On 30th April Sweden, Finland and a lot of other European countries celebrate Valborgsmässoafton (or Valborg) – ‘Walpurgis Night’. On this night Swedes welcome the spring with large bonfires in order to scare off witches, demons and evil spirits, listen to choirs, sing traditional spring songs and dance around the fire until dawn. But why is this special night called Walpurgis Night? Who is the woman after whom one of Sweden’s major festivities is named?
Saint Walpurga was born in 710 as one of many children to a rich English family in Devon, Wessex. At the age of 10 or 11, after her parents had died, she came to the monastery and Benedictine nunnery in Wimborne, Dorset where she spent the next 26 years of her life. Her brothers Willibald and Wunibald went to Germany to work as missionaries on the request of the Pope.
On one of Wunibald’s trips back to England he convinced Walpurga to work as a missionary in Europe as well. When crossing the Channel her ship got into difficulties and according to legend Walpurga spent the whole trip on deck praying for a safe arrival until they reached Antwerp. After her brother Wunibald’s death she took over the monastery in Heidenheim that he had founded 10 years before. Because of her successful work as the head of the monastery she soon became one of the most influential women in Christian Europe at that time.
During her life Walpurga is supposed to have performed 2 miracles. Legend relates that she once saved a child from starving with 3 wheat ears and also calmed a rabid dog. She is also credited with healing the sick and many woman in childbirth. Today she is considered to be the patroness against storms, diseases and plagues, rabies, famine and failed harvests as well as the patron saint of seamen, invalids and farmers.
Walpurga died around 780 and on 1st May 870 she was canonised by Pope Adrian II. On the same day her remains were moved to St. Walburg in Bavaria. To honour this special date people started to celebrate ‘Walpurgis Night’ in the Middle Ages and this custom has been preserved to the present day, even though the purpose of the celebration has changed.
Valborg in Sweden
This special date, 30th April, still plays an important role in the Swedish spring holidays. All over the country people gather around large bonfires, join choirs in singing traditional Swedish songs and celebrate together. Many of the songs that are sung date back to the 19th century and were spread by students’ spring festivities. The university towns Uppsala, Lund and Gothenburg are worth a visit if you are up for big parties and carnival parades.
The Nature Travels Team