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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Saint Walpurga and the Witches of Walpurgis Night


Saint Walpurga

The daughter of Saint Richard the Pilgrim and sister of Saint Willibald, Saint Walpurga (also known as Saint Walpurgis) was born in Devonshire in 710 A.D. An English princess, Saint Walpurga studied medicine and became a Christian missionary to Germany, where she founded an double monastery in Heidenheim. As a result of Saint Walpurga's evangelism in Germany, the people there converted to Christianity from heathenism. In addition, the monastery became an education center and soon became famous as a center of culture. Saint Walpurga was also known to repel the effects of witchcraft. She perished in 777 and her tomb, to this day, produces holy oil (known as Saint Walburga's oil), which is said to heal sickness; Benedictine nuns distribute this oil in vials to Christian pilgrims who visit Saint Walpurga's tomb.

Walpurgis Night

The canonization of Sant Walpurga and the movement of her relics to Eichstätt occurred on 1 May in the year 870 thus leading to the Feast of Saint Walpurga and its eve, Walpurgis Night, being popularly observed on this date. When the bishop had Saint Walpurga's relics moved, miraculous cures were reported as her remains traveled along the route. The eve of May Day, traditionally celebrated with dancing and bonfires to ward off witches, came to be known as Sankt Walpurgisnacht ("Saint Walpurga's night") in the German language. The shortened name of the holiday is Walpurgisnacht in German, Valborgsmässoafton ("Valborg's Mass Eve") in Swedish, Vappen in Finland Swedish, Vappu in Finnish, Volbriöö in Estonian, Valpurgijos naktis in Lithuanian, Valpurģu nakts or Valpurģi in Latvian, Carodějnice and Valpuržina noc in Czech. In English, it is known as Walpurgis Night.


Saint Walpurga was hailed by the Christians of Germany for battling "pest, rabies and whooping cough, as well as against witchcraft." In Germanic folklore, Hexennacht, literally "Witches' Night", was believed to be the night of a witches' meeting on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, a range of wooded hills in central Germany between the rivers Weser and Elbe. Christians prayed to God through the intercession of Saint Walpurga in order to protect themselves from witchcraft, as Saint Walpurga was successful in converting the local populace to Christianity. In parts of Christendom, people continue to light bonfires on Saint Walpurga's Eve in order to ward off evil spirits and witches. Others have historically made Christian pilgrimages to Saint Walburga's tomb in Eichstätt on the Feast of Saint Walburga, often obtaining vials of Saint Walburga's oil.


The 17th-century German tradition of a meeting of sorcerers and witches on May Day eve is influenced by the descriptions of Witches' Sabbaths in 15th- and 16th-century literature. Given that witches gathered on this Hexennacht, the Western Christian Church established the Feast of Saint Walpurga on the same night in order counteract witchcraft, given that the intercession of Saint Walpurga was efficacious against evil magic. Local variants of Walpurgis Night are observed throughout Europe in the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, and Estonia.


A scene in Goethe's Faust Part One is called "Walpurgisnacht," and one in Faust Part Two is called "Classical Walpurgisnacht." The last chapter of book five in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain is also called "Walpurgisnacht." In Edward Albee's 1962 play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Act Two is entitled "Walpurgisnacht."

From Bram Stoker's short story, Dracula's Guest, an Englishman (whose name is never mentioned) is on a visit to Munich before leaving for Transylvania. It is Walpurgis Night, and in spite of the hotelier's warning not to be late coming back, the young man later leaves his carriage and wanders toward the direction of an abandoned "unholy" village. As the carriage departs with the frightened and superstitious driver, a tall and thin stranger scares the horses at the crest of a hill. This scene made it into the 1931 film version of Dracula (see clips below).



See the clip here also.


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