For centuries, the faithful have come to venerate the tomb of St. Walburga, a German Benedictine saint, from whose bones flow a liquid that is credited with miraculous healings.
Nestled in the hills of southern Germany in Eichstatt, St. Walburga Abbey greets pilgrims who come to pray around her tomb and receive some of the liquid known as St. Walburga oil. The oil has flowed from her bones for more than 1,000 years, starting in October and ending on Feb. 25, the saint's feast in the Benedictine breviary. The Roman martyrology commemorates her feast on May 1.
Examples of St. Walburga's intercession are numerous. Entering the chapel, pilgrims kneel around the balustrade that encircles the tomb where a shaft has been constructed to collect the "oil" in a silver cup.
The Benedictine nuns who care for the tomb and abbey collect the oil and place it into small glass vials that are given to the faithful.
Display cases that line the chapel walls hold wax body parts that indicate healings granted along with hundreds of pictures of the saint given to the abbey's nuns in thanksgiving.
Feast of oil saints
St. Walburga is reckoned as the most famous of the oil-yielding saints -- which include St. Nicholas of Myra, St. Andrew and more than two dozen others -- because her bones are still emanating the oil the most frequently.
She was born in Devonshire about A.D. 710 and died in 777 in Heidenheim, where she had established a convent. From a saintly family, she was the daughter of St. Richard and the sister of St. Willibald, St. Winibald and St. Boniface, known as the apostle of Germany.
Devotion to her flourished soon after her death but was soon forgotten. By the late 800s, her tomb had fallen to neglect.
St. Walburga seems to have had other plans to still help the faithful on earth. Legend states that she appeared to Otkar, then bishop of Eichstatt, in a dream and asked why he allowed her tomb to be "trampled upon by the dirty feet of builders" during church reconstruction. The bishop had her moved ceremoniously to a new location, and miraculous cures were reported as her remains traveled along the route.
The saint's tomb led to the founding in 1055 of what is now called St. Walburga Abbey. The order still flourishes and has offshoots in the United States.
Jennifer Lindberg writes from Indiana.