Today April 30th, is half-way to Halloween! For someone that loves Halloween — I am a closet actress that missed her calling! — today is a pleasant reminder that summer, which hasn’t even started, will be over soon enough! I am not a fan of summer and the desert heat it brings with it. Happy Walpurgisnacht!
The night from April 30th to May 1st is called Walpurgisnacht, an abbreviation of Sankt-Walpurgisnacht – Saint Walpurgis’ Night in Germany, and sometimes also called Hexennacht (witches’ night). It has been suggested that it has its roots in the Celtic spring celebration of Beltane, and with older May Day festivals of Northern Europe. It is said that the witches meet on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountain range, to dance around a fire. Though the saint has no concrete connection with this festival, her name became associated with witchcraft and country superstitions because of the date, which is her feast day (the day of her canonization). In modern times, Walpurgisnacht has grown to become somewhat similar to the celebration of Halloween. (1, 2, 3, 4, & 5)
“Walpurgis Night. . .when the devil was abroad— when graves opened, and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel.” — from the short story “Dracula’s Guest” by Bram Stoker.
Variations of Walpurgis Night are celebrated in many countries of Northern and Central Europe, including in addition to Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, and Estonia. Although in Finland, Denmark, and Norway, the tradition of lighting bonfires to ward off witches is also observed on Saint John’s Eve (Sankthansaften, Midsummer’s Eve), which is associated with the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. (3 & 6)
For Christians, Walpurgisnacht was the feast of Saint Walburga (Walpurga). Saint Walburga (Walpurga) was born in 710 CE in Dumnonia, today the area roughly corresponds to modern Devon. This was during the period that it was becoming incorporated into Anglo Saxon England. She was born into a wealthy family. She was the daughter of a Christian Saxon king of the eighth century, Richard of Wessex aka Richard the Pilgrim. At the age 10 or 11, she became an orphan and was raised and educated in a monastery in Wimborne in Dorset. She went to Germany at the call of her uncle, Saint Boniface (Holy Boniface), to aid in the work of evangelizing the Germanic tribes. Two of her brothers were missionaries, her brother Wunibald went to Heidenheim and her brother Willibald to Eichstätt. By this time, Walburga was now a nun. It is said that during her journey across the Channel, the boat got caught in a major storm. Walburga prayed without ceasing throughout the whole night until they safely reached Antwerp. Because of this ‘miracle’ she is the Patron Saint of seafarers and sailors, as well as, against storms and hydrophobia. The Christians of Germany hailed St. Walpurga for battling pests, rabies, and whooping cough, as well as against witchcraft. (1, 2, 3, & 8)
Walburga was a missionary to Franconia, particularly in Tauberbischofsheim, Bischofsheim on the Tauber. Tauberbischofsheim is just south of Niklashausen. It is 6.4 miles (10.3 km) between Tauberbischofsheim and Niklashausen. When her brother Wunibald died in 761 she took over the monastery he founded in Heidenheim. Shortly after, a women’s monastery was added, and she was the abbess of both. (9 & 10)
Walpurga died on 25 February 777 or 779 and was buried at Heidenheim. In 870, Walpurga’s remains were transferred to Eichstätt. (9)
The above photo is of the village of Niklashausen in the Tauber Valley. Niklashausen is a tiny village with a current population of about 390 people. It is in the German state of Baden-Württemberg and sits right at the border with Bavaria. In this region the dialect of German that is spoken is East Franconian. (12)
A bit more about Niklashausen taken from the official website of Niklashausen: (translated from German)
The village is located in a charming basin on the lower reaches of the Tauber, framed by steep mountain slopes with dry stone walls made of red sandstone. From these altitudes you have a wonderful view of the river and the village with its beautiful historic church, while in the area, you can take wonderful tours on the bike path. This historic place is the home of the famous piper of Niklashausen [aka The Drummer of Niklashausen]. (12)
I have a myriad of German ancestors in my tree, hailing from all over Germany. But I only have one German line that includes ancestors and kin with the name Walpurgis. The reason for this became abundantly clear to me when I learned that St. Walpurga was a missionary to Tauberbischofsheim, which is just south of the village of Niklashausen. Her influence in the area was quite strong and engendered many girls of the area to be given the name Walpurgis in her honor.
My 3rd great grandmother was named Nancy Anna Albert. She was born about 1792 in Washington County, Maryland. She was the daughter of Johann Peter Albert and Anna Walpurgis Hoerner, who were both born in Niklashausen. Not only was her mother named Anna Walpurgis, but her father’s maternal grandmother was named Anna Walpurgis _____ Rükert. She had a sister named Anna Walpurgis Albert, and a paternal first cousin named Anna Walpurgis Rückert.
I discussed in a previous post about German naming customs and that the first name, in this case Anna, would be the baptism name and the middle name, called the Rufname, in this case Walpurgis, was the name they were called. The Rufname along with the surname is what would be used in marriage, tax, land and death records.
In addition to my ancestor Nancy Anna Albert, the other known children born to Johann Peter Albert and Anna Walpurgis Hoerner were sons Johann Georg and Johann Martin Albert and daughters Anna Walpurgis and Maria E. Albert (Malott).
Johann Peter and sister Anna Walpurgis Albert were both born in Niklashausen. Their baptism records are found there. Nothing more is known about them; they may have died before the family immigrated to America.
Johann Martin Albert was born in New York and his baptism record is found in the New York City Dutch Reformed Church Records. He married on 15 June 1811 in Hagerstown, Washington County, Maryland, to Catherine Klein. I am a DNA match to his descendants.
The Albert family may have spent time living in Pennsylvania, but are found in records in Washington County, Maryland. Johann Martin Albert eventually does migrate to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where he is buried.
Maria E. Albert was born in Maryland, most likely in Washington County, Maryland. She married 27 March 1807 in Hagerstown, Washington County, Maryland, to Thomas Malott. Their first child was born in Washington County, Maryland, the family then migrated to Stark County, Ohio, and eventually to Congress, Wayne County, Ohio. I am DNA match to their descendants.
Nancy Anna Albert was born in Maryland, most likely in Washington County, Maryland. She married 2 May 1810 in Hagerstown, Washington County, Maryland, to John Price. He was the son of John Price, but other than the Price family being of Maryland and Delaware, nothing more is known about this Price family. It appears that they may have been of a German Price family and not of an English or Welsh family. But for now, it is unknown. It is one of my brick wall lines.
What we do know, supported by DNA, is that he had at least three siblings: George Price (married Susannah Zilhart), John Jacob (Johann Jacob) Price (married Christiana Catharina Albert), and Elizabeth Price (married John Wolfkill). For a long time, I thought that Christiana and my Nancy were siblings, but baptism records show she was of a different Albert family that also lived in Washington County, Maryland.
John Price and Nancy Albert had the following children: John F. Price (married Mary Ann V. ___ and Sarah Hopkins), Sarah Ann “Sally” Price (married Robert T. Baird), James Price (married Julia Ann Mateer/Meteer), Mary Ann Price (married Jacob Adam Lehman), and Nancy Jane Price (married Richard Henry Taylor).
The Price family migrated from Maryland to Ohio. First living in Richland in Fairfield County then to Monday Creek in Perry County and finally to Green, Hocking County, Ohio.
My line continues with James Price and Julia Ann Mateer/Meteer (daughter of Robert Meteer and Esther Chambers), they are my 2nd great-grandparents. They migrated briefly to Logan, Falls, in Hocking County, but spent most of their lives in Perry County, Ohio, and it is where they are buried.
Although the name Walpurgis was not passed down in later generations once they were in America, I feel a kinship to St. Walpurga and to Walpurgisnacht. Happy Halfway to Halloween and Walpurgisnacht!
References and Sources:
- Walpurgisnacht – Night of the Witches, Named after a Saint. April 29, 2022. Anika Rieper. More than Beer and Schnitzel. Almost everything you want to know about German culture and language.
- Catholic Activity: St. Walburga. Catholic Culture. catholicculture.org
- Walpurgis Night. Wikipedia. en.wikipedia.org
- Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Felix; Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von (2005). Die Erste Walpurgisnacht: Ballade von Goethe für Chor und Orchester. Yushodo Press Company.
- Melton, J. Gordon (2011). Religious Celebrations. ABC-CLIO. p. 915.
- Walpurgis Night in Sweden in 2023. officeholidays.com
- WHAT IS WALPURGISNACHT? 12 November 2020. Macs Adventure.
- “CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Walburga”. newadvent.org.
- Saint Walpurga. Wikipedia. en.wikipedia.org
- Wunderli, Richard (1992). Peasant Fires: The Drummer of Niklashausen. Chapter IV: Walpurgisnacht. Indiana University Press. p. 46.
- Gemeinde Werbach – Niklashausen
- Niklashausen official website
To read more about the celebration and history of Walpurgisnacht:
- Walpurgis Night – Halloween in April? April 29, 2018, by Christine Valentor. A WordPress Blog.
- Walpurgis Night – World History Encyclopedia. worldhistory.org
To learn more about St. Walpurga:
- St. Walburga. Faith. University of Notre Dame. faith.nd.edu
- Saint Walburga. Benedictine Nuns, St. Emma Monastery, Greensburg, Pennsylvania. stemma.org
To learn more about Niklashausen:
- Niklashausen official website
- Gemeinde Werbach – Niklashausen
- Walpurgisnacht photo at the very top is from WHAT IS WALPURGISNACHT? 12 November 2020. Macs Adventure.
- Happy Halfway to Halloween & Walpurgisnacht graphic is from The Spooky Vegan – Sarah E. Jahier. thespookyvegan.com
- Stained glass window of St. Walpurga is from the windows of the Shrine of St. Walburga. Benedictine Nuns, St. Emma Monastery, Greensburg, Pennsylvania.
- Village of Niklashausen – Gemeinde Werbach.
- View of Niklashausen from the Mühlberg – Niklashausen official website.
If you use any information from my blog posts as a reference or source, please give credit and provide a link back to my work that you are referencing. Unless otherwise noted, my work is © Anna A. Kasper 2011-2023. All rights reserved. Thank you.
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