Vanilla Beer artist

St Walpurga (oil painting, 30cm x 30cm, £360).

Walpurga was born in the county of Devon, England, into a local aristocratic family. She was the daughter of St Richard the Pilgrim - also known as Richard the Saxon Pilgrim of Droitwich - one of the underkings of the West Saxons. Her mother was Winna, sister of St Bonniface. She had two brothers, St Willibald and St Winibald. Saint Richard is buried in the Basilica of San Frediano, Lucca, where he died on pilgrimage in 722.

When Richard took his 2 sons to the Holy Land he left Walpurga, aged 11, in the charge of the Abbess of Wimborne in Dorset. After 26 years in the community her brothers came back and took her to Francia to help her uncle, St Bonniface, evangelize the still-pagan Germans. She wrote an account of her brother Winibald's travels in Palestine (in Latin) and is sometimes viewed as the first female author of England and Germany.

Her brother Willibald founded a double monastery where she became a nun. After his death in 751 she was his successor.

She died in Heidenheim in either 777 or 779 and her remains were moved in 870 to Eichstät.

At Eichstätt, her bones were placed in a rocky niche, which allegedly began to exude a miraculously therapeutic oil and drew pilgrims to her shrine. Walpurga's feast day is 25 February, but the day of her canonization, 1 May (possibly 870), was also celebrated during the high medieval period, especially in the 11th century under Anno 11, Archbishop of Cologne, so that Walpurgis Night is the eve of May Day - celebrated traditionally with dancing.

The two earliest stories of miracles about her are the Miracula S. Walburgae Manheimensis by Wolfhard von Herrieden, datable to 895 or 896, and the late 10th-century Vita secunda linked with the name of Aselbod, bishop of Utrecht. In the 14th-century, Vita S. Walburgae of Phillipp von Rathsamhaüsen, bishop of Eichstätt (1306?22) the miracle of the tempest-tossed boat is introduced, which Rubens painted in 1610 for the altarpiece for the church of St. Walpurgis, Antwerp.

The earliest representation of Walpurga, in the early 11th-century Hitda Codex, made in Cologne, depicts her holding stylized stalks of grain.

In other depictions the object has been called a palm branch- which is not correct, since Walpurga was not martyred and the palm is the sign of the martyr.

The grain attribute has been interpreted as an occasion where a Christian saint came to represent the older pagan concept of the Goddess of the grain. Corn dollies are made of her at harvest following the pagan tradition.

She is also invoked as special patron against hydrophobia and has the care of sailors in storms.

Walpurgis night is a common theme to express 'the dark side', in literature and music.

Many parts of Europe still light huge fires on the last day of April to see in May, with attendant local rites.