrender in the firm hope to reach the goal of her desire. While her bodily remains now rest peacefully at her shrine, she nourishes her sons and daughters whom she left behind in this world by her intercessory help like a mother for her children.”</i> She died on February 25th 779 at her monastery of Heidenheim. Her brother Bishop Willibald had her buried beneath the floor of the monastery near her brother Winibald’s tomb.

In 870, the bishop of Eichstädt was making renovations to the monastery and some of the workmen were negligent and desecrated her tomb. She appeared in a dream to the bishop and reproached him for his carelessness. Awaking from the dream, he ordered that her body be moved from the monastery to a nearby chapel dedicated to the Holy Cross. Later, in 1035 the Benedictine Abbey of St. Walburga was founded over the tomb and Walburga’s body was placed in a small shrine at the base of the main altar, where it remains to this day. Earlier in 893, when her grave was opened for some of her relics to be taken to the monastery at Monheim, her bones were found to exude a miraculous liquid or dew. While these relics were being taken to Monheim, two sick boys approached the case where Walburga’s relics were, touched them, and were miraculously healed from their afflictions. The news spread quickly and many pilgrims began flocking there to receive the benefits of the saint’s intercession. Since then, St. Walburga has become famous for the healing “oil” (actually water) which exudes from the stone slab on which her body rests in her church in Eichstädt. This “Oil of Saints” exudes from her bones everyday between October 12th and February 25th.

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“To all his most reverend colleagues in the episcopate, to the venerable priests, deacons, canons, clerics, abbots and abbesses of communities, to the lowly monks who obey for Christ's sake, to the consecrated and devout virgins and all professed nuns of Christ, indeed to all those Catholics of the English race who fear God, Boniface, a native of the same race, legate of the Universal Church in Germany and servant of the Apostolic See, formerly called Wynfrith, but now, through no deserts of his own, archbishop: greetings in the humble communion and sincere love of Christ.

With humble prayer, we beseech you, brethren, of your charity to remember our lowly selves in your prayers, that we may escape the cunning snares of the devil and the buffetings of evil men, that the word of the Lord may prosper and be glorified. We beg you to be instant in prayer that God and our Lord Jesus Christ, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, may convert the hearts of the pagan Saxons to the faith, may make them repent of the devilish errors in which they are entangled and unite them to the children of Mother Church. Have pity on them, because their repeated cry is: "We are of one and the same blood and bone." Remember that we go the way of all flesh and in hell no man praises the Lord nor can death honor Him.

Be it known that in this undertaking I have the agreement and support and blessing of two Pontiffs of the Roman See. Act, then, on this prayer of mine, that your reward among the angels of heaven may be manifest and enlarged.

May the Almighty Creator keep your unity and common bond of love in force for evermore.
- St. Boniface’s letter to the English, Asking Prayers for the Conversion of the Saxons (738)

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:rose: The Feast of St. Walburga is celebrated on February 25th. :rose:

St. Walburga is the patron saint of Eichstätt, Weilburg, Oudenarde, Veurne, Antwerp, and Zutphen, and of those who suffer from hydrophobia.

God our Father,
the life and deeds of St. Walburga
are resplendent with Your Glory.
As we join with her in worship before Your throne,
grant that our prayer may effect healing and comfort
for all those who seek her aid.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
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© 2020 Theophilia
Comments16
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QueenVeronicathe1st's avatar

So very beautiful. This has special significance for me. I took my confirmation name from Saint Veronica. :heart:

Theophilia's avatar
TheophiliaProfessional Traditional Artist

Awww, thank you so very much!

QueenVeronicathe1st's avatar

You are so very welcome :heart:

BohemianBeachcomber's avatar
BohemianBeachcomberProfessional Writer

Lovely! :)

Theophilia's avatar
TheophiliaProfessional Traditional Artist

Thank you!!

BohemianBeachcomber's avatar
BohemianBeachcomberProfessional Writer

:nod:

LadyoftheApocalypse's avatar
LadyoftheApocalypseHobbyist General Artist
Gorgeous!
Theophilia's avatar
TheophiliaProfessional Traditional Artist
Thanks so much!
Touch-Not-This-Cat's avatar
A good Saint for Western Orthodoxy. I wish I’d noticed this submission this past morning.
Theophilia's avatar
TheophiliaProfessional Traditional Artist
:)
Touch-Not-This-Cat's avatar
Oh. You’re late!
RoseHarmony's avatar
RoseHarmonyHobbyist Writer
Oh wow, this is fantastic!! Great job!! 
Theophilia's avatar
TheophiliaProfessional Traditional Artist
Why thank you!
RoseHarmony's avatar
RoseHarmonyHobbyist Writer
You're welcome!!
AiredaleValkyrie's avatar
Well, now, who is this fair maiden?
Theophilia's avatar
TheophiliaProfessional Traditional Artist
:D
anonymous's avatar
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