A Century of English Sanctity
Chapters 51 – 75
51. SAINT EDWOLD, HERMIT OF CERNE
Our holy Father Edwold was the brother of Martyr-King Edmund of East Anglia.
When St. Edmund was killed by the pagans in 869, the people asked Edwold to take his place on the throne. However, Edwold secretly longed to be a hermit, and refused.
After much fervent prayer it was revealed to him that he must look for a place called “Golden Fountain”. There he would find rest. But it was not revealed to him where this place was.
Having given his lands to the Church, and everything else he owned to the poor, the saint set out to look for “Golden Fountain” through many lands. But he was not able to find it. Eventually he returned to England, and there, at what is now Cerne Abbas in Dorset, he found a shepherd boy who told him that there was a fountain nearby called “golden”. Having arrived at the spot, which was about four miles from the future monastery of Cerne, he placed his staff on the summit of the steep hill.
Immediately it sprouted branches and green leaves. An ash tree marked the spot for centuries. Then he built a humble, confined cell where he lived for many years in fasts, vigils, prayers, tears and struggles against demons.
During this time, the saint had as his servant and the only person who knew of his life there, that same shepherd who had pointed out the Golden Fountain to him.
Three times a week he would bring him some barley bread and sometimes a little milk. Each time he would receive a golden denarius as the reward of his labours. But he was warned not to betray his presence to anyone. “The day on which you betray me,” he said, “will be the last on which you will receive this gift”.
Much time passed, and the shepherd told some men where the man of God was.
The next day he received his coin together with the prophecy: “Accept this payment today for the last time: as I told you before, since you have betrayed me, this is the last time.” The shepherd departed in confusion. The following day, August 29, he came back in desperation – but received no reply. For the saint had passed away.
Seeing this, the shepherd raised a great cry and called some men who were nearby.
A priest arrived and buried the man of God in his cell.
Many miracles were wrought through the intercession of St. Edwold after his repose. A lame man who washed in the fountain and prayed there was healed. A woman blind from birth who washed there was also healed and received her sight.
Many blind, deaf, dumb and lame people, and people suffering from various diseases, received healing in a similar manner. And a column of light was often seen extending from the tomb of the man of God into the heavens, illuminating the whole area.
Many years later, therefore, it was suggested by St. Dunstan that the relics of St.Edwold should be raised from the earth under the supervision of Bishop Elfmar and conveyed to the Episcopal see of Sherborne. But they could not be moved from their place! Then the bishop and the people prostrated themselves and prayed earnestly.
One of those present was Alderman Elfma. He suggested that, if the saint thought fit, his bones should be conveyed to Cerne. After they had prayed to God about this, it was as if the coffin itself wished to be transported. So the body of St. Edwold was transported to Cerne on August 12, and placed in the church of the Most Holy Mother of God, Mary. Many miracles were wrought there, and Elfmar founded a monastery there in 987 dedicated to St. Peter, endowing it with many possessions.
In the time of King Canute in the early eleventh century, the Danes completely devastated the shrine of St. Edwold. But as they were doing this they were punished in a fitting manner. Four of them were struck blind, and the others went made or suffered other punishments.
St. Edwold is commemorated on August 29 and August 12.
Holy Father Edwold, pray to God for us!
(Sources: C. Horstman (ed.), Nova Legenda Angliae, Oxford, 1901, vol. 1, pp. 362-364; William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 126-127; http://www.sacred-destinations.com/england/cerne-abbas-augustines-well.htm)
52. SAINT EGWIN, BISHOP OF WORCESTER
Our holy Father Egwin was born of royal stock in the region of Worcester. When he came of age, he left the world and embraced the monastic life, wherein he soon achieved a high standard of excellence. He was ordained through all the degrees of the priesthood, and in 693, on the repose of the bishop of Worcester, he was elected to the episcopal see of Worcester by all the clergy and the people, and with the assent of King Aethelred of Mercia and the archbishop of Canterbury. In this exalted position he showed himself to be a pattern of all virtue: a father of orphans, a protector of widows, a righteous judge of the oppressed and comforter of the afflicted. And by his powerful preaching many were converted from paganism or from an evil way of life.
The righteous, however, must expect tribulation in this world, and malicious tongues began to wag against the saint. He decided to travel to Rome and put his case before the highest tribunal in the West. But before leaving, and although he was innocent of the charges brought against him, he imposed a severe penance upon himself both for his own sins and for the sins of the people. He locked his feet in iron fetters and threw the key into the river Avon. Thus bound, he set off on the arduous journey to Rome.
As he and his companions were passing through an arid region of the Alps, they began to thirst. Those among his companions who did not acknowledge the bishop’s sanctity asked him mockingly to pray for water as Moses once did in the desert. But others, who did believe in him, rebuked the unbelievers and asked him in a different tone, with true faith and love. The saint prostrated himself in prayer to the Lord with his companions. On arising, they saw a pure stream of water gush forth out of the rock; whereupon everybody, believers and unbelievers alike, gave heartfelt thanks to God Who is wondrous in His saints.
When they arrived in Rome and had prayed in the church of St. Peter, the saint told his companions to go down to the river Tiber and see if they could catch a fish.
They did as he said, and to their delight caught a medium-sized salmon which they brought to the holy father. When he saw it he gave thanks and ordered them to slit it open. Great was their astonishment when they found inside the fish the key which the saint had cast into the river Avon! News of the miracle spread throughout Rome, and from all sides the faithful came to seek the holy man’s blessing.
Pope Constantine, who had heard of Egwin’s arrival, the great labours of his journey and the miracle of the key, did not allow the saint to prostrate before him, but himself asked his blessing. And for the rest of his stay in Rome he treated him with great respect, celebrating the Divine Liturgy with him and having many private talks with him. The case against the saint was examined and annulled, and he returned to England laden with honours. The people greeted him with joy, and by the decree of the archbishop he was restored to the see from which he had been dismissed. King Aethelred, too, received him with love, ready to fulfil whatever the saint might ask for.
One of the saint’s first requests was to be granted the pastureland beside the Avon where he had thrown the key into the river. One of the king’s shepherds had once had a vision at this same spot, in which a Virgin of extraordinary splendour appeared holding a book in her hands and chanting psalms in the company of two other virgins. When the shepherd told this to the saint, he turned it over in his mind for a long time, praying to God with vigils and fasting. Then, early one morning, after the saint and three companions had spent the whole night in prayer, they set out barefoot to the spot, chanting psalms and hymns. Parting company with the others, St. Egwin fell to the earth with tears and groans. On arising from his prayer, he saw three virgins, of whom the middle one was most wondrous to behold, shining in light and surrounded by an ineffable fragrance. In her hands she held a book, and a cross which shone with a golden radiance. When Egwin realized that this was the Most Holy Mother of God, she, as if approving his thought, blessed him with the cross and disappeared.
This vision gave the saint to understand that it was God’s will that this place, later called Evesham, should be dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary. And he determined to build a church there in accordance with a vow he had made during a period of especially fierce temptation. So he bought the land and carried out the task to completion, endowing the foundation with many gifts from the English kings. At his request, the Pope granted his foundation stavropegial status, which was confirmed by a council of the English Church held at Alcester in 709.
In 711 the saint retired from his see and devoted himself exclusively to the government of his monastery at Evesham. With fastings and vigils, with tears and groans, he poured out his prayers to the Lord, and was accounted worthy of many visitations of the angels and the saints. He was particularly devoted to the Mother of God, whose praises were always on his lips.
Already rich in years and Divine Grace, he fell ill in the monastery which he had founded, and, feeling the approach of death, he called together the brethren and said: “Most reverend and beloved sons, I beseech you, be zealous in observing the commandments of God, and keep the vow which you made to Him. For it is written: ‘Make your vows and pay them to the Lord.’ And as the Apostle says: ‘Follow peace and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.'” Then, having commended them to the Father and having partaken of the Body and Blood of the Lord, he departed this life on December 30, 717. Great was the sorrow of the brethren and all the people.
But during the burial of the saint, sorrow at his departure was mixed with joy at his triumph. And after his burial many miracles proved that St. Egwin had obtained great favour with the Lord. On praying to him, the blind were given their sight, the deaf their hearing, the sick in body and soul were healed. And so his fame spread throughout the country, and many came to his tomb to seek his intercession.
Once a penitent, grieving over a serious crime he had committed, bound himself with a number of iron fetters. He vowed that he would not loose himself from them until God had shown him that he was loosed from the fetters of his sins. He dragged himself to several shrines of the saints, and after diligent prayer and fasting all but one of the fetters broke.
However, the ninth fetter was fastened more tightly than the others, so that the flesh around it began to swell. In hope of being released from this one, too, the unfortunate man travelled to Rome, to the tombs of the holy Apostles. There, after heartfelt prayer, he was told in his sleep: “Go to England and seek the place of the blessed bishop Egwin, and when you have given him due veneration, you will obtain mercy.” Joyfully, the penitent set off on his journey, and, arriving at the church of St. Egwin, spent several days there in prayer and fasting. One day, after the brethren had chanted the third hour and celebrated the Divine Liturgy, the ninth fetter snapped with such force that all the brethren heard it, and the penitent himself was thrown some distance as if by the hand of a man. When the brethren ascertained the truth of the miracle, they rejoiced and gave glory to God.
On the death of King Harold in 1040, the abbot of Evesham, Bishop Alfward of London, took part in an embassy to bring Canute’s other son, Hardicanute, to the English throne. As they were crossing the Channel to Flanders, a fierce tempest arose such that even the sailors were close to despair. Bishop Alfward turned in prayer to St. Egwin, begging him to free them from their peril, and promising that if God showed them mercy through his prayers, he would make a new reliquary for the saint and cause his feast day to be celebrated with even greater honour. No sooner had he made this petition than the sea suddenly became calm, and they shortly reached their port of destination. The bishop was true to his word. A splendid reliquary of gold and silver was prepared, and the translation of St. Egwin’s relics took place on September 10.
A few years later, a craftsman named Godric was working on this shrine, carving little figures onto it with his scalpel. Suddenly the scalpel he was holding in his right hand went straight through his left, causing blood to flow on the other side. In his distress Godric cried: “O Saint Egwin, am I not here in your service? If you have any care for the service of a wretched sinner, display it now!” No sooner had he spoken these words than the wound was miraculously healed with no pain or trace of blood.
There was a woman by the name of Algitha who during the reign of King Edward used to frequent the church of St. Egwin and who, for love of the saint, wished to acquire a part of his relics. So she bribed some boys to steal it secretly. Coming by night, they opened the reliquary and stole a part of the arm of the saint and one of his teeth. Then they brought the relics to the woman, who joyfully stored it away among her own things. That night St. Egwin appeared to her in a vision and told her to return the relics, saying that they had been unjustly taken away. She ignored his command, whereupon he appeared to her a second time. But when she in her greed persuaded herself that these visions were demonic phantoms, St. Egwin appeared to her a third time and sternly ordered her to return the relics. When she refused he replied: “Before the sun rises, you will regret your obstinacy in disobeying my commands.” The woman rose from her bed blind, and so she remained for the rest of her life. However, she went to Abbot Manny and asked him to let her have the relics, promising that she would make a reliquary of gold and silver in their honour. She also promised that after her death St. Egwin and his servants would receive some of her land. So much for the woman. As for the boys, God punished them severely. One drowned in water, while another was afflicted with a painful illness for the rest of his life.
Near Canterbury there lived a man who had been dumb from his mother’s womb.
While still young, he decided to go to Rome to venerate the tombs of the holy apostles. On arriving, he prayed for three years for the healing of his infirmity. But having received no cure, he was sorrowfully contemplating the possibility of never being healed when a man in shining white vestments appeared to him in the night and said: “Why have you been lying here for so long to no avail? Go back to your native land of England, look for the monastery of St. Egwin, go there with an offering, and when you have prayed to God and that saint you will be immediately healed.” The man obeyed this command and with God’s help arrived at St. Egwin’s monastery. It was a Saturday, and all the brethren were standing in the choir during Vespers when the man came up to the altar with a candle in his hand. After praying for a long time he offered the candle, and then again stood in prayer. Suddenly blood began to flown from his mouth and onto the pavement. When the Vespers prayers were over, Prior Avicius and some of the senior brethren came up and asked him what the matter was and why he was lying there coughing up blood. So the man stood up in the midst of the brethren, and, stretching out his hands and lifting up his eyes to God, he said: “Thus have I been helped by Almighty God and my lord St. Egwin, though whose prayers Christ has worked a miracle in me the wretched one, as I shall not tell you truly.” Then he told them the whole story from the beginning. When he had finished, the brethren rejoiced, and, bringing together the people, they all sang the Te Deum.
There was a man who had been ill for a long time with a horrifically swollen and tumerous foot and leg, so that he had to be supported by crutches on both sides. One day he came to the relics of St. Egwin and prayed fervently to God and the saint. The brethren were at that time in the choir, and one could see the fearful hope on their faces as they prayed for the poor man’s recovery. Suddenly the intent silence was broken by the sound of the sick man throwing away his crutches, falling to the ground and then joyfully jumping up again, completely healed. Amidst general rejoicing he left his crutches by the holy altar and returned home praising God.
A leper whose whole body was disfigured by the disease sought St. Egwin’s intercession. His prayer was answered, and you could see the scab come clean off his body like a shield. Many others were healed through St. Egwin: the blind, the deaf, the mute, the lepers, the paralytics; and many who were bound with fetters saw them struck off and bounding a long distance away, filling the whole church with clatter.
Once a monk of Coventry name Sperckulf, a man of very ascetic life (he sometimes fasted for four or six days continuously), came as was his custom to the feast of St. Egwin, and was spending the night in hymns and prayers in the crypt dedicated to the saint. While he was chanting the psalms of David, he saw the doors of the crypt open and an unearthly light descend into it, chasing away all shadows.
Then an extraordinarily beautiful procession of saints met his fearful gaze. First came some boys carrying candles, then deacons, then some older men with shining white hair. These were all dressed in white vestments. At the rear came a person dressed in indescribably beautiful pontifical vestments whom two of the older men were escorting, one on either side. Going up to the altar of St. Egwin, they chanted Mattins with great reverence, followed by the Divine Liturgy, which was celebrated in the normal manner with wonderful grace. Then came the canonical Hours.
Finally, the whole company processed out the church in the same order in which they had entered.
Another night, the same monk was keeping vigil in the church of the Mother of God. Suddenly all the doors of the church opened of their own accord and he saw with extraordinary clarity a procession entering in the same manner as before, but with St. Egwin this time escorting the Holy Virgin. Coming up to the altar dedicated to her, St. Egwin proceeded to celebrate Mattins and the Divine Liturgy most beautifully. Sperckulf, who was watching with great trepidation, was also amazed to see some monks of Evesham whom he had known and who had reposed some time before. Going up to one of them, he asked him who it was for whom the Liturgy was being celebrated. “Be quiet,” he replied: “Don’t you know that our lord St. Egwin is celebrating the sacred mystery to the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary?” Terrified by this reply, Sperckulf returned to his place and waited to see what would happen. At the end of the Liturgy and the service to the Mother of God, two bishops escorted her, one on either side, while the procession went out as it had come in, in great glory.
St. Egwin is commemorated on December 30.
Holy Father Egwin, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Vladimir Moss, “Saint Egwin of Worcester”, Orthodoxy America, December, 1985; W.D. Macray, Chronicon Abbatiae de Evesham, Rolls series, 1863, pp. 36-38, 44-53; William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 127-128)
53. SAINTS ERKENWALD, BISHOP OF LONDON, AND ETHELBURGA, ABBESS OF BARKING
Our holy Father Erkenwald (Earconwald) was of noble blood and imbibed the Christian Faith early in life, learning at the feet of St. Mellitus, bishop of London.
Later, he founded two monasteries, one for men and women at Barking, and the other for men at Chertsey, where he was himself the abbot. Grassy mounds can still be seen marking the buildings of the ancient monastery of Chertsey.
On the repose of St. Cedd, bishop of London, in 664, Erkenwald was elected bishop in his place, and was consecrated by St. Theodore, archbishop of Canterbury.
His life, according to the Venerable Bede, both before and after his consecration to the episcopate, was holy and adorned by miracles. Thus the horse-litter in which he used to be carried when sick cured many illnesses; chips of it, when carried to the sick, would immediately restore them to health.
Again, the bishop was once going to preach to the people when one of the wheels of his two-wheeled carriage left its axle. However, the carriage did not stop but continued to run smoothly, the side without a wheel being supported invisibly in a miraculous manner.
St. Erkenwald was a great peacemaker, helping to end the quarrel between St.Wilfrid, bishop of York, and St. Theodore, which had split the English Church.
When Erkenwald was building his monastery at Barking for his sister, Ethelburga, he came across a beam which was too short for the structure. Taking it into their hands, the holy brother and sister lengthened it by their prayers until it was equal to the others. However, Erkenwald did not immediately entrust the monastery to his sister, but persuaded the holy Hildelitha to come from Chelles in France and become the first abbess.
Bede relates that “in this monastery many miracles were wrought, which have been committed to writing by many, from those who knew them, that their memory might be preserved and following generations edified…”
Once a pestilence was raging in the men’s part of the monastery, and St.Ethelburga consulted with the nuns where they should bury the bodies of the nuns when they, too, would begin to be struck down. One night, just as they had finished their psalm-singing, and had gone out to the tombs of the monks, a great heavenly light far brighter than the sun descended upon them, terrifying them all. Then it moved to the south of the monastery, stayed there for a time, and then disappeared.
In this way the nuns understood where their own cemetery should be built.
There was little three-year-old boy named Esica living in the monastery for his education who was suddenly seized by the pestilence. Just before he died he cried “Edith! Edith! Edith!” – the name of one of the nuns. That very moment the nun called Edith was seized by the same pestilence and died later the same day.
At about midnight one of the nuns who was ill shouted out that the candle next to her bed should be put out. She shouted this many times, but no one paid any attention. At length, she explained that the house was filled with such a great light that the candle itself seemed dark, and that the candle could go on burning because a man of God who had died that same year had appeared to her and told her that she would depart for the heavenly light at dawn. And, sure enough, she died as soon as the day appeared.
There was a nun in the monastery by the name of Tortgith, who greatly assisted St. Ethelburga in the government of the monastery. She had been ill for nine years.
At dawn one day, she came out of her cell and saw a human body brighter than the sun wrapped in a sheet being lifted up to heaven by golden cords. Her interpretation of the vision was that one of the community would soon die and be lifted up to heaven by the golden cords of her good works. And, sure enough, in a few days the virgin abbess, St. Ethelburga, reposed in the Lord, about the year 675.
Another nun who had been suffering from a painful paralysis of all her limbs for several years, on hearing that St. Ethelburga’s body was being carried into the church, asked to be carried there. Then, bowing towards the body, she entreated her to pray that she be delivered from her terrible pain. Twelve days later she died.
Three days after that, Tortgith, being very ill and unable to speak, suddenly looked up to heaven and conducted the following conversation with an invisible interlocutor. “Your coming is very acceptable to me, you are welcome!” Then, after a while she said: “I am not happy with this.” Then again: “If it cannot be today, I beg the delay may not be long.” Then again: “If it is determined thus and cannot be changed, I beg that it be deferred no longer than this coming night.” On being asked who she was talking to, she said: “With my most dear Mother Ethelburga”. After a further day and night, she reposed in the Lord.
St. Ethelburga had been in the process of building a church to the whole company of the Apostles when she died, in the year 675. After her death she was buried in the place she had designated for herself, but the building work on the church was interrupted for seven years. Then the monks decided to abandon the building altogether, but to transfer the body to another, already finished and consecrated church dedicated to St. Stephen the Protomartyr. On opening her tomb, they found the body incorrupt.
Later, St. Hildelitha transferred the bodies of all the monastery’s dead to the church of the Mother of God, where a heavenly light and a wonderful fragrance were often perceived. Once a noblewoman who lived near who had gone completely blind some years before was taken by her two maids to the tomb of St. Ethelburga.
Having prayed there, she arose with her sight completely restored, and returned to her house without the aid of her maids.
St. Erkenwald reposed in peace on April 30, 693, at the monastery of Barking, and was buried at his cathedral church of St. Paul in London. An anonymous twelfth century writer described his repose thus: “When blessed Father Erkenwald came by the Providence of God to Barking, he was seized by the serious illness which ended his temporal life. Foreknowing the imminent dissolution of his body, he called his sons and instructed them all with sound admonition; and, commending them to God with his blessing, he gave up his spirit in their arms. At his passing a fragrance of such wonderful sweetness filled the cell in which he lay that it was as if the whole house was filled with balsam.
“When the clergy of London and the monks of Chertsey heard that the holy man of God had passed over from this life, they quickly came to take away his body. But when the nuns saw that they wanted to take the holy body away, they resisted, saying that the holy body ought most worthily to be buried there, since he had been the founder of that place. In opposition to this, the monks of Chertsey replied: ‘He was our abbot, and he will be ours now that he is dead, and we have come to take his body away with us. For we know that he founded your church, but he founded our monastery first and established us there, and was then made abbot by God’s will.’ But then the clergy and the people of the city of London, impatient with this contest, abruptly replied to them both: ‘In vain do you strive, for neither will you have him, nor is it right for you to have him: but if the custom which was preserved in antiquity and came to us from Rome is preserved, he will have his tomb in the city in which he was consecrated bishop by God’s decree.’
“Meanwhile, while they were saying these things, the common people of London ran up, and with God’s consent took the body of their bishop away with them. Both the monks and the nuns followed the body of the blessed man with tears and groans.
When they had left the monastery, a very great tempest arose with wind and rain, evidently to declare the merits of the man. The tempest was such that hardly anyone could bear it, and there was no miracle in the fact that the burning candles which had been placed round the bier of the blessed man were extinguished by it. And so those who were following the most holy body in this tempest came to the river Lea, where they doubtless thought to cross. But when they arrived there, they found that the river, of itself so great and deep, had swelled to overflowing because of the wildly rushing waters, so that anyone who wished to cross there would have been quite unable to without the help of a boat. But there was neither a boat nor a bridge to cross over. And when the monks and nuns saw this, they cried: ‘Alas, alas, now we see the injury you have done to us with regard to the body of this most holy man.’ And the nuns said: ‘Truly the Lord is showing through this excessive flood where He has ordained that this man should be buried and rest. Which is why you must take great care to abandon your plan with all possible speed, and return the body to the place destined for it by God, lest by your importunity and greed you offend God and incur some unheard-of damage. For the reason why the Lord sent him to us while he was still living in the flesh and strengthening us spiritually with many exhortations, was that we should at least have his most famous and holy body after his passing over. But you, with no fear of God, and with the greatest violence, have cruelly invaded our territory; and like hungry wolves you have broken into the sheepfold, seeking, seizing and tearing up whatever you could find, and when you had found it devouring it. And here you have savagely and menacingly rushed in upon us, and have even, to crown it all, despoiled our church of such a great man.
May the Almighty God judge between you and us!
‘ “On hearing this, the citizens of London replied as follows: ‘For a long time we have patiently put up with your reproaches and quarrels, putting in no objection.
But one thing we know for certain, and we would have you to be no longer in any doubt about it: neither will you ever have him, nor will you ever see us deflected from our course by any fears, nor will you rejoice in any harm suffered by us because of this. You know that we are not like wolves, but are strong men and brave in battle, and we shall not be slow in attacking, subduing, undermining and overthrowing even the most strongly defended and highly populated cities, rather than give up the servant of God and our patron. For it is certainly through him that we and all the people of London, with all its territories, and above all the metropolitan church which he ruled in holiness and truth for a long time – with him as our advocate, we believe and are firmly convinced that we shall be delivered and saved, by the mercy of God, from all attacks of our enemies, both in the present and in the future. And so we wish such a glorious city and such an assemblage of people to be strengthened and honoured by such a patron.’
“Meanwhile, while the whole people was in uproar over the possession of the holy treasure of this sacred body, a certain religious and erudite man, who had been trained by the bishop himself, full of the Holy Spirit, climbed to a high place, and having called for silence, began this speech: ‘Your desire is praiseworthy and acceptable to Almighty God, in striving to have the guide of your souls in your possession. But you have departed too far from the rule of truth in coming to this holy work with feuds and hatred. For it is written, since charity is the fulfilling of the law, and he who offends in one thing – that is, in charity – is guilty of all, if you quarrel and are at odds with each other, how will God accept the sacrifice of your prayers, when you offend Him? For, as the Holy Scriptures testify, God is love. So preserve the unity of love with one mind and beseech the Creator of the universe on bended knees that He deign to reveal where He wishes the relics of His precious saint and our patron to be placed.’
“Everyone voluntarily agreed with this speech and exhortation: the clergy led the litanies and psalmody with groaning while the people of both sexes, both small and great, prostrated themselves on the ground, beseeching the mercy of God with tears and sighs, that He would by His Divine Grace end this great dispute by some sign.
As the Psalmist says, the Lord is near to all who call on Him in truth, and will hear their petition. For while with one mind they called on the Lord and sweated with their faces to the ground, the wave of the river divided, and showed them a dry path for their feet, just as once the waters of the Jordan dried up when the children of Israel entered the promised land, or as when Elijah, who was counted worthy to be enthroned in peace while still in the flesh, crossed over with dry feet. When they saw this, they joyfully glorified God, and with great reverence lifted up the bier and crossed over in concord, and made their way to the river Stratford.
“There they stopped for a while, for the place was beautiful, clothed with flowers and greenery, while the people went on ahead a little. Then lo! for a second time God Who is wondrous in His saints revealed a miracle, which should not be omitted here. For just when the cloudy tempest had been lulled, and the rain-bearing clouds were becoming fewer and smaller, and the reddish rays of the sun were generating heat, the candles round the bier were lit from heaven. When inquiry had been made whether anyone had brought a flame, they recognized that it had been by Divine power, and leaping for joy they praised the majesty of the Lord and glorified Him.
And springing up, they made for the city of London. And when those who were in the city learned of the coming of the holy prelate, they came out to greet him with hymns and songs, rejoicing in an indescribable manner that their city had been exalted by the relics of such a venerable pastor. And as many as touched the bier of the holy man were freed from whatever infirmity they had; and every day health was restored to the sick at his tomb, to those who sought it with a right heart, to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Thus a certain noble from London had a daughter who was lame. Because of this infirmity, her parents judged it better for her to go to a convent. Therefore the girl was entrusted to Abbess Alwina of Barking. But the virgin continued in prayer at the tombs of Saints Erkenwald and Ethelburga, promising that if she were restored to health she would dedicate her life to God. Then one night St. Ethelburga appeared to her and told her not to be despondent because she would soon be healed. But she was to increase her prayers to St. Erkenwald because her healing would come through his intercession. A little later, while the nuns were singing Mattins one day, this virgin was overcome by sleep at the tomb of St. Erkenwald. While she was sleeping the saint appeared to her in great glory, took her by the hand and said: “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, arise, and as Peter and John raised the lame man, so will you be raised.” Immediately, to the sound of a great crack, the virgin awoke and sprang up, crying: “Holy Father Erkenwald, have mercy, have mercy.”
The relics of the saint escaped the fire of 1087 and were buried in the crypt of St.Paul’s. In 1148 and 1326 there were further translations to new shrines in the church.
Miracles were reported there until the 16th century.
Holy Father Erkenwald and holy Mother Ethelburga, pray to God for us!
(Sources: The Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People; Ex praef. Cod.MS. B. F. 20. a. ac ex Cod MS. in bibl. Cotton. Claudius A.V.; Nova Legenda Anglie; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, pp.134, 137)
54. SAINTS ETHELFLEDA ANDMORWENNA, ABBESSES OF ROMSEY
During the reign of King Edgar the Peaceable, there was a certain nobleman by the name of Aethelwold who was in particular favour with the king on account of his virtue. So he gave to him in marriage a beautiful lady related to his wife, Queen Elfrida, by the name of Brichgiva. This couple had several children; and before the birth of her last daughter Brichgiva saw in a dream a ray of glorious sunlight break out above her head – a sign that she would give birth to a child of light. In due time she gave birth to a daughter who was baptized with the name of Ethelfleda (Elfleda).
As she increased in years, Ethelfleda increased also in holiness. Noticing this, on the death of her father King Edgar gave her into the hands of Abbess Merwinna of Romsey. Merwinna was the first abbess of Romsey after its refounding in 967. She brought up Ethelfleda as her own daughter, and always kept her in attendance. And the holy daughter followed the holy mother in all things: generous in almsgiving, constant in vigils, humble in mind, joyful in countenance, and kind to the poor.
Indeed, she loved the poor so much that when others were not looking she would hide the food she was given in the refectory in her sleeves and then secretly give it them.
She was particularly constant in attending the canonical hours in church, and would not be prevented from this even by illness. Once, when it was her turn to read, she received the blessing and went up to the pulpit. But by Divine Providence her light was extinguished, while the fingers of her right hand gave out a wonderful brilliance with which she was able to read easily.
It happened once that her teacher went into a plantation of saplings which was near the house where Ethelfleda with the rest of the young girls was accustomed to study. The teacher cut some saplings with which to beat the girls, and hid them under her clothes. But Ethelfleda saw what she was doing, even though a stone wall separated them. Scarcely had the teacher crossed the threshold as she was returning from the house than the saint cast herself at her feet with tears, saying: “Don’t beat us with switches. Why do you beat us when we gladly carry out your commands?” “Get up,” said the teacher, “and show me how you know that I have brought some switches.”
“I saw you under the tree,” said the saint, “and you are still holding them under your cloak.”
Now Ethelfleda had the custom of leaving the dormitory every night and secretly immersing herself in the cold water of a stream, praying and chanting psalms. One night the queen, who as protectress of all the English convents was visiting Romsey, and who used to keep the saint in her chamber, saw her leaving to practise her customary asceticism. Following her, she saw her make the sign of the cross and spring into the water. The queen screamed loudly and fell to the ground as if she were out of her mind. Ethelfleda prostrated herself to the ground weeping and praying, until the queen was restored to health.
In 993, the pagan Danes burned Romsey Abbey and drove out the nuns.
However, Abbess Elwina was warned in a vision about the impending disaster, and so was able to carry the abbey’s valuables to safety.
In about the year 1003, St. Ethelfleda became abbess, and immediately gave all the convent’s money to the poor. When the bailiffs came to examine the accounts, they found all the money gone. But then the saint prayed, and lo! the coffers which had previously been empty were found to be miraculously full.
St. Ethelfleda reposed in the Lord on October 23 in about the year 1016. She was buried outside the church, as she had directed. But when miracles multiplied at her tomb, she was translated into the church, together with St. Merwinna, on October 29.
This day then became the day of their joint commemoration.
Holy Mothers Merwinna and Ethelfleda, pray to God for us!
(Sources: A fourteenth-century chronicle in H. Liveing, Records of Romsey Abbey, 1906; Rev. David Shearlock, Romsey Abbey, p. 7; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 139)
55. SAINT FELIX, BISHOP OF DUNWICH
Our holy Father Felix was born and educated in Burgundy, France. He came to St.Honorius, archbishop of Canterbury, and offered his services in the building up of the English Church. In 630, when King Sigebert returned from exile in France to rule the East Angles in the place of his apostate father Redwald, St. Honorius consecrated Felix to the episcopate and sent him to evangelize the people of East Anglia.
Making Dunwich the centre of his see, St. Felix established a school on the French model with teachers from Canterbury. He baptized King Anna of the East Angles and the whole of his holy family. He founded churches at Reedham, Loddon, Babingley and Shernborne, and a monastery at Soham; and the modern port of Felixstowe marks the place where, according to tradition, he made his first landing in East Anglia. He is also associated with the first church built at Ely. After a very fruitful life as a missionary bishop, St. Felix died on March 8, 647 and was buried at Soham, from where his relics were translated to Ramsey Abbey.
St. Felix is commemorated on March 8.
Holy Father Felix, pray to God for us!
(Sources: The Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, II, 15, III, 18- 20; Liber Eliensis, 6; Fr. Andrew Phillips, Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, English Orthodox Trust, 1995, chapter 80; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 147-48)
56. SAINT FRIDESWIDE, ABBESS OF OXFORD
St. Frideswide was the daughter of Under-King Didanus of Oxford and his wife Safrida. With her parents’ consent she was given into the charge of a Winchester nun, Algiva, who brought her up in the true faith; and when she came of age she was tonsured. However, a certain prince named Algar fell in love with her and wanted to take her, by force if necessary. Frideswide decided to flee from him, and entered Oxford one stormy night with Algar in hot pursuit. But at the prayers of the holy virgin, he was stopped in a miraculous way: at the gates of the city he and his companions were suddenly blinded. On repenting, however, and sending messengers to Frideswide, he was restored to full health. For several centuries thereafter, until the reign of Henry III, English kings carefully avoided Oxford for fear of suffering the same punishment.
According to another source, it was the messengers of Algar who were blinded and then healed. But Algar himself was not deterred by this miracle, attributing it to black magic. So that night, while Frideswide was praying in solitude, an angel appeared to her and assured her that the Lord would help her to preserve her virginity and that Algar would be blinded forever. Then, following the angel’s instructions, she went with two nuns to the river Thames, where a youth dressed in white with a splendidly shining face took them in a boat to Bampton (according to another source the journey was along the Isis to Abingdon). They then took refuge in a swineherd’s hut in the woods. Meanwhile, Algar was trying by entreaties and bribes to force the inhabitants of Oxford to reveal Frideswide’s hiding-place. When they swore that they did not know, he swore to destroy the city. But as he approached the north gate he was suddenly struck blind.
The holy virgin spent about three years in her refuge in the woods, in prayer and great abstinence. Once a girl was healed of blindness by applying some water in which St. Frideswide had washed her hands to her own eyes. At length, in about the year 727, she returned to Oxford and spent the rest of her days in a monastery which she had founded. She also constructed a church at Thornbury where she would go for the sake of solitude. And at Binsey a fountain miraculously sprang up at her prayers.
Once a young man who was cutting wood on Sunday found that he could not remove his fingers from the haft of his axe, and cried out in terrible pain. Frideswide was called and loosed him by her prayers. On another occasion she cast a demon out of a fisherman. Again, she was once returning to Oxford when a horribly deformed leper approached her in the midst of a large crowd and shouted: “O virgin Frideswide, I adjure you by Almighty God that you give me a kiss in the name of Jesus Christ, His Only Begotten Son”. The virgin approached him, made the sign of the Cross over him, and kissed him. Immediately his leprosy fell away and his skin became like that of young child.
St. Frideswide reposed on October 19, 735, an angel having announced to her the day of her death. At the moment of her death she saw Saints Catherine and Cecilia, for whom she had a particular veneration, approaching her. “I ask only for pardon, my Lord, only pardon,” she said, and died. Suddenly a heavenly light lit up the house and a wonderful fragrance filled the whole city.
In 1004 St. Frideswide’s monastery was burned to the ground by the Danes. At this time a certain priest was seen taking some ornaments out of the church of St.Frideswide, and was publicly accused of sacrilege. It was decided that he should first attend the Divine Liturgy and then give proof of his innocence. And so he stood fearlessly in front of the tomb of the holy virgin until the reading of the Holy Gospel.
But at that point he leapt up and said: “I confess, O lady, I confess,” and immediately fell as if lifeless. At length he recovered consciousness and said to the bystanders: “Did you not see this holy virgin beating me so cruelly with two bundles of sticks that she forced me to confess the theft? I cannot hide it any longer: I confess to sacrilege.” And then he took off his clothes and showed them the marks of his beatings on the chest and stomach and both sides…
St. Frideswide is commemorated on October 19.
Holy Mother Frideswide, pray to God for us!
(Sources: William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, book IV, 178; Nova Legenda Anglie, pp. 457-461; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 161)
57. SAINT FURSEY, ABBOT OF BURGH CASTLE
Our holy Father Fursey (which means “virtue” in Gaelic) was born in about 597 in Ireland, on an island in Lough Corrib where the ruins of a church dedicated to him still st1and. He was raised partly in County Kerry, and founded a monastery near Cong, County Galway, where he spent ten years preaching. When he was already well-known for his holiness of life, he decided to go into voluntary exile for the Lord’s sake to avoid the crowds that resorted to him. In preparation, he withdrew as a hermit to a remote island off the west coast of Ireland. Then, coming to East Anglia with a group of missionaries, including his brothers Saints Foillan and Ultan, he was well received by King Sigebert and Bishop Felix of Dunwich.
Then he fell ill, and was granted a vision by God in which he was told to continue his ministry of preaching and asceticism, since the end for all is certain, but the hour is uncertain. Then he proceeded to build a monastery on ground given him by King Sigebert at Burgh Castle, an ancient Roman fort on the East Anglian coast. “Inspired by the example of his goodness,” writes the Venerable Bede, “and the effectiveness of his teaching, many unbelievers were drawn to Christ, and those who already believed were drawn to greater love and faith in Him.” Then falling ill again, his soul left his body from evening until the next morning. “Being restored to his body at that time,” writes Bede, “he not only saw the greater joys of the blessed, but also extraordinary combats of evil spirits, who by frequent accusations wickedly endeavoured to obstruct his journey to heaven; but the angels protecting him, all their endeavours were in vain.” Fursey saw many other terrible things in this vision, and when he was restored to his body bore the mark of the fire of hell on his shoulder and jaw.
Soon after this, Fursey entrusted all the business of the monastery to his brother Foillan and the priests Gobban and Dicull (who later founded the church at Bosham in Sussex), and went to live for a year as a hermit with another brother of his, Ultan.
King Sigebert had been so impressed by Fursey that he had abandoned the throne of the East Angles to his relative Egric and become a monk. However, when, in 636, the pagan King Penda invaded the land, the people demanded that Sigebert come out of his monastery and lead the resistance. Sigebert refused, but the people drew him out against his will and carried him to the battlefield to encourage the soldiers; for he had been a notable and brave commander. Sigebert, however, would carry nothing in his hand except a wand, and in about 644 was killed together with Egric and many of his countrymen. However, this was not the end of the mission: Burgh Castle was endowed with “finer buildings and gifts” by King Anna, Sigebert’s successor, before he also was killed by Penda in 654.
In about 644 Fursey decided to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. But he was detained in France, where he founded a monastery at Lagny-sur-Marne, near Paris. There he was helped in this by the Merovingian king and by Erkenwald, mayor of Neustria, who gave him land for the monastery.
St. Fursey died at Mézerolles on the Somme in about the year 650 (649, according to the Annals of Ulster) while on a journey back to England. His body was placed temporarily in the porch of a church that Erkenwald was building at Péronne until the church could be dedicated. Twenty-seven days later, when the church was dedicated, the body was found to be completely incorrupt, and so it was reburied near the altar, it was found to be completely incorrupt. Four years later, it was again found to be incorrupt, and was translated into a special chapel to the east of the altar in a house-shaped shrine made by St. Eloi, Bishop of Noyon, an adviser to Queen Bathild. This became a popular object of veneration for Irish pilgrims, and was called Peronna Scottorum. Many miracles were wrought through the saint’s intercession both before and after his death, including the raising from the dead of the son of the Frankish duke, Haimon.
The relics of St. Fursey survived until the French revolution, and his head reliquary until the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.
A Celtic prayer of the type known as a lorica, or breast-plate, is attributed to St.Fursey: The arms of God be around my shoulders, The touch of the Holy Spirit upon my head, The sign of Christ’s cross upon my forehead, The sound of the Holy Spirit in my ears, The fragrance of the Holy Spirit in my nostrils, The vision of heaven’s company in my eyes, The conversation of heaven’s company on my lips, The work of God’s Church in my hands, The service of God and neighbour in my feet, A home for God in my heart, And to God, the Father of all, my entire being. Amen.
St. Fursey’s feastday is January 16.
Holy Father Fursey, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Bede, Ecclesiastical History, book III, 18, 19; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, 1978; Peter Berresford Ellis, Celt and Saxon, London: Constable, 1993, pp. 150-151; Michelle P. Brown, The Life of St. Fursey, Fursey Occasional Paper Number 1, 2000)
58. SAINT GRIMBALD, ABBOT OF WINCHESTER
Our holy Father Grimbald was born at Thérouanne in the Pas-de-Calais, and joined the monastery of St. Bertin in about 840, being ordained to the priesthood in about 870. In 886 he went to Rheims. He was a notable scholar.
In 887 King Alfred wrote to Archbishop Fulk of Rheims, asking him to allow Grimbald to come to England, and sending him as a present some dogs. The archbishop agreed reluctantly, saying that he was sending Grimbald as a spiritual dog to fight spiritual enemies in exchange for the corporeal dogs the king was sending him. To the great grief of the monks of St. Bertin, Grimbald travelled to England, where he was received with honour by all the highest men in the Church and State. And in 889, on the death of Archbishop Aethelred of Canterbury, he was offered the primatial see. But he refused, and remained to the end of his days a priest-monk.
Soon after his arrival in England, the saint settled in a little monastery he had built in Winchester. There he played a central role in the capital’s life, directing the monastery and counselling many of the citizens, including the king, whom he helped in his translations from Latin into English, especially of St. Gregory’s Pastoral Care, and in many other matters. It was on Grimbald’s advice that the Mercian Plegmund was elected to succeed Aethelred as archbishop of Canterbury.
On October 26, 899, King Alfred reposed in peace, and was buried in Winchester.
His tenth-century descendant, the chronicler Ethelweard, justly wrote of him as having been an “unshakeable pillar of the western people, a man replete with justice, vigorous in war, learned in speech, above all instructed in divine learning… Now, reader, say ‘O Christ our Redeemer, save his soul’.”
St. Grimbald especially grieved for the king, and immediately set about building a new monastery in Winchester, which came to be known as the New Minster.
Alfred’s son and successor, King Edward the Elder, the nobles and the people contributed enthusiastically to this work, and it was completed with amazing speed in two years. Then, on July 8, 901, the saint reposed in peace.
Many miracles were wrought through the saint’s intercession both during and after his earthly life. A widow who was paralysed was brought to the New Minster and healed by him. Two women came to him from the village of Meon, one blind and the other mute. The blind spoke for the mute, and the mute saw for the blind, and both received healing at the tomb of St. Grimbald. A little girl from Chiltcombe whose breast was bent down to her knees crawled to his tomb and received healing.
A boy from Winchester who had lost his sight was told in a dream to ask the honourable citizen Leofwin to lead him to St. Grimbald’s tomb. There he received his sight again. On the eve of his feast a blind woman was coming to the gates of Winchester when she felt scales falling from her eyes. When she arrived at the monastery she was completely cured. Another woman, a paralytic, on hearing this story, also had recourse to the holy doctor, and was restored to full health.
The saint’s relics were translated in 938, in about 1050 and again in 1110, when the whole establishment was moved to Hyde Abbey.
St. Grimbald’s feastday is July 8.
Holy Father Grimbald, pray to God for us!
(Sources: J.B.L. Tolhurst, The Monastic Breviary of Hyde Abbey, Henry Bradshaw Society, 1939, July 8; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 182-183; Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge, Alfred the Great, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1983, p. 191)
59. SAINT HAROLD, MARTYR-KING OF ENGLAND
St.Harold was the last Orthodox king of England. He was born early in the eleventh century, the son of Earl Godwin of Wessex and his wife Gytha Thorkelsdottir, whose supposed brother, Ulf Jarl, was the father of King Sweyn II of Denmark. Godwin and Gytha had several children; Harold was the second.
When Edward the Confessor became King of England in 1043, he married Harold’s sister Edith. As a result of this Harold became Earl of East Anglia in 1045.
In 1051 Earl Godwin was forced into exile, and Harold accompanied his father.
However, when Godwin died in 1053, he succeeded him as Earl of Wessex. King Edward trusted Earl Harold in a way he had never trusted his father, so Harold soon became perhaps the most powerful man in England after the king.
In 1058 he became Earl of Hereford, which meant that he had to defend the English border against the Welsh. In a series of campaigns (1062–63) Harold defeated Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, the ruler of Gwynedd and Wales. In 1063 Gruffydd was killed by his own troops.
In 1064 Earl Harold made a great blunder. The story is related with variants and inconsistencies in the Norman sources and on the Bayeux tapestry, but is not related at all in the pre-Conquest English sources. Nevertheless, this much is clear: that Harold sailed from Bosham in Sussex on a mission to the continent, that he was storm-driven onto the coast of Ponthieu, where he was captured by Count Guy, that William of Normandy ransomed him from Guy and treated him kindly at first, but that later he was persuaded, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, to make an oath over a box of artfully concealed holy relics in Rouen that he would support William’s claim to the English throne.
Why did Harold make the fateful journey? One Anglo-Norman source suggests that he was simply on a fishing trip and landed up on the wrong side of the Channel.
However, the eleventh-century Canterbury Monk Edmer of Canterbury, using sources close to the family, has a much more plausible story, namely, that Harold “asked leave of the king to go to Normandy to set free his brother and nephew who were being held there as hostages” (Harold’s father Earl Godwin had given these hostages to the king after his abortive coup in 1051). In support of this theory is the fact that Harold did return with one of the hostages, his nephew Hakon. William continued to hold Harold’s brother, Wulfnoth… Edmer continues: “The king said to [Harold]: ‘I will have no part in this; but, not to give the impression of wishing to hinder you, I give you leave to go where you will and to see what you can do. But I have a presentiment that you will succeed in bringing misfortune upon the whole kingdom and discredit upon yourself. For I know that the Duke is not so simple as to be at all inclined to give them [the hostages] up to you unless he foresees that in doing so he will secure some great advantage to himself.’” The king’s prophetic spirit did not fail him; and according to a twelfth-century tradition, a great blow was miraculously struck at the oak in Rouen where Harold made his oath to support William’s claim to the throne – an oath, which, since he broke it when he himself became king, led to his and his country’s downfall. “For the oak, which was once a tree of great height and beauty, … is stated, wonderful to relate, to have shed its bark, and to have lost its greenness and its foliage. A sight well worth seeing, for a tree which a little time before was remarkable for the number and thickness of its leaves, shrivelled up from the roots, as quickly as did the gourd of Jonah and the olive of that other prophet and all its branches became white.”
Just as the Lord’s withering of the fig tree signified the falling away of the Jewish synagogue, so the withering of the oak at Rouen signified the falling away of the English Church… In 1065 a serious rebellion against King Edward’s rule broke out in Northumbria.
The Earl of Northumbria at this time was Harold’s brother, Tostig, who angered his subjects by his cruelty. According to King Edward’s anonymous biographer, several members of the witan “charged that glorious earl with being too cruel; and he was accused of punishing disturbers more for desire of their property which would be confiscated than for love of justice.” But the same author excused Tostig on the grounds that “such… was the cruelty of that people and their neglect of God that even parties of twenty or thirty men could scarcely travel without being either killed or robbed by the multitude of robbers in wait.”
However, that there was probably some justice in the accusations appears from the fact that St. Cuthbert once intervened on behalf of a man condemned by Tostig, as Barlow describes in this summary of Simeon of Durham’s account: “[Tostig] had succeeded in arresting a man named Aldan-hamal, a malefactor notorious for theft, robbery, murder and arson. The criminal was condemned to death, despite attempts by kinsmen and friends to bribe the earl; and while in fetters at Durham awaiting execution, when all efforts at rescue had failed, his conscience was smitten, he repented of his crimes, and he promised St. Cuthbert that if he could go free he would make full atonement. St. Cuthbert heard his prayer, struck off his fetters, and allowed him to make a lucky escape into the church. The guards, under Tostig’s thane Barcwith, went in pursuit and considered breaking open the doors of the cathedral, for freedom of sanctuary, they thought, would allows all thieves, robbers, and murderers to laugh in their faces. But Barcwith was immediately struck down by heaven for his impiety and within an hour or two died raving mad; and Earl Tostig, terrified by his fate, pardoned the criminal and, later, held him in esteem.”
The immediate cause of the rebellion appears to have been an extra tax imposed by Tostig on his earldom. The rebels seized York while Tostig was hunting with the king in Wiltshire, and proceeded to slaughter his officials and seize his treasury.
They then summoned Morcar, younger brother of Earl Edwin of Mercia, and with him as their “earl” marched south to plead their case with King Edward, ravaging Tostig’s lands on the way. Earl Edwin joined them at Northampton, and there Earl Harold also came as the emissary of King Edward.
Harold was in a most difficult position. His natural desire was to support his brother against the rebels. But that would have led to civil war, which Harold now drew back from, just as his father and King Edward had done during the earlier crisis of 1051-52. In his meeting with the king at Oxford he counselled agreeing to the terms of the rebels. With great sorrow and reluctance, the king complied: Tostig was deposed, the rebels were pardoned and Morcar was confirmed as Earl of Northumbria. In the following month Earl Tostig and his wife fled to her brother, Count Baldwin of Flanders. Tostig was bitter that the king had not supported him against the rebels. But he especially blamed his brother Harold, claiming that the Northumbrians “had undertaken this madness against their earl at the artful persuasion of his brother, Earl Harold.” Harold denied this on oath; and since he gained nothing from the affair except the undying enmity of his brother, who fought against him in 1066, he must be believed.
King Edward died on January 5, 1066. Since he had no children, the witan had to look around for the best successor. Their choice fell on Earl Harold, who, as well as being the brother-in-law of King Edward, had been bequeathed the kingdom by him on his deathbed. A Waltham chronicler, writing after King Harold’s death, wrote that he was elected unanimously; “for there was no one in the land more knowledgeable, more vigorous in arms, wiser in the laws of the land or more highly regarded for his prowess of every kind”. King Edward’s anonymous biographer adds that he was handsome, graceful and strong in body; and calls him wise, patient, merciful, courageous, temperate and prudent in character. That he was both strong and courageous is witnessed not only by his highly successful military career but also by his pulling two men out of the quicksand during his stay with William in 1064. The fact that he was admired and trusted by most Englishmen is shown by his ascending the throne without any opposition, although he was not the strongest candidate by hereditary right. Only after his death did anyone put forward the candidacy of Prince Edgar, grandson of King Edmund Ironside – and that only halfheartedly.
Thus on the English side there was general agreement that he was the best man to lead the country.
However, Duke William of Normandy claimed the kingdom as his by right, and denounced Harold as a usurper. His most powerful argument was that Harold had broken the oath of fealty that he had taken to William in 1064. Now all the evidence suggests that this oath was taken under duress. Moreover, the first law in the Code of King Alfred the Great stated: “If a man is wrongfully constrained to promise either to betray his lord or to aid an unlawful undertaking, then it is better to be false to the promise than to fulfil it.” Nevertheless Harold’s position was undoubtedly weakened by his breaking of his oath.
William now took his case to the papacy in Rome, and with the help of Archdeacon Hildebrand, the future Pope Gregory VII, he succeeded in obtaining the Pope’s blessing to his invading England – which, besides having an “unlawful” king, had in Stigand, archbishop of Canterbury, a “schismatic” primate who was not recognized by Rome.
So early in 1066 Duke William began to gather a vast army from all round Western Europe in preparation for what became, in effect, the first crusade of the heretical Papacy against the Orthodox Church.
King Harold was both hated and admired by the Normans. Thus William of Poitiers admitted that he was warlike and courageous. And Ordericus Vitalis, writing some 70 years after the conquest, says that Harold “was much admired for his great stature and elegance, for his bodily strength, for his quick-wittedness and verbal facility, his sense of humour and his honest bearing.” Whatever his personal sins before he became king, he appears to have tried hard to atone for them once he ascended the throne. Perhaps under the influence of the holy Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester, he put away his mistress, the beautiful Edith “Swan-neck”, and entered into lawful marriage with the sister of Earls Edwin and Morcar, Alditha Then, as Florence of Worcester writes, he “immediately began to abolish unjust laws and to make good ones; to patronize churches and monasteries; to pay particular reverence to bishops, abbots, monks and clerics; and to show himself pious, humble and affable to all good men. But he treated malefactors with great severity, and gave general orders to his earls, ealdormen, sheriffs and thegns to imprison all thieves, robbers and disturbances of the kingdom. He laboured in his own person by sea and by land for the protection of his realm.”
Although there had been no open opposition to his consecration as king, one source indicates that “the Northumbrians, a great and turbulent folk, were not ready to submit”, just as they had not been ready to submit to King Edward. Harold needed to be sure that he had the support of the turbulent North. So early in the year he enlisted the aid of Bishop Wulfstan on a peacemaking mission to Northumbria.
“For the fame of [Wulfstan’s] holiness,” writes William of Malmesbury, “had so found a way to the remotest tribes, that it was believed that he could quell the most stubborn insolence. And so it came to pass. For those tribes, untameable by the sword, and haughty from generation to generation, yet for the reverence they bore to the Bishop, easily yielded allegiance to Harold. And they would have continued in that way, had not Tostig, as I have said, turned them aside from it. Wulfstan, good, gentle, and kindly though he was, spake not smooth things to the sinners, but rebuked their vices, and threatened them with evil to come. If they were still rebellious, he warned them plainly, they should pay the penalty in suffering. Never did his human wisdom or his gift of prophecy deceive him. Many things to come, both on that journey and at other times, did he foretell. Moreover he spake plainly to Harold of the calamities which should befall him and all England if he should not bethink himself to correct their wicked ways. For in those days the English were for the most part evil livers; and in peace and the abundance of pleasant things luxury flourished.”
In the spring and summer, as Halley’s comet blazed across the sky, the two armies massed on opposite sides of the Channel. While William built a vast fleet to take his men across the Channel, King Harold kept his men under arms and at a high degree of alert all along the southern English coast. By September, William was ready; but adverse winds kept him in French ports. King Harold, however, was forced to let his men go home to bring in the harvest. The English coast was now dangerously exposed, and on September 27, taking advantage of a change in the wind, William embarked his men.
As if that were not enough, Harold now suffered another reverse: King Harald Hardrada of Norway, who had acquired a great reputation as a warrior in the Byzantine emperor’s army, invaded Northumbria with the aid of the English King Harold’s exiled brother Tostig, According to the medieval Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson, as the Norwegian Harald was preparing to invade England, he dreamed that he was in Trondheim and met there his half-brother, St. Olaf. And Olaf told him that he had won many victories and died in holiness because he had stayed in Norway. But now he feared that he, Harald, would meet his death, “and wolves will rend your body; God is not to blame.” Snorri wrote that “many other dreams and portents were reported at the time, and most of them were ominous.”
After defeating Earls Edwin and Morcar at Gate Fulford on September 20, the Norwegian king triumphantly entered York, whose citizens (mainly of Scandinavian extraction) not only surrendered to him but agreed to march south with him against the rest of England.
However, on September 25, after an amazingly rapid forced march from London, the English King Harold, arrived in York, and then almost immediately hurried on the further seven miles on to Stamford Bridge, where the Norwegians and rebel English and Flemish mercenaries were encamped. After a long battle in which both sides suffered huge losses, the Norwegian army was destroyed and both Harald Hardrada and Tostig were killed. The ‘C’ manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ends on this high point; but Divine Providence decreed that “the end was not yet”.
On October 1, while he was celebrating his victory in York, King Harold heard that William had landed at Pevensey on the south coast. Although, from a military point of view, he would probably have done better to rest and gather together a large force from all round the country while drawing William further away from his base, thereby stretching his lines of communication, Harold decided to employ the same tactics of forced marches and a lightning strike that had worked so well against the Norwegians. So he marched his men back down to London.
On the way Harold stopped at Waltham, a monastery he had founded and generously endowed to house the greatest holy object of the English Church – the Black Cross of Waltham. Several years before, this Cross had been discovered in the earth in response to a Divine revelation to a humble priest of Montacute in Somerset.
It was placed on a cart drawn by oxen, but the oxen refused to move until the name “Waltham” was pronounced. Then the oxen moved, without any direction from men, straight towards Waltham, which was many miles away on the other side of the country. On the way, 66 miracles of healing were accomplished on sick people who venerated it, until it came to rest at the spot where King Harold built his monastery.
Only a few days before, on his way to York, King Harold had stopped at the monastery and was praying in front of the Black Cross when he received a cheering message from Abbot Aethelwine of Ramsey. King Edward the Confessor had appeared to him that night, he said, and told him of his (Harold’s) affliction of both body and spirit – his anxiety for the safety of his kingdom, and the violent pain which had suddenly seized his leg. Then he said that through his intercession God had granted Harold the victory and healing from his pain. Cheered by this message, Harold received the healing of his pain – and the victory.
But it was a different story on the way back south to fight the Normans. Harold “went into the church of the Holy Cross and placed the relics which he had in his capella on the altar, and made a vow that if the Lord granted him success in the war he would confer on the church a mass of treasures and a great number of clerics to serve God there and that he himself would serve God as His bought slave. The clergy, therefore, who accompanied him, together with a procession which went before, came to the doors of the church where he was lying prostrate, his arms outstretched in the form of a cross in front of the Holy Cross, praying to the Crucified One.
“An extraordinary miracle then took place. For the image of the Crucifixion, which before had been erect looking upward, when it saw the king humble himself to the ground, lowered its face as if sad. The wood indeed knew the future! The sacristan Turkill claimed that he himself had seen this and intimated it to many while he was collecting and storing away the gifts which the king had placed on the altar. I received this from his mouth, and from the assertion of many bystanders who saw the head of the image erect. But no one except Turkill saw its bending down.
When they saw this bad omen, overcome with great sorrow, they sent the senior and most distinguished brothers of the church, Osegood Cnoppe and Ailric Childemaister, in the company to the battle, so that when the outcome was known they might take care of the bodies of the king and those of his men who were devoted to the Church, and, if the future would have it so, bring back their corpses…”
On October 5, Harold was back in London with his exhausted army. Common sense dictated that he stay there until the levies he had summoned arrived; but instead, to the puzzlement of commentators from the eleventh to the twentieth centuries, he pushed on by a forced march of fifty to sixty miles south, after only a few days’ rest and without the much needed reinforcements. What was the reason for this crucial tactical blunder? David Howarth has argued convincingly that the reason was that Harold now, for the first time, heard (from an envoy of William’s) that he and his followers had been excommunicated by the Pope and that William was fighting with the pope’s blessing and under a papal banner, with a tooth of St. Peter encrusted in gold around his neck. “This meant that he was not merely defying William, he was defying the Pope.
It was doubtful whether the Church, the army and the people would support him in that defiance: at best, they would be bewildered and half-hearted. Therefore, since a battle had to be fought, it must be fought at once, without a day’s delay, before the news leaked out. After that, if the battle was won, would be time to debate the Pope’s decision, explain that the trial had been a travesty, query it, appeal against it, or simply continue to defy it…
“… This had become a private matter of conscience. There was one higher appeal, to the judgement of God Himself, and Harold could only surrender himself to that judgement: ‘May the Lord now decide between Harold and me’ [William had said].
He had been challenged to meet for the final decision and he could not evade it; in order that God might declare His judgement, he was obliged to accept the challenge in person.
“He left London in the evening of 12 October. A few friends with him who knew what had happened and still believed in him: Gyrth and his brother Leofwine, his nephew Hakon whom he had rescued from Normandy, two canons from Waltham already nervous at the miracle they had seen, two aged and respected abbots who carried chain mail above their habits, and – perhaps at a distance – Edith Svanneshals, the mother of his sons. He led the army, who did not know, the remains of his house-carls and whatever men of the fyrd had already gathered in London. The northern earls had been expected with contingents, but they had not come and he could not wait. He rode across London Bridge again and this time down the Dover road to Rochester, and then by the minor Roman road that plunged south through the Andredeswald – the forest now yellow with autumn and the road already covered with fallen leaves. The men of Kent and Sussex were summoned to meet at an ancient apple tree that stood at the junction of the tracks outside the enclave of Hastings. Harold reached that meeting place late on Friday 13, ready to face his judgement; and even while the army was forming for battle, if one may further believe the Roman de Rou, the terrible rumour was starting to spread that the King was excommunicated and the same fate hung over any man who fought for him.”
The only military advantage Harold might have gained from his tactics – that of surprise – was lost: William had been informed of his movements. And so, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says, it was William who, early on the morning of October 14, “came upon him unexpectedly before his army was set in order. Nevertheless the king fought against him most resolutely with those men who wished to stand by him, and there was great slaughter on both sides. King Harold was slain, and Leofwine, his brother, and Earl Gurth, his brother, and many good men. The French had possession of the place of slaughter, as God granted them because of the nation’s sins…”
As William of Malmesbury said, the English “were few in numbers, but brave in the extreme”. Even the Normans admitted that the battle had been desperately close.
If King Harold had not been hit in the eye by a stray arrow, the result may well have been different. But Divine Providence judged otherwise, as the chronicler said, “because of the nation’s sins”.
Why did the chronicler say: “with those men who wished to stand by him”? Because many did not wish to stay with him when they learned of the Pope’s anathema. And yet many others stayed, including several churchmen.
Why did they stay, knowing that they stood to lose, not only their bodies, but also, if the anathema was true – their eternal souls? Very few probably knew about the schism of 1054 between Rome and Constantinople or about the theological arguments – over the Filioque, over unleavened bread at the Liturgy, over the supposed universal jurisdiction of the Pope – that led to the schism of 1054. Still fewer, if any, could have come to the firm conclusion that Rome was wrong and Constantinople was right. That Harold had (involuntarily) perjured himself in coming to the throne was generally accepted – and yet they stayed with him.
In following King Harold, the Englishmen who fought and died at Hastings were following their hearts rather than their heads. Their hearts told them that, whatever the sins of the king and the nation, he was still their king and this was still their nation. Surely God would not want them to desert these at the time of their greatest need, in a life-and-death struggle against a merciless foreign invader? Perhaps they remembered the words of Archbishop Wulfstan of York: “By what means shall peace and comfort come to God’s servants and God’s poor, but through Christ and through a Christian king?” Almost certainly they were drawn by a grace-filled feeling of loyalty to the Lord’s Anointed; for the English were exceptional in their continuing veneration for the monarchy, which in other parts had been destroyed by the papacy.
William’s actions just after the battle were unprecedentedly cruel and impious, even by the not very civilized standards of the time. Thus he refused to give the body of King Harold, which had been hideously mutilated by the Normans, to his mother for burial, although she offered him the weight of the body in gold.
Eventually, the monks of Waltham, with the help of Harold’s former mistress, Edith “Swan-neck”, found the body and buried it, as was thought, in Waltham.
However, there is now compelling evidence that a mutilated body discovered in a splendid coffin in Godwin’s family church at Bosham on April 7, 1954 is in fact the body of the last Orthodox king of England.
In fact, two royal coffins were found on that date. One was found to contain the bones of the daughter of a previous king of England, Canute, who had drowned at a young age. The other, “magnificently furnished” coffin contained the bones of a middle-aged man, but with no head and with several of the bones fractured. It was supposed that these were the bones of Earl Godwin, the father of King Harold.
For several years no further attention was paid to this discovery. However, just recently a local historian, John Pollock, has re-examined all the evidence relating to the bones in the second coffin and has come to the conclusion that they belong to none other than King Harold himself.
He points out, first, that they could not belong to Earl Godwin, because, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Godwin was buried in Winchester, not Bosham.
Secondly, the bones are in a severely mutilated state, which does not accord with what we know about Godwin’s death. However, this does accord with what we know about King Harold’s death, for he was savagely hacked to pieces by four knights on the field of battle. As the earliest account of the battle that we have, by Guy, Bishop of Amiens, says: “With the point of his lance the first (William) pierced Harold’s shield and then penetrated his chest, drenching the ground with his blood, which poured out in torrents. With his sword the second (Eustace) cut off his head, just below where his helmet protected him. The third (Hugh) disembowelled him with his javelin. The fourth (Walter Giffard) hacked off his leg at the thigh and hurled it far away. Struck down in this way, the dead body lay on the ground.”
Moreover, the Bayeux Tapestry clearly shows the sword of one of the knights cutting into the king’s left thigh – and one of the bones in the coffin is precisely a fractured left thigh bone.
Thirdly, although some sources say that Harold was buried in the monastery he founded at Waltham, his body has never been found there or anywhere else in spite of extensive searches. However, the most authoritative of the sources, William of Poitiers, addresses the dead Harold thus: “Now you lie there in your grave by the sea: by generations yet unborn of English and Normans you will ever be accursed…” The church at Bosham is both by the sea and not far from the field of battle…
Therefore it is possible that the grieving monks who are said to have buried King Harold’s body at Waltham, in fact buried it in his own, family church by the sea at Bosham. Or, more likely, William himself buried it at Bosham, since the church passed into his possession, and he is said to have ordered its burial “on the seashore”.
But this was done in secret, because the Normans did not want any public veneration of the king they hated so much, and the Church could not tolerate pilgrimages to the grave of this, the last powerful enemy of the “reformed Papacy” in the West. And so the rumour spread that Harold had survived the battle and had become a secret hermit in the north – a rumour that we can only now reject with certainty.
Harold’s daughter Gytha fled to Kiev, where she married Great-Prince Vladimir Monomakh. The blood of the last Orthodox king of England was therefore joined to that of the Russian royal family. Although King Harold has never been formally canonized, and the Normans made his cult unlawful, we can venerate him among the saints because he gave his life on the field of battle for the defence of his Orthodox homeland against the heretical Latins.
Holy Martyr-King Harold, pray to God for us!
60. SAINTS HEDDA, FRITHESTAN AND BIRNSTAN, BISHOPS OF WINCHESTER
Our holy Father Hedda was educated at Whitby and became a monk and an abbot. In 676 he was consecrated bishop of Winchester by St. Theodore, archbishop of Canterbury. The Venerable Bede wrote that “he was a good and just man, and exercised his episcopal duties rather by his innate love of virtue, than by what he had gained from learning.” He had a great influence over Kings Caedwalla and Ina of Wessex, both of whom became monks in Rome. King Ina acknowledged his help in framing his code of laws, which later were incorporated into the code of King Alfred, the real founder of the All-English State.
St. Hedda died in 705, and many miracles took place at his grave, as Bishop Plechthelm of Whithorn witnessed. (According to William of Malmesbury, the miracles had ceased by his time in the twelfth century). So much dust was taken from the place where he died for the healing of men and animals that a large hole was created there.
The relics of the saint are still to be found in the see of Winchester, which he founded.
St. Hedda is commemorated on July 7.
Holy Father Hedda, pray to God for us!
Our holy Father Frithestan was one of seven bishops consecrated in one day by Archbishop Plegmund of Canterbury in the year 909. He ruled his see until 931. The saint donated a stole of Byzantine iconography to St. Cuthbert’s. It was found in St.Cuthbert’s coffin and can still be seen at Durham. After his death, it is said, his tomb could not hide his holiness.
St. Frithestan’s feastday is September 10.
Our holy Father Birnstan (Birstan, Beornstan) succeeded St. Frithestan as Bishop of Winchester in 931. His usual routine was to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, then attend to the poor, washing them and giving them food, and then pray in solitude for several hours. At night he would go round the cemetery praying for the souls of the reposed. Once, after praying: “May they rest in peace,” he heard a voice as if of an infinite army of spirits replying: “Amen”. He reposed while praying in solitude in 934, and was more or less forgotten for about forty years.
One night, St. Aethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, was working in front of the holy relics of his diocese when three people appeared to him. The middle of these then said: “I am Birnstan, formerly bishop of this city. Here,” he said, indicating the man on his right, “is Birinus, the first preacher. And here,” he said, indicating the man on his left, “is Swithun, the special patron of this church and community. You should know that just as you see me here with them now, so I enjoy no unequal glory with them in Heaven. Why then am I deprived of the honour of men, when I am magnified in the assembly of the celestial spirits?”
St. Birnstan is commemorated on November 4.
Holy Fathers Heddi, Frithestan and Birnstan, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, III, 7, IV, 12, V, 18; William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 43-44, 162, 187)
61. SAINT HELIER, MONK-MARTYR OF JERSEY
The holy Martyr Helier (Helibert, Hélyi) lived in the sixth century. He was born to a noble Frankish couple called Sigebert and Leufgard, from the city of Tongres in France. The couple, though pagan, had appealed to the holy monk Cunibert that they should have a child, and through his prayers they received their request. But Cunibert had agreed to pray on condition that if a child was born he should be offered to God – a condition which the parents failed to fulfil, because his father wanted him to be a warrior.
Cunibert went away saddened, and for seven years Helier was brought up as a pagan child.
One day, however, Helier fell ill; his strength forsook him, and he became pale and weak. Lying in pain on his mother’s lap, he said: “Oh, give me back to the holy man by whose prayers I was born, and to whom you promised me.” His parents sent him to Cunibert, who knelt beside the sick child and healed him by his prayers.
Then Helier shared with Cunibert his harsh monastic life – but remained a catechumen, without being baptized. In spite of that, the boy acquired a reputation for sanctity and the local people brought their sick to him to be healed. Thus he cured blindness, and removed a snake from the mouth of a man who had had the misfortune of having it slither in there while he was asleep. On hearing this, some Franks went to Sigebert and said: “Let us kill this wizard Cunibert, and get your child back.” Sigebert agreed.
The plan was revealed to Cunibert, and after Mattins the next day he told Helier that he would be killed, and counselled the boy to run away. The boy wept, and asked: “And will you not baptize me, O my father?” Cunibert replied: “God wills that another hand should do that, O my son.” Having spent the whole day in church, they went to their cells. Then, as Cunibert was reciting the 101st psalm, the wicked men entered his cell and killed him. Helier, hearing a noise, rushed into the cell of his master and found him dead in a pool of blood, but with his finger pointing at the verse he had been reciting. Helier wept over the body of his master, then hastily buried it and ran away.
For six days he wandered through pathless forests until he came to the city of Thérouanne. Almost dead from fatigue, he asked a poor widow for help. She took him into her house and took care of him for two weeks. Then he asked her to show him a lonely spot where he could serve God in quiet. She led him to St. Mary’s church, outside the town. For five years he lived in the porch of the church, exposed to the elements. His shoes soon wore out, and his feet were stained with blood.
However, when he wanted, he could go back to the widow’s house, where he could sleep on a wooden pallet. Soon, as at Tongres, the sick came to him for healing.
Once the wife of a nobleman of the town called Rotald accidentally caused the death of her own child. Rotald rushed to the Bishop of Thérouanne and asked him to go to Helier and order him to pray for the resurrection of the child. Helier obeyed, went to the church where the body of the child was lying on a bier, and prayed for his resurrection. The child began to move, and to cry for his mother… That night Christ appeared to Helier and told him to go to Nanteuil, where a man called Marculf would baptize him and teach him what would be his way of life. He set out immediately the next day. On the way, near the little river Canche, the devil appeared to him in bodily form and tempted him to return to the wealthy environment in which he was born. But Helier rejected him, and the devil vanished.
Arriving at Vallesdune in Normandy, he found Marculf, who baptized him on Christmas Day. Marculf was building a monastery on some land given to him by King Childebert on the seashore at Nanteuil. Sometimes he would retire to a small island that still bears his name.
Three months after his baptism, Helier asked his spiritual father to find a lonely place where he could devote himself to prayer and fasting. He sent him with a priest called Romard to the island of Agnus, now called Jersey, which was inhabited by pagan Celts. The saint took up his abode on a rock in St. Aubins’ bay which is connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway that is covered by the sea at high tide. Soon the sick were again coming to Helier for healing. A cripple and a paralytic were healed by him.
Three years later, Marculf arrived with a priest to visit his disciple. One day, Romard saw a fleet of Saxons approaching the island. He rushed to the cell of Helier, and then both went to Marculf. The three cast themselves on their knees on the top of the bare crag and prayed for deliverance.
The terrified islanders, who were about thirty in number, also asked Marculf to pray for them. “My children,” he said, “Be courageous, take up your arms, God is powerful enough to make you triumph, He will fight for you. Remember how he made the armies of Pharaoh perish. I promise you victory. Go.”
They believed him, armed and marched against the enemy. All those who stepped foot on the island were killed without the islanders losing a single man.
Meanwhile, those who remained in their boats were overwhelmed by a storm.
Nobody survived to tell their story to their countrymen.
On seeing what had happened, the chief of the islanders gave thanks to God and gave St. Marcul half of the island. There he build a monastery in which he placed a few monks. Then he left, taking Romard with him but leaving one of his disciples to be the young Helier’s guide.
For twelve years Helier continued to struggle on his rock. Then, one night, as he was resting on his stone couch, the Lord appeared to him and, smiling, said: “Come to Me, My beloved. In three days you will leave this world adorned in your own blood.” In the morning his spiritual guide came to him, as he always did, when the rock was joined to the mainland, and Helier told him about the vision.
On the third day St. Helier arose and looked towards the sea. A strong southwesterly wind was blowing, and the sea was covered with a fleet of Saxon ships.
Knowing that he would suffer at their hands, he went back to his cell that he might die, as he had lived, in prayer. After some time, the pagans saw the cell overhanging the tossing waves. They climbed up the cliff, entered the cell and beheaded the holy martyr.
The Saxons became terrified at this awful murder, and although the weather was stormy, they immediately put to sea. But when nearing Noirmont their ship struck a rock and they all perished.
The next day, the saint’s spiritual father (whose name we do not know) found his body on the beach opposite the rock. The head was resting tranquilly on his breast between his hands, with a gentle smile on his face. The body might have been brought there by the tide. But how did the head come to be resting between the two hands? He took the body and laid it on the deck of a little vessel that was lying near.
Exhausted with grief and anxiety, he fell asleep. When he awoke, he found himself on a coast that he had never seen. The vessel was swiftly gliding into a harbour, and men and women were standing on the shore, their eyes fixed on the strange sight of a boat being propelled with no helmsman. It stopped in the harbour. The bishop of the place came down to the harbour in his vestments, and the body was borne in procession to the church with incense and chanting. We do not know what this harbour was, but we know that the monastery of Beaubec in Normandy possessed some relics of St. Helier. Eventually, the holy relics were housed in the Abbey of Lehon.
The very spot where Saint Helier lived and died, with the Oratory built over the cell in the 12th century, may be seen to this day.
St. Helier is commemorated on July 16.
Holy Monk-Martyr Helier, pray to God for us!
(Sources: John Henry Newman, Lives of the English Saints, London: Freemantle, 1901, vol. 3, pp. 13-43; The Life of St. Marculf (c. 640AD); http://user.itl.net/~geraint/helier.html; Donald Attwater, The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, London: Penguin, 1965, p. 166)
62. SAINT HILDA, ABBESS OF WHITBY
Our holy Mother Hilda was born in the year 614, being the daughter of Hereric, a nephew of the Martyr-King Edwin of Northumbria. She was baptized together with St. Edwin by St. Paulinus.
When her parents were living in exile in the British kingdom of Elmet (North Yorkshire), her mother Bregusit had a dream in which, as the Venerable Bede recounts it, “she was seeking for [her husband] most diligently, and could find no sign of him anywhere. But, after having used all her industry to find him, she found a most precious jewel under her garment, which, whilst she was looking on it very attentively, cast such a light as spread itself throughout all Britain; which dream was brought to pass in her daughter.., whose life was a bright example, not only to herself, but to all who desired to live well.”
At the age of 33 Hilda decided to become a nun in the monastery of Chelles in France, where her sister Heresuid, mother of King Aldwulf of East Anglia, was struggling. After a year in France, she was called back to Northumbria by St. Aidan, bishop of Lindisfarne, and given a small plot of land on the north bank of the River Wear, where she struggled in asceticism with a few companions until she was called to replace Heiu as abbess of Harlepool. There she organized a regular system of monastic life based on the Rule of the Irish saint, Columbanus of Luxeuil, and was instructed by St. Aidan and other men of God.
In the year 657 St. Hilda founded the double monastery of Whitby in North Yorkshire, which soon became one of the greatest monasteries in England, being renowned for its strict life and high standard of education in the Holy Scriptures. No less than five holy bishops – Bosa, Hedda, Oftfor, John and Wilfrid – were trained there. She was affectionately and respectfully known as “Mother” by all. It was during her abbacy that the famous monk Caedmon lived in the men’s monastery.
After a heavenly visitor came to him during his sleep, he was able to compose wonderful religious poems in the English language; and he has been called the father of English poetry.
In the year 663 St. Hilda hosted the famous Synod of Whitby, which brought an end to the calendar schism between the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Churches in England. At first, she supported the Celts under whom she had been trained. But later she accepted the Synod’s decision to adopt the Roman-Byzantine Paschalion.
During the last six years of her life, St. Hilda suffered from a chronic illness. At dawn on November 17, 680, having partaken of the Holy Mysteries and admonished her spiritual children to have peace among themselves, she joyfully reposed in the Lord. At the same time a nun called Begu, living in the monastery of Hackness, which was about thirteen miles away, suddenly woke up at the sound of a bell, saw the top of the house open, and a strong light pour in from above. Looking earnestly at the light, she saw the soul of St. Hilda rising to heaven in the company of angels.
When she told the abbess, Frigyth, about her vision, the abbess assembled all the sisters in the church to pray for the soul of the saint. And so when the monks came from Whitby to tell them the news, they were able to tell them that they already knew.
Already early in the eighth century St. Hilda’s name is found on the Calendar of St.Willibrord, and her veneration was always strong in the North of England. Whitby was sacked by the Danes in about the year 800. St. Hilda’s relics were translated to Glastonbury under King Edmund (+946), but Gloucester also claimed them.
St. Hilda is commemorated on November 17.
Holy Mother Hilda, pray to God for us!
(Sources: The Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, IV, 23; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 192-93)
63. SAINT HYBALD, ABBOT OF HYBALDSTOW
Our Holy Father Hybald was born in the late 630s. In his youth he was probably a monk in Lindisfarne, where he got to know St. Egbert, the future abbot of Iona. At some time he visited Egbert in Ireland. Then, in about 660 he returned to England, perhaps with St. Chad. For it was in the diocese of St. Chad that St. Hybald became abbot of a monastery in Lindsey (Lincolnshire) in what is now Hybaldstow. The Venerable Bede says that he was a very holy and abstinent man.
The following prayer, from an eighth or ninth Worcestershire prayer-book, is attributed to St. Hybald: “I beseech God, the omnipotent Father, Who created heaven and earth, the sea and all that therein is, Who is blessed God in all and over all for ever, that He discharge me of all my sins and misdeeds which I have done from the cradle of my youth until this hour of my life [and which] in deeds, in words, in thoughts, in sight, in laughter, in going, in hearing, in touch and smell, willing, unwilling, knowing and unknowing, in spirit and in body, I have committed in folly.”
In the nineteenth century the vicar of the church of St. Hybald in Hibaldstow found the remains of a very tall and powerful man in a stone coffin. It is thought that these may be the relics of St. Hybald. The stone coffin with the relics has now been reburied under the floor on the church on the south side of the chancel.
St. Hybald is commemorated on December 14.
Holy Father Hybald, pray to God for us!
(Sources: The Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, IV, 3; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 201; Ian Thompson, St. Hybald of Hibaldstow, Scunthorpe: Bluestone Books; leaflet in St.Hybald’s church)
64. SAINT IWI, HIERODEACON OF LINDISFARNE
Our holy Father Iwi was a deacon-monk, a disciple of the great St. Cuthbert, bishop of Lindisfarne. Wishing to become an exile for Christ, he embarked on a ship with some sailors, trusting in the Providence of God to lead him wherever He willed. The ship landed in Brittany, and so the holy Iwi settled in that land, living the austere life of a hermit. He performed many miracles of healing, and died on October 6, towards the end of the seventh century.
About years later, a group of clerics fleeing from Brittany arrived at the women’s monastery of Wilton in Southern England, carrying the relics of St. Iwi.
They left the relics on the altar during their stay. However, when they came to leave it proved impossible to move the relics. So with great sorrow they were forced to leave them there. The abbess gave them 2000 solidi in recompense for their loss.
St.Iwi is commemorated on October 8.
Holy Father Iwi, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Capgrave, Nova Legenda Anglie, ii, 91-2; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 207)
65. SAINT JOHN OF BEVERLEY, BISHOP OF YORK
Our holy Father John was born of noble parents at Harpham, Yorkshire in 640. As a youth he studied the Holy Scriptures, Church music, Greek and Latin in the famous school of Saint Adrian at Canterbury, and then under Abbess Enfleda at the double monastery at Whitby. After leaving the monastery, he used his great rhetorical gifts as a missionary to the unenlightened English. He was also endowed with the gift of healing.
On August 25, 687, John was consecrated bishop of Hexham in succession to Bishop Eata. Among the people he ordained during this period was the Venerable Bede, whom he raised to the diaconate in 692 and to the priesthood in 703.
During fast periods he would retire to a quiet house set among trees with a church dedicated to the Archangel Michael. It is now called St. John’s Lee. Here he continued his holy life and the working of miracles. Thus the following miracle was related by Abbot Herebald, one of the bishop’s clergy: “When in the prime of my youth I lived among his clergy, applying myself to reading and singing, but not having altogether withdrawn my heart from youthful pleasures, we came into a plain and open road, well adapted for galloping our horses. The young men that were with him, and particularly those of the laity, began to entreat the bishop to allow them to gallop, and make trial of the goodness of their horses. He at first refused, saying that it was an idle request. But finally, being prevailed upon by all, he said: ‘Do so if you want, but let Herebald have no part in the trial.’ I earnestly prayed that I might have leave to ride with the rest, for I relied on an excellent horse, which he had given me, but I could not obtain my request.
“When they had galloped backwards and forwards several times, with the bishop and I looking on, my wanton humour prevailed, and I could no longer refrain, and in spite of his refusal I joined the rest and began to ride at full speed; at which I heard him call after me: ‘Alas! how much you grieve me by riding like that!’ Although I heard him, I continued against his command. But as the fiery horse leapt over a hollow, I fell motionless and lost consciousness, as if dead. For there was a stone in that place covered with turf, the only stone in the whole plain. And it happened, as a punishment for my disobedience.., that my head and hand, which in falling I had clapped to my head, hit the stone, so that my thumb was broken and my skull cracked and I lay, as I said, as one dead.
“And since I could not move, they stretched a canopy for me to lie in. It was about the seventh hour of the day, and having lain still, and as it were dead from that time till the evening, I then revived a little, and was carried home by my companions, but lay speechless all night, vomiting blood, because something had been broken inside me by the fall. The bishop was very grieved at my misfortune, and expected my death, for he had an extraordinary affection for me. Nor would he stay that night, as was his habit, among his clergy; but spent it all only in watching and prayer, imploring the Divine goodness, as I imagine, for my health. Coming to me early in the morning, and having said a prayer over me, he called me by my name, and as it were waking me out of a heavy sleep, asked whether I knew who it was who was speaking with me. I opened my eyes and said: ‘I do; you are my beloved bishop.’
‘Can you live?’ he said. I answered: ‘I may, through your prayers, if the Lord wills.’
“He then laid his hand on my head, blessed me, and returned to prayer. When he came to see me again a little later, he found me sitting and able to talk; and, moved by a Divine instinct, began to ask me whether I knew for certain that I had been baptized. I answered: ‘I know for certain that I have been washed in the laver of salvation, for the remission of my sins.’ And I named the priest by who I knew that I had been baptized. He replied: ‘If you were baptized by that priest, your baptism is not perfect; for I know him, and I know that because of his lack of intelligence he was unable to learn the ministry of catechism and baptism; which is why I ordered him to desist from his presumptuous exercise of his ministry, which he could not duly perform.’ Having said this, he took care to catechise me at that very time. Then he blew on my face, and I felt better. He called the surgeon and ordered him to close and bind up my skull where it was cracked. And, having received his blessing, I was so much better that the next day I mounted on horseback and travelled with him to another place. And when, a little later, I had completely recovered, I received the baptism of life.”
In 705, on the death of Bishop Bosa, St. John became bishop of York.
Once, at the beginning of Great Lent, he healed a dumb man who used to come to him for alms by simply making the sign of the cross on his tongue. Another time, he healed a nun at the monastery of Wetadun (probably Watton) by praying over her.
Once the bishop went to consecrate a church, and was urged to eat with a local nobleman named Earl Puch whose wife was sick. St. John sent one of the monks to the woman with some holy water that he had blessed for the consecration. After washing herself in the water, the woman rose from her sickbed and immediately, like the Apostle Peter’s mother-in-law, served the bishop and her husband at table.
Again, the bishop went to consecrate the church of Earl Addi at Cherry Burton. After the service, Addi asked him to visit his servant, who was lying mortally ill. The bishop saw the dying man with the coffin at his side and all those present weeping.
Then he said a prayer, blessed him and said: “May you soon recover”. Later, the servant asked his lord for a cup of wine, and the earl sent him a cup blessed by the bishop. Immediately he drank of it, he was cured and joined the earl and the bishop at the table.
Once the bishop was present at a great council of King Osred of Northumbria and his nobles. After the council, he was invited to a meal by the king; and during the meal St. John ordered three jars to be filled, one with wine, one with mead, and one with beer. After the bishop had blessed the jars, they were found to be inexhaustible, recalling the miracles of the Lord Himself at Cana and in the feeding of the five thousand. Then King Osred called Brithred the butler to him and congratulated him, saying: “Now we have been convinced of the sanctity of your lord by the virtue which we see”.
Once during his travels St. John came to a beautiful spot in “a land of wild forests and waters, in the midst of which stood a church dedicated to St. John the Divine.”
From the nearby stream which abounded in beavers it was known as Beverley, “beaver stream”. Here Bishop John bought some land, enlarged and beautified the church and made it into a double monastery which he richly endowed.
Once St. John came to the monastery at Beverley, as Abbot Brihtun tells the tale.
After the bishop had inspected the monastery and conducted long services, the abbot suggested that he have a bath. And after the bath, the abbot offered the bishop some wine. The bishop assented, and Brithred the butler was ordered to take the glass of wine to him. But Brithred carelessly left the flask hanging in an exposed place on the wall, and it fell down and it broke. Miraculously, however, the wine did not run out but remained within the broken pieces of the flask.
The bishop liked to pray in the chapel of St. Martin in York, which was next to his house. While he was praying there, the Holy Spirit was seen hovering over his head in the form of a white dove. At the same time a blinding light was seen coming out of the apertures of the church, which amazed all those who saw it. At length, St.John’s deacon, whose name was Sigga, unbolted the door, entered the church, and saw the majestic vision of the bishop praying with arms outstretched in a blinding light and with a snow-white dove hovering over his head. Immediately the skin of his face wrinkled up, as if it had been boiled. Sensing that he was being watched, the saint turned round. Coming up to Sigga, he healed his face by a simple touch, but warned him not to relate what he had seen during his lifetime.
Great crowds of people would come to the bishop when he was performing the sacrament of Holy Unction. Once they brought a dead man up to him, and after the bishop had anointed him with the holy oil, he arose. The bishop similarly used to drive demons out of people and healed the sick wherever he found them.
St. John resigned from his see in 717, consecrated his priest Wilfrid in his place, and retired to the monastery he had founded at Beverley. Four years later, on May 7, 721, he reposed, and was buried in the porch of St. John the Theologian. Through his prayers, many miracles continued to be wrought at his tomb after his death: demons were expelled, the blind, the deaf, the mute and the lame were healed, and all kinds of sorrows were removed.
Before the great battle of Brunanburgh in 937, King Athelstan prayed at the shrine of St. John at Beverley. That night St. John appeared to him in his sleep and promised him victory. In gratitude, the king on returning from the battlefield endowed the church with many rich gifts.
In 1037 St. John was canonized by Pope Benedict IX, and Aelfric, Archbishop of York, translated his remains to a more costly shrine sparkling with gold and precious stones.
In 1065 Archbishop Ealdred of York commissioned the Monk Folcard of St.Bertin’s monastery near St. Omer in France to write verses in honour of St. John and then his life.
Folcard relates many miracles of the saint. A blind boy brought from Hexham recovered his sight at his tomb. A Scot called Gillo, who was deformed, prayed on his own at the shrine of the saint on the eve of his feast and was healed. A criminal condemned to die repented. He invoked the help of St. John, and the chains fell from his arms. He went to Beverley and offered the chains to the shrine. A citizen of York had a favourite son who became dumb. He recovered when he was taken to Beverley Minster.
The stone chair of St. John is still to be seen in Beverley Minster. Later it became known as the “peace chair”, and was probably used by an official investigating the cases of fugitives seeking sanctuary in the church.
During the Norman Conquest, a band of Normans marched into Beverley to pillage the shrine. Their leader, whose name was Toustain, seeing an old man dressed in gold bracelets, galloped towards him with his sword drawn. The old man fled, terrified, to the church. Toustain pursued him through the gates of the churchyard. But at that moment the horse slipped on the pavement and Toustain fell to the ground, stunned. The Normans regarded this as the wrath of St. John, and fled. Indeed, according to the twelfth-century writer John Brompton, the territory of St. John was the only land in the whole of the North of England which did not suffer from the depradations of the Normans.
St. John’s shrine was probably destroyed by fire in 1188. But five years later his bones were discovered, and in 1308 the new shrine was completed. The relics were hidden during the Protestant Dissolution of the monasteries, but in 1604 they were found again in a case of lead. They were brought to light again when the nave was repaved in 1736, and are now interred in the Minster beneath a slab in the nave floor near the choir stalls.
St. John is commemorated on May 7.
Holy Father John, pray to God for us!
(Sources: The Venerable Bede, History of the English Church and People; Folcard, Vita Sancti Johannis Episcopi Eboracensis; A. Thierry, A History of the Norman Conquest of England, London: J.M. Dent, vol. 1, pp. 215-216; Fr. Andrew Phillips, Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, English Orthodox Trust, 1995, chapter 81; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 216; Ivor R. Dowse, The Pilgrim Shrines of England, London: The Faith Press, 1963; Pamela Hopkins, St. John of Beverley, Beverley: Halgarth Publishing, 1999)
66. SAINT KENELM, MARTYR-KING OF MERCIA
The holy Martyr Kenelm was the son of King Cenwulf of Mercia. He ascended the throne in succession to his father in the year 821. However, since he was still very young, his sister Cwendritha became regent, while her lover Asconbert became the little king’s guardian.
One night he had a dream which he related to his nurse Wolwere: “I saw, O dearest mother, a tree that reached to the stars standing by my bed, and I stood on the top of it, from where I could see everything. It was most beautiful, having widespreading branches, and it was covered from top to bottom with all kinds of flowers and glowed with innumerable lights. But as I wondered at the sight, some of my people cut down the tree, and it fell with a great crash, and forthwith I made for myself white wings and flew up to heaven.”
“Alas,” said the nurse, “my sweetest son whom I have nourished with my milk, I fear that the falling tree means the destruction of your life through the wicked plot of your sister and the treachery of your guardian, and the bird which went up to heaven signifies the ascension of your soul.”
One day the king and his guardian were riding in the valley between the Clent and Romsley hills. The little king became very tired, and, having dismounted, fell fast asleep. While he was asleep, Asconbert dug a grave for him, and was about to kill him when he woke up. “This is not the place ordained for you to kill me,” he said. Then he drove an ash twig into the ground, and it immediately grew and flowered.
Undeterred by this miracle, Asconbert took the king to another place, and there struck off his head. The corpse was buried in the grace under the flowering ash tree with the blood-stained dagger by his side. Asconbert then rejoined his partner-incrime, Cwendritha, and the two returned to Winchcombe, where they spread the story that the king had mysteriously disappeared and was nowhere to be found.
Cwendritha succeeded to the throne which had been purchased at the price of her brother’s blood; but the whispering of her courtiers and her own guilty conscience pursued her everywhere. Desperately she ordered that anyone who should seek for Kenelm’s body or even name his name should at once be beheaded.
When Kenelm was killed, and before his grave had been completely filled in, a white dove appeared at the base of his skull and flew away in the direction of Rome.
One morning, the Pope was celebrating the Divine Liturgy in Rome in the presence of many worshippers. Suddenly a snow-white dove appeared from above and dropped a scroll which it was carrying onto the Holy Table. Then it disappeared.
The scroll was written in English, but an English pilgrim who happened to be present translated it: In Clent, in Cowbach, lieth under a thorn, His head shorn off, Kenelm, king-born.
The Pope decided to send messengers to Archbishop Wulfred to investigate the crime and bring the criminals to justice. Guided by the scroll, they came to Clent Hill, and began to search between the hills in the little valley called “Cowbach”. The lowing of a white cow and the shining of a radiant light led the searchers to the spot where the body lay under the tree. When it was discovered together with the knife, all the church bells in the region suddenly began to ring spontaneously. And when it was taken up from the ground a fountain gushed up which became known as a holy well because of the many miracles wrought through it.
As the body was being reverently conveyed to Winchcombe, the people came out from the town to meet their martyred king. At that time the queen was standing at the west end of the abbey church. Hearing the noise, she went out to see what was happening. Then, returning to the church, she seized a psalter and started to read Psalm backwards, in the manner of those who practise black magic, trying in this way to halt the advancing procession. But when she saw the coffin her eyes fell out of their sockets, covering the psalter with blood. (For a long time afterwards this blood-stained psalter was shown to pilgrims.) She died in agony; and her body, refused burial, was thrown to the wolves and birds of prey.
The holy martyr-king was buried beside his father at the east end of the abbey church. Pilgrims flocked to the shrine, where many miracles were wrought through his intercession. In 1815, the two coffins were rediscovered, the one containing the body of an adult, and the other that of a young child together with a rusty knife. On being exposed to the air, the bodies crumbled to dust and the knife fell to pieces. The two coffins may still be seen in Winchcombe Abbey.
St. Kenelm is commemorated on July 17.
Holy Martyr-King Kenelm, pray to God for us!
(Sources: William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum, 1, 94-95, 262-263; Gesta Pontificum Anglorum; John Humphreys, Studies in Worcestershire History, Birmingham: Cornish Brothers, 1938; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 231)
67. SAINT LIDE, BISHOP OF THE SCILLY ISLES
Our holy Father Lide lived as a hermit on the Scilly Isles, off the south-western coast of England, towards the end of the tenth century.
King Olaf Trygvasson was once raiding the Scilly Isles, where “there lived a great friend of God, a hermit, famed for his excellent learning and various knowledge.
Olaf was eager to test this, and dressed one of his retainers like a king, so that under the name of a king he might seek [the hermit’s] advice. Now this was the answer he received: ‘You are no king and my counsel to you is that you should be loyal to your king.’ When Olaf heard this answer, he was yet more eager to see him, because he no longer doubted that he was a true prophet, and in the course of his talk [with him] and of the good man’s exhortation, [the hermit] addressed him thus with words of holy wisdom and divine foreknowledge: ‘You will be,’ he said, ‘a famous king and do famous deeds. You will bring many people to faith and baptism, thereby profiting yourself and many others. And, so that you may have no doubts concerning this answer of mine, you will have this for a sign. On the way to your ship you will fall into an ambush, and a battle will take place, and you will lose part of your company, and you yourself will receive a wound, and through this wound you will be at the point of death, and be born to the ship on a shield. Yet within seven days you will be whole from this wound, and soon you will receive baptism.”
The thirteenth-century Icelandic historian Snorri Sturlason describes the sequel: “Olaf went down to his ships and there he met foes who tried to slay him and his men. But the meeting ended as the hermit had foretold him, so that Olaf was borne wounded out to his ship, and likewise was he well after seven nights. Then it seemed clear to Olaf that this man had told him the truth and that he was a true prophet… Olaf then went again to find the man, spoke much with him and asked carefully whence he had this wisdom whereby he foretold the future. The hermit said that the God of Christian men let him know all he wished, and then he told Olaf of many great works of God, and after all these words Olaf agreed to be baptised.
And so it came about that Olaf and all his followers were baptised. He stayed there very long and learned the right faith, and took with him from there priests and learned men.”
In fact, Olaf received confirmation (chrismation) from St. Aelfheah, Bishop of Winchester (+1012), and it was from King Aethelred of England that he received the bishops and priests who evangelised Norway.
As for the hermit who converted the famous king, we do not know his name with certainty. However, in the Middle Ages there was a cult of a bishop called Lide (or Elid or Elidius) who lived on the island of St. Helen’s and was buried there as a bishop. Since the earliest pottery found at the remains of his buildings and tomb dates back to the 11th century, it seems probable that St. Lide was the same man as the hermit who converted the Baptiser of Norway.
St. Lide is commemorated on August 8.
Holy Father Lide, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Epitome of the Sagas of the Kings of Norway; Heimskringla 7, 31; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 246)
68. SAINT LUCIUS, KING IN BRITAIN
St. Lucius was descended from Bran the Blessed, of whom The Welsh Triads say: “There came with Bran the Blessed from Rome to Britain Arwystli Hen (the old man), Ilid, Cyndaw, men of Israel; Maw, or Manaw, son of Arwystli hen.” Arwytsli has been very tentatively identified with St. Aristobulus, the first Bishop of Britain, who, according to the Greek Menaion for March 15, “was chosen by St. Paul to be the missionary bishop of the land of Britain, inhabited by a very fierce and warlike race.
By them he was often scourged, and repeatedly dragged as a criminal through their towns, yet he converted many of them to Christianity. He was martyred there after he had built churches and ordained priests and deacons for the island.”
Bran the Blessed is called by the Triads, “the first to bring the Faith of Christ to the Welsh from Rome, where he had been seven years as a hostage for his son Caradog”.
Caradoc, or Caractacus, was the leader of the heroic resistance of the Britons against the Roman invaders which was so vividly described by the Roman historian Tacitus.
Caractacus was betrayed into the Romans’ hands. But he defended himself with great dignity in the Roman senate, and Tacitus wrote: “Rome trembled when it saw the Briton, though in chains”.
The exiled family of Bran the Blessed and his son Caractacus formed the nucleus of the first Gentile Christian community in Rome. Caractacus’ daughter Gladys married a Roman senator and took the name Claudia after the Emperor Claudius, and it is under this name that the poet Martial alluded to her in his eleventh epigram: Our Claudia, sprung, we know, from blue-eyed Britons.
Yet, behold, she vies in grace with all that Greece or Rome can show.
Claudia was the mother of several children, including the holy Martyrs Praxedes and Pudentiana.
The eldest son of Caractacus, Cyllinus, went back to his native land. He is mentioned in the family records of Jestyn ap Gwrgant, Prince of Glamorgan in the eleventh century: “Cyllin ab Caradoc, a wise and just king. In his days many of the Welsh embraced the Faith in Christ through the teaching of the saints of Cor- Eurgain, and many godly men from the countries of Greece and Rome were in Wales.”
St. Lucius (in Welsh: “Lleuver Mawr”, “The Great Light”) was the grandson of King Cyllinus. In the year he sent a letter to Pope Eleutherius in Rome asking to be made a Christian. (Evidently apostolic succession had died out in Britain.) In accordance with his request, he was baptized by a deacon of the Roman Church by the name of Timothy. Moreover, the Pope sent two missionaries by the names of Fagan and Dyfan, who settled with twelve disciples in Glastonbury. Lucius himself is said to have built the original church dedicated to the Archangel Michael on Glastonbury Tor, and is credited with having founded an archbishopric in Llandaff in Wales, having been the first to give “lands and the privilege of the country to those who first dedicated themselves to the faith in Christ.” The Churches of Gloucester and London (Cornhill) also claim Lucius as their founder. It is said that the second Bishop of London was Elfan, one of the messengers sent by Lucius to Rome.
According to Notker’s Martyrology (894), St. Lucius later “abandoned the world, crossed the sea and converted many to Christ in Switzerland through his preaching and miracles”. However, this is doubted by the Swiss scholar C. Simonett, who believes that the British King Lucius has been confused with a Lucius from Chur in Switzerland, where the “Brittoni”, a Celtic tribe, were living, and who worked as a missionary against the Arians from about 550 to 600.
St. Lucius died on December 3, 201.
(Sources: Bede, Ecclesiastical History, I, 4; William of Malmesbury, De Antiquitate Ecclesiae Glastoniensis, 2; The Triads of Britain, 35, translated by W. Probert, London: Wildwood House, 1977; Notker, Martyrology; H.M. Porter, The Celtic Church in Somerset, Bath: Morgan Books, pp. 125-127; C. Simonett, Geschicte der Storolz Chur, 1. Teil, Chur: Calven-Verlag, 1976; Personal Communication, September 19, 1979)
69. SAINT MAGLORIUS, BISHOP OF SARK
St. Maglorius (Magloire) was born in Britain, the son of Umbrafel, the son of Emyr Lhydau, a Breton seigneur, and Afrella, a Welsh princess, in the sixth century. His mother was the sister of Anna, the wife of Amwn Ddu, so that he was the first cousin of St. Samson, Bishop of Dol. He became, with Samson, a disciple of St. Illytd. He was ordained deacon by St. Samson.
When St. Samson moved to Brittany, Maglorius accompanied him. There they founded monasteries under the protection of King Childebert, and Maglorius became abbot of one of them near Dol. On his deathbed, St. Samson nominated him as his successor in the see of Dol. However, Maglorius soon left his see, appointing St. Budoc in his stead, and retired to a lonely spot given to the see by St. Judual. But crowds came to him, attracted by his healing powers, so he resolved to flee again.
A certain Count Loyesco (or Loescon), a British settler, who may be the same as the Comte l’Oiseau, Lord of Jersey, had occupied the tiny and very beautiful island of Sark, near Guernsey, off the Breton coast. He was healed of an illness by Maglorius, and so invited the saint to settle on Sark and take half the island. The saint arrived in the year 565. However, soon Loescon complained that Maglorius and his monks were taking more than their share of the fishing and birds and their eggs. After vain attempts to come to a settlement, Loescon, in spite of the angry protests of his wife, gave up the entire island to Maglorius, who immediately established a monastery there, some remains of which still exist to this day.
While on Sark, the saint cured the dumbness of the daughter of a Guernsey man named Nivo, who is listed in one source as a nobleman who chose Sark as his burial place and held possession of the west of the island.
From Sark the saint visited the island of Jersey, where he destroyed a dragon and was rewarded with a grant of land on that island. Returning to Sark, he encountered a fleet of pagan Saxons who attempted to land and plunder the monastery.
Maglorius encouraged the natives and his monks to resist, and they drove off the pirates, many of whom were killed.
The saint founded a school for the sons of Breton nobles on Sark. At one time he had sixty-two pupils.
In 585 there was a famine, and the monks on Sark had exhausted their story of grain, and were in some trouble what to do for bread. One day some little boys in the monastery asked Maglorius to allow them to go down to the beach and play there, where their noise might not disturb the monks. Maglorius consented, and the children went to the port called Le Creux. There they found an old boat, got into it, cast it loose, and thought to go for a row and then return. But the current was too strong for them, and they were carried out to sea. The boys were in a dire fright.
However, the tide was running inland and they were carried to the coast of the mainland, where they told their story, and also mentioned the dearth of corn on the island. When the king of Domnonia heard of this, he sent for them, and was amused at hearing of their adventure. He at once ordered a ship to be laden with corn and sent to Sark to relieve the necessities of the monks.
Once Maglorius vowed to drink neither wine nor ale, and to fast from all food twice in the week, and to eat fish only on feast-day. But he had difficulty keeping this rule. Then an angel appeared to him and dispensed him from his vow. The saint told the monks about this.
The fishermen of Sark used to bring what they had caught to the saint. Once one of them was drowned, and the saint was so saddened that he vowed never to eat fish again. When evening came, he with all the monks went down to the shore chanting litanies. Then he threw himself into prayer, and the fisherman was restored to life.
Once the saint healed the daughter of the native chieftain of the neighbouring island of Guernsey; and a field there, where once there stood a chapel in his name, is still called after him.
St. Maglorius died in about 586. In the middle of the ninth century a band of Northmen invaded the island and sacked the monastery, killing the monks and their young pupils. Seven of the pagans tried to break open St. Maglorius’ tomb, but were blinded, while many others lost heart and began to kill each other. In 857 his body was stolen by six monks of Léhon, near Dinan, and conveyed there. Later, owing to the incursions of the Northmen, it was transported to Paris. It is still claimed by the church of Saint-Jacques.
His feastday is October 24. He is reputed to have composed the hymn for All Saints’ Day, “Coelo quos eadem Gloria consecrate”.
(Sources: Baring-Gould, Lives of the British Saints, pp. 407-410; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 256-257; Ken Hawkes, Sark, Guernsey Press,1993, pp. 85-87; John Henry Newman, Lives of the English Saints, London: Freemantle, 1901, vol. 3, pp. 40-41)
70. SAINT MAUGHOLD, BISHOP OF THE ISLE OF MAN
and those with him
In the seventh-century Life of St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, by Muirchu, we read that in the territory of County Down, Ireland, there was a man by the name of Macc Cuill moccu Greccaem [usually known as Maughold or Maccald]. He was a fierce and wicked leader of a band of robbers. One day they came upon St. Patrick as he was travelling and decided to set a trap for him. Maughold said: “This is the imposter that is leading the people astray, let us see whether his God is strong or not.” One of the robbers was ordered to lie in the middle of the road, covered with a cloak, pretending to be dead. The others then called the holy man and asked him to heal their comrade. Patrick came up and removed the cloak – and the man was found to be truly dead. … Seized with fear, the robbers begged forgiveness of the saint. Maughold was then baptised.
After this, Maughold said: “I confess to you my holy lord Patrick that I had planned to kill you.” And Patrick decided to give him a penance. He was told to go down to the Lecale peninsula on the east coast of Ireland and sit in a little boat with his hands chained and wearing only a single garment, and entrust himself to the Providence of God. A north wind began to blow and pushed the little boat to the north-east part of the Isle of Man, between Ireland and England, at the place which is now known as St. Maughold’s head. Immediately the boat touched land, the chains fell off St. Maughold. He clambered onto the shore, and a spring of water appeared to quench his thirst. That spring still bubbles with clear water to the present day.
“There he found two admirable men… who had been the first to preach the word of God and baptism in the Isle of Man, and by their teaching, the inhabitants of the island had been converted to the Catholic Faith. The names of the two men are Conindrus and Rumilus. Having found spiritual fathers in the place given to him by God, he trained his body and soul according to their rule and spent all the time of his life there with those two holy bishops until he became their successor in the episcopate.”
The monk Jocelin, writing late in the 12th century, adds some more details: that Maughold was a heathen originally, that Bishops Conindrus and Romulus had been consecrated by St. Patrick, who had appointed them “to rule over the people of that island and to instruct them in the faith of Christ after the death of Germanus the first Bishop”.
St. Maughold died, according to some sources, in the year 498, and according to others – in 518. He is described in the Martyrology of Oengus as “a rod of gold, a vast ingot, the great bishop MacCaille”. William Worcestere said that he was a native of the Orkney islands.
The Chronicle of Man, written in about 1250, relates that in 1158, Somerled of Argyll landed at Ramsey with the intention of taking control of the Isle of Man. “One of the principal chiefs called Gilcolum maintained that it would be no violation of the asylum of St. Maughold to drive off, for the supply of the army, the cattle that were grazing outside the precincts of the cemetery. A rumour in the meantime reached the church… The weaker sex, with dishevelled hair and mournful accents wandered around the walls of the church, loudly crying ‘Where are thou now, O Maughold? Where are thy miracles which till now thou has worked in this place?’ Moved, as we believe, by these and similar supplications…, St. Maughold delivered them from imminent danger.
“For when the aforesaid Gilcolum had fallen asleep in his tent, St. Maughold appeared to him clothed in a white garment and carrying his pastoral staff… he raised on high the staff that was in his hand and drove the point through Gilcolum’s heart. His sons and followers…hastened to him, inquiring what had happened…He answered… ‘Go quickly to the church and bring the staff with the priests and clerk that they may interceded for me with St. Maughold’… Thus did he expire in great torture.”
Mrs. Olga Moss writes: “In about 1990, an Anglican bishop went to the Isle of Man and stopped at a garage near the place where St. Maughold landed. He asked the garage attendant to show him the spot where the saint had landed. The garage owner or attendant happened to be free that day, and offered to go with the bishop to show him the exact spot. They parked their car and walked down the side of the hill to the spring of sweet water that had appeared when St. Maughold landed. The bishop drank of the water and suddenly got very excited because at the bottom of the steep slope he saw a toy boat with the name of his grandson on it. He and the garage man reached down to fish the boat out of the sea. The bishop told the man that a year before he had been in Ireland with his grandson for a holiday. He had given this grandson a boat with his name on it, but the boy lost it in the waves. Now, a year later, the bishop found it at the spot where St. Maughold landed, proving that it had been possible for him to land there against all the experts’ theories that it was not possible for St. Maughold to have left Ireland and landed on the Isle of Man.”
St. Maughold is commemorated on April 25 or 27.
Holy Father Maughold, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Muirchu, Life of Patrick; D.S. Dugdale, Manx Church Origins, Llanerch publishers, Felinfach, 1998; C.W. Airne, The Story of the Isle of Man, Douglas: Norris Modern Press, 1949, vol. I; Mrs. Olga Moss; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: Clarendon, 1978, p. 254)
71. SAINT MELOR, MARTYR-PRINCE OF BRITTANY
St. Melor (Mylor) was the son of Melianus, Duke of Cornouaille in Brittany (North-Western France) and his British wife Aurilla. In his time there was a drought in the land, and no rain fell for seven years. At length, in the seventh year a council of nobles was held to determine what to do. At this council Melianus’ brother Rivoldus killed his brother and began to reign in his stead. Moreover, he took away Melianus’ seven-year-old son Melor, intending to kill him, too. A Council of Bishops taking place in Gobroidus in Cornouaille besought Rivoldus that the prince should not be killed, but that only his right hand and left foot should be cut off.
Their prayer was answered, and the young prince grew up with a silver hand and a bronze foot. He lived in a monastery and read the Holy Scriptures until his fourteenth year. Then, one summer, the abbot gathered some nuts and presented them to the boy as to his lord. He took them in his silver hand, which miraculously began to turn into a real hand. One day the holy prince took a stone and threw it one hundred yards away. It fell upon a very hard rock and stuck fast in it as if it were soft wax. When he came to the rock to draw out the stone, a living spring gushed out of the rock.
News of this miracle quickly spread, to the consternation of Rivoldus. He then bribed Melor’s guardian Cerialtanus to kill the boy. Cerialtanus went home and told his wife all that Rivoldus had promised him. She said: “Go and confirm the bargain and get as good a deal as possible.” Cerialtanus then went to Rivoldus and stayed with him for a week. Meanwhile, Melor’s nurse fled with her ward to Count Commorus, who lived in a castle in Beuzit, near Lanmeur. The count and his family rejoiced and offered to give Melor his castle and see to his upbringing until he came of age.
Rivoldus then summoned Cerialtanus and sent him off to kill Melor in accordance with their bargain. Cerialtanus and his son Justanus arrived at the castle where Melor was staying. “When Blessed Melor saw his guardian, he embraced him as if he were his father, and rejoiced greatly, and trusting them entirely he wished to sleep in the same bed with them. But his nurse, who suspected their malice and foresaw what would happen, forbad him to do so, and renewed her prohibition the next day. But the third night the pious and simple-minded boy earnestly asked leave, and his nurse affectionately kissing him said: ‘Go, I commend you to the power of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, and may Almighty God do whatever is pleasing to Him concerning you.’ When night was come, the pious and innocent boy lay down to rest between them. But they, when all men slept, turned upon him in the silence of the night and slew him like an unresisting lamb, and cut off his head and departed.”
However, as Justanus was carrying the head of the martyr, at the bidding of his father, along the wall of the castle, by the just providence of God “he fell from the wall and broke his neck and died. But the martyr’s nurse, coming to the house in which the body was lying, saw both the angels of God and lamps shining with Divine splendour. Cerialtanus took the head and fled…” Coming to a place called Lannéanou, fainting through bodily weakness and the pangs of conscience, and almost dead with extreme thirst, Cerialtanus said: “Woe is me, most miserable of all men, and worthy of every pain and torment! What shall I do? For, afflicted with parching thirst, I am fainting and dying.” When he had repeated these words many times, the martyr’s head burst out into human language and said: “Cerialtanus, fix the staff you are carrying firmly in the ground, and you will see a fountain of water rise suddenly from the earth, from which you will be amply refreshed and escape the danger of dying from thirst to which you are now exposed.” Cerialtanus fixed his staff in the ground, where it took root and was turned into a beautiful tree with branches and fruit. And from its root there sprang a fountain of water. Refreshed by drinking from it, Cerialtanus brought the head to Rivoldus, who received it with joy and said: “Arise, go to the top of the mountain and I will gladly give you all the lands you can see from there.” He went up the mountain, and just as he was about to look round at his new possessions, his eyes fell out and he died, and “his flesh melted like wax at the presence of fire”.
Meanwhile, Count Commorus and his wife heard of the martyrdom. Sorrowing greatly, they came to bury him. And they buried him in the house in which he had been martyred. However, the next day the martyr’s body was found on the ground outside his tomb. They buried the body in three different places, but the same thing happened each time. Then, after taking advice, they put the holy body onto a cart to which two untamed bulls had been attached, and let it go in whichever direction the power of God willed to direct it. And lo! The bulls, suddenly become tame, carried the body to a place called Guimaec, near Vannes, and stood still. The people tried to move the cart, but it would not move. So they buried the holy body there.
Many miracles were wrought at that place: the blind received their sight, the lame walked and the sick were restored to health. Rivoldus touched the decapitated head and died three days later. The head was then buried with the body by the bishops and clergy.
Many years later, in the early tenth century, the relics of the holy martyr were brought to Amesbury in England. When the clergy were about to leave the monastery with the relics, they found that they could not be moved from the altar, but stuck to it as if glued to it. To relieve their distress, the abbess gave them a generous monetary compensation; but the relics of the martyr remained in his adopted country.
Once some evil men came into the church and stole the shrine with the holy relics.
Stripping off the plates of gold and silver with which it was encased, they threw away the chest containing the relics into a cave. However, at dawn the next day a priest saw a radiant column of light rising from the cave. Going to the place, he found the shrine and took it back to the church.
Again, St. Melor appeared one night to the sacristan and said: “Godric, get up quickly, the roof of the church is full of gaping cracks, it is shaking, and menaces instant ruin.” After repeating the warning the next night, he appeared to him again on the third night and said: “Godric, rise at once, take the images and ornaments of the altar with you and get out of the church as quickly as possible; for you are undoubtedly in danger of death.” And when he had left the church, the whole roof fell in behind him… St. Melor died in about 544, at the age of fourteen. His feastday is October 1.
Holy Martyr-Prince Melor, pray to God for us!
(Sources: G.H. Doble, The Saints of Cornwall, Truro, 1964, volume 3, pp. 20-52; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 288)
72. SAINT MILDBURGA, ABBESS OF MUCH WENLOCK
Our holy Mother Mildburga was the daughter of King Merewald of Hecani (South Shropshire and Herefordshire) and St. Ermenburga (Domneva), the daughter of Ermenred, brother of King Erconbert of Kent. She was the eldest of four holy siblings: the sisters Mildburga, Mildred, Mildgytha and the brother Merefin, who died young. Merewald was at first a pagan, being a son of the famous persecutor of the Faith, King Penda of Mercia; but he was converted to the true faith after receiving a miraculous vision which was interpreted to him by the Northumbrian priest Edfrith.
Goscelin, writing in about 1100, tells the story: “What I am now telling I have learned partly by reading and partly through conversation with a certain venerable old priest. He said that King Merewald of the Mercians was devoted to paganism when the holy priest Edfrith, a man famous for his learning and renowned for his life, was told by a heavenly message to come from Northumbia in order to convert him. As it is said, he himself undertook in accordance with this divine message to proceed to the land of the Mercians, to a place called Readesmith, and to preach there the word of God, to convert the king and his people, who were pagans, to Christianity. St. Edfrith therefore set off and started the task of preaching, not knowing the king and the district to which he had been ordered to go by heaven.
From heaven he was told the way, and from heaven he was led to the place.
“Finally, therefore, he reached the place at sunset. Day was covered in night and the new visitor, lacking shelter, was protected in the open air during the night. Lest, however, he might become despondent because of the uncertain reason for his journey, he was visited by a divine power foretelling the king’s conversion. For while he was sitting down to a small meal in the evening, having first paid to God due praises and prayers, he was approached by a huge lion with his man bristling over his shoulders. When he saw the lion, the holy man, intrepid God-fearer that he was, did not give way to fear, but handed him a crust of his bread as if he were someone sent from heaven. The beast took this morsel handed to him, no longer like a lion but more gently than a lamb with a bland mouth, rolling on the ground before the feet of the provider as he calmly ate it. What more? Having eaten, the lion disappeared and the holy man spent the night in the same place.
“The sun returned to the upper sky, the sun shone forth golden bright. The visitor prayed, rose from the place and, having gone round the neighbourhood, found out where the king and his family were living. He was given a house to lodge in and was looked after by one of the king’s soldiers.
“The following night the king had a dream and when he told it in the morning to his court none of his court could interpret it. The soldier remembered the guest that he had taken in, and just as Pharaoh was advised by his vizier about Joseph as an interpreter of his dream, so he suggested to the king: ‘My Lord King,’ he said, ‘your majesty should order that a certain man whom I received as a guest under my roof last night should be presented to you. His manners seem different from ours, and if I am not mistaken he is a disciple of the Christian Faith. For he denounces our gods and reviles them, and promises and threatens that our worship of them will bring the punishment of eternal death. Perhaps if he hears the dream of my Lord the King he will be, I fancy, no false interpreter of it.’ The king said to the soldier: ‘Let your guest be summoned quickly.’
“When the Christian ambassador had been summoned into the presence of the king, the king began to tell him his dream as follows.
“‘Last night, while I was sunk in sleep on my couch, I seemed to see two foul and huge dogs tearing me by the throat. Then from the country a certain person of venerable appearance, with his hair shorn round his ears into a crown of locks, came to my help. He rescued me from the fangs of the dogs with a golden key which he carried in his hand. The vast size of the dogs and their ravenous attack on me terrified me, but I was comforted by my speedy rescue and the pleasing vision of my rescuer. But I do not know what such a foul vision, so wild and uncontrolled, holds for me, or who is meant by my rescuer…’
“The king had finished speaking and the disciple of Christ replied: ‘You are to be congratulated on your dream, O king, for it tends to your eternal salvation. My king, listen and understand what good is portended by the horrible appearance of those attacking you and striving to throttle you, and what is foretold by the pleasant appearance of the key-bearer, your liberator. The huge foul dogs are the attendants of darkest Pluto, the enemies of your life and mortal salvation, to whose jaws you will be given as prey and food, and, having been devoured, you will always remain devourable. In this way you will always be dying and never end by death your perpetual terror, your sulphurous miasmas, gnashing of teeth, burning of fire, and vast and intolerable penalties by which you will be tortured by them in the middle of Hell. Unless you renounced paganism completely and are converted wholeheartedly to Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
The priest then explained to the king that the key-bearer was the holy Apostle Peter who, together with the other apostles, holds the keys to Paradise whereby whomsoever he binds is bound and whomsoever he looses is loosed.
The result of this sermon was that the king was converted to the holy Faith, in about the year 660. After removing his royal purple and crown, he repented in sackcloth and ashes and was baptized. Then he founded a monastery, over which he placed Fr. Edfrith, and gave all his wealth for the building of churches throughout this kingdom, endowing them with rich farms and “families”.
Shortly after, King Merewald and his wife Domneva decided to abandon the world and become monastics. So Domneva took Mildburga and her two sisters, Mildred and Mildgytha, – then aged about twelve, ten and eight – to her native Kent.
And from there she sent her daughters to the convent of Chelles, near Paris in France, which had been founded by the Englishwoman St. Bathildes, Queen of France, and was a favourite school for the daughters of the English aristocracy.
On returning from France about six years later, the three holy sisters went different ways: Mildred went to her mother’s monastery at Thanet; Mildgytha went to Northumbria; while Mildburga returned to her father’s kingdom, to a monastery founded by King Merewald especially for her at Much Wenlock, in Shropshire – probably on the site of the present parish church at Much Wenlock, which contains fabric contemporary with St. Mildburga in the south aisle and the Lady chapel. The king placed this monastery under the direction of St. Botulph, abbot of Ikanhoe. Its first abbess was Liobsynde, a French nun from Chelles.
The saint was tonsured as a nun by St. Theodore, archbishop of Canterbury, who was a Greek from Tarsus in Cilicia. In 685 her father, the former King Merewald, died and was buried in the crypt at Repton, which remains to this day. In 687, St.Mildburga was raised to the rank of abbess, while her spiritual mother, Liobsynde retired to an estate of land at Hampton.
Under Mildburga’s direction the monastery of Much Wenlock flourished “like a paradise”. She was famous for her beauty, elegance and intelligence, but even more for her humility and chastity. Soon she was receiving donations of land from all over England. The list of donors in the ancient charters includes five kings and one prince, six bishops, four abbots, two earls and one nun. One of her properties was at Llanfillo in Wales, where a church is dedicated to St. Mildburga and where there were three large stones associated with the saint and believed to have healing power.
Once a neighbouring Welsh prince wished to take the saint by force and marry her. When she refused his advances, saying that she wished to remain a virgin, he became angry and pursued her on a horse. As she fled she came to the river Corve, which she crossed. But when her pursuer arrived, the river suddenly became so swollen that it was impossible for him to follow. St. Peter’s church at Stanton Lacy was built near this spot. At Stoke St. Milborough, where she was thrown from her mount, it is said that the saint miraculously obtained water to bathe her wounds from a spring which issued forth from a rock struck by her horse at her bidding.
It was in the same parish of Stoke that another miracle was performed by the saint. It was reported to her that some wild geese were devastating the fields of the peasants. So she ordered the geese to remove themselves, and they did. And for years thereafter the geese would keep away from those fields. Hence the old peasant rhyme: If old Dame Mil will our fields look over, Safe will be corn and grass and clover; But if the old Dame is gone fast asleep, Woe to our corn, grass, clover and sheep.
Also at Stoke there is St. Milborough’s well. This is said to have sprung up when the saint was injured while fleeing from her enemies, and no water could be found to bathe her wound. She then ordered her horse to strike the rock with his hoof, and a spring gushed up.
One day, while she was praying in a little chapel in the garden, a poor widow came up to her and laid her dead child at her feet, beseeching her with tears to restore him to life. Mildburga was full of compassion for the woman, but she refused, saying that only God can raise from the dead. “Go, rather, and bury your child, remembering that you yourself will shortly follow him, for all mankind must die.” But the woman persisted, saying that she knew that God always listened to the saint’s prayers, and that she would not move from that spot until her request was granted. At length, St. Mildburga prostrated herself beside the body of the child and prayed as St. Benedict once prayed on a similar occasion: “O God, look not upon my sin, but on the faith of this woman who asks for the life of her child, and restore to life the body which Thou didst create.” As she prayed a bright light encircled her, and it seemed as if she was on fire. When one of the nuns saw this, she said: “My lady, get up quickly and run from the fire: I see the whole of your body enveloped in a great flame.” But at that moment the appearance of fire vanished, and the holy virgin arose and gave the child back to his mother restored to his former health.
The saint reposed in peace in the midst of her community on July 7 (February 23, according to another source) in about the year 715. Her last words were: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” After her death many miracles were performed through her intercession; but after the Norman Conquest, the situation of her tomb was forgotten.
However, her holy relics were discovered again in the year 1079, when the monastery was being rebuilt. Goscelin tells the story: “The monks brought over by Earl Roger had acquired, possibly as one of the costly ornaments with which Leofric had endowed his church, a silver casket reputed to contain the remains of St.Mildburga. The brethren decided to open the casket to verify this belief. They did so.
The shrine was empty. Not long afterwards, one of the lay brothers, Raymond by name, in the church of the Holy Trinity which is about a stone’s throw from the oratory of St. Mildburga, was doing some renewal and repair work to parts of the building over the altar that had fallen into disrepair. He noticed among other things an old box jutting out above the altar. Inside the box was a very old document written in Old English by a priest, Alstan. This stated that the body of St. Mildburga was buried in the church near the altar. But a long time had passed since that altar had been above the ground. It had either disintegrated through the passage of time, or been destroyed during the desolation of the region. The monks obtained permission, indeed direction, from Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, to excavate and find the burial. But the actual discovery was inadvertent. On the vigil of St. John the Baptist, while the monks were celebrating the night office, an even occurred in the monastery of the Holy Trinity in the very place where the document said the holy body lay. Two boys were playing when the ground under their feet collapsed, and they sank up to their knees into a kind of circular pit. At the sight of this, Raymond, the lay-brother, ran off to the monastery of St. Mildburga where the brethren were chanting Mattins. As it was night, nothing was done until morning.
Then, with tools, the ground was excavated and the bones of the Saint exposed, together with remains of iron bands. The sacred limbs had been buried in a wooden coffin. No signs of the altar mentioned in the parchment had yet appeared. On the following day the brethren began to dig throughout the whole church. Eventually there appeared beyond any possible doubt the foundations of the altar mentioned in the document, near to which, as was universally known, the holy body had been found the previous day…”
When a beautiful fragrance as of balsam pervaded the church, her body was taken up and many miracles were performed through it. People suffering from leprosy and blindness were healed. Once a woman was cured when she vomited a “monstrous worm”.
In 1540, during the Protestant Reformation, St. Mildburga’s relics were burnt in the market place.
St. Mildburga is commemorated on February 23.
Holy Mother Mildburga, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Mary Gifford Brown, An Illuminated Chronicle: Some Light on the Dark Ages of Saint Milburga’s Lifetime, Bath University Press, 1990; Old English manuscript Cott. Caligula A. xiv (10th c.); William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum; Nova Legenda Anglie; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 279; Janet and Colin Bord, Sacred Waters, London: Paladin, 1986, p.121; St. Mildred and her Kinsfolk, Ramsgate, 1950; Christopher Jobson, “Saint Milburga”, Orthodox Outlook, vol. VIII, no. 6, 1995, pp. 22-25; A.J.M. Edwards, “An Early Twelfth Century Account of Saint Milburga of Much Wenlock”, Trans.Shropshire Archaeological Society, vol. lxvii, pp. 134-142; Fr. Andrew Phillips, Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, English Orthodox Trust, 1995, chapter 82)
73. SAINT MILDGYTHA, NUN, OF NORTHUMBRIA
Our holy mother Mildgytha was the youngest daughter of King Merewald of Mercia and his wife St. Ermenburga, and the younger sister of Saints Mildburga and Mildred. According to a tenth-century tradition, she became a nun in Northumbria and was buried there, “where her miraculous powers were often exhibited and still are”. Goscelin, writing in about 1100, confirms this, and adds: “She cherished her folk with pious beneficence and was a benefit to her faithful people.” However, according to another, thirteenth-century tradition she became a nun at Eastry and the successor of St. Mildred as abbess of that monastery, whence her relics were transferred to Lyminge in Kent in about 840, and then, in 1085, to St. Gregory’s hospital, Canterbury.
Holy Mother Mildgytha, pray to God for us!
(Sources: An Old English manuscript Caligula A. xiv (10th century); St. Mildred and her Kinsfolk, Ramsgate: Monastery Press, 1950; Mary Gifford Brown, An Illuminated Chronicle: Some Light on the Dark Ages of Saint Milburga’s Lifetime, Bath University Press, 1990, p. 46; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 279)
74. SAINT MILDRED, ABBESS OF THANET IN KENT
Our holy Mother Mildred was the second daughter of King Merewald of Mercia and his wife St. Ermenburga, and the sister of Saints Mildburga and Mildgitha. She was sent for her education to the convent of Chelles in France, which had been founded by the English slave-girl, later Queen of France, St. Bathildes. Mildred was received by Abbess Wilcoma, and by her humility and gentleness soon became a favourite with the other pupils, excelling them in learning and even equalling her teachers.
But then a certain rich, good-looking young nobleman who was a near relation of the abbess fell in love with the saint. He proposed marriage, offering her lands, riches and honours. The abbess also pressed his suit, tempting her with gifts and the prospect of becoming a member of the royal house of France. But Mildred refused, saying: “I have come to school to learn, not to be married. I beg to be taught the discipline and fear of the Lord, and not the sin of ambition. Your entreaties terrify me more than your threats.” The abbess was furious at this refusal; and after she had heated a furnace with a huge fire, she pushed Mildred into it, fastening the door.
Three hours later she came back, expecting to find only ashes. But instead she heard the virgin singing in a clear voice: “Thou hast tried me, O Lord, in the fire, and hast found no wickedness in me.” When the doors were thrown open, she appeared as if arrayed in gold. Everyone was terrified, as if the dead had come to life. The whole town was astonished, and multitudes came filling the house, the market place and the fields, counting themselves fortunate just to catch a sight of the virgin. For was it not a miracle that not one hair of her head or thread of her clothing was harmed? Some days later, the abbess rushed at Mildred, threw her to the ground, stamped on her, kicked her, thrashed her, scratched her, pulled the hair out of head, and left her half dead. The virgin picked up the hair, and later, when she was transcribing a psalter in a way that she knew would be recognized by her mother, she placed it, still covered with dried blood, as if it were a relic of the martyrs, in the upper margin of the little book. At the same time she begged, with tears falling on the letter, that she might be delivered from the tribulations of her life, and rest in the Lord. St.Ermenburga, filled with compassion, wanted to set out immediately to rescue her daughter. But she felt her end was approaching, so instead she sent reliable people with some sailors to demand the return of her daughter from the abbess. The messengers were hospitably received, but the day of their departure was delayed; for the abbess in her rage and hatred of the English persuaded the bishop that Mildred should remain in France for the honour of the country.
Mildred serenely put her trust in God, and one night, in accordance with an agreed plan, she stole out and met her friends the messengers. After they had gone a short way, however, she remembered with grief that she had left behind a nail from the Cross of the Lord, which she had obtained at great price and which she intended as a gift for her mother. She decided to return, while her companions waited for her.
Having recovered the treasure, she ran back, and eventually reached the sea and the ships which were to take her away.
In the morning her flight was discovered, and amidst great commotion a thorough search for her was undertaken. The bishop was blamed for his inactivity, and the abbess agitatedly asked him to assemble an armed force and go after the girl.
The saint and her companions were already on board ship, with everything in order and the sails swelling in the wind, waiting for the tide to change. But then in the distance they saw crowds of Frenchmen and cavalry in warlike array advancing towards them with a dull murmuring sound. The sailors, who were few in number and unwarlike, began to lose hope; for with the tide out, the ships were on dry land.
Suddenly the pursuers started to fight against each other and kill each other.
Seeing this, Mildred cried out in the words of David: “I have called upon Thee, O Lord, and Thou hast heard me. More and more do I cry, incline Thine ear and hearken unto me. O Thou Creator and Lord, Who hast made all things in heaven and on earth, and didst lead Thy people through the midst of the sea, deliver me from mine enemies that follow after me, and bring me in safety to my homeland and to my mother.” Scarcely had she said this when the tide flowed in impetuously and the shore quickly became the sea. The sea floated the ships, caused confusion among the soldiers and fought on the side of the sailors. The rowers took to their oars, and with sails set the keels clove the waves, while the enemy in vain discharged their arrows and javelins across the water. Then Mildred like a new Miriam sang a song of praise to God.
After a pleasant voyage, they arrived at Ebbsfleet on the coast of Kent. As Mildred stepped out of the boat, her foot imprinted itself on the rock as if it had been soft mud. This indelible sign of her landing caused many cures. For sick people came, made a solution from the dust scraped from the rock, and were healed. The people enclosed the footprint in a shrine, and healings continued to be wrought there.
In about 690 Mildred was tonsured a nun by her mother in the monastery founded by her at Minster-in-Thanet, on land provided by King Egbert of Kent in compensation for the murder of her brothers the Martyr-Princes Aethelred and Aethelbricht. A few years later Mildred was consecrated abbess in succession to her mother by St. Theodore, archbishop of Canterbury. And in 694 she attended and signed a council held in Kent.
After ruling the community for thirty-five years, Mildred reposed in peace after a long illness in about the year 700, on July 13. In 741 her successor, Abbess Edburga, translated the relics of Saint Mildred to a new monastery built somewhat further inland, on the site of what is now Minster Abbey. At that time the holy virgin’s body together with her vestments were found to be completely incorrupt as if she were sleeping. Many miracles were wrought at her tomb.
Once, during the time of Abbess Edburga, a bell-ringer fell asleep while on duty.
St. Mildred appeared to him, boxed him on the ear and said to him: “Understand, fellow, that this is an oratory to pray in, not a dormitory to sleep in”. Then she vanished.
The monastery was destroyed by the Danes in about 840, the bodies of St. Mildred and her sister St. Mildgytha were transferred to Lyminge, and from there, in 1085, to St. Gregory’s hospital in Canterbury. According to another tradition, however, in 1027 the monks of St. Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury begged King Canute to give them the site and the relics of St. Mildred. He readily granted them the site, but promised them the relics only on condition that he returned safely from a pilgrimage to Rome which he made in 1031. In the event, he returned safely after having been rescued from shipwreck through the intercession of St. Augustine. And so Abbot Aelfstan of Canterbury was granted his request.
The king’s letter reached him on the eve of Pentecost. On the same day he came to Minster, accompanied by Provost Godwin and two trusted monks, Bennet and Rudolph. On the next day, since it was a great feast, he invited many of his friends and neighbours to a meal, so that no-one suspected anything.
When night came on, Aelfstan and his three brethren went noiselessly to St.Mildred’s shrine and tried to force it open. In this they were at first unsuccessful, but after much prayer the lid of the sepulchre was raised and the remaining relics of the saint were reverently folded in a white cloth and borne secretly away. The burden was light, consisting of fleshless bones, many of them already crumbled into dust.
The people of Thanet heard of what the monks were doing and rushed off in pursuit, arming themselves with swords and staves and weapons of all kinds. But the monks had a fair start, and when the angry multitude first sighted them, they had already secured the ferry-boat at Saare, which belonged to their abbey, and were rowing over the broad waters of the Wantsum. And the pursuers, having no boat in which continue the chase, returned home.
Once Queen Emma, the widow of King Canute, being reduced to poverty and despair because she was in disfavour with her son, King Edward the Confessor, had a dream in which the saint promised to help her because she and her husband had permitted the translation of her relics from Thanet to St. Augustine’s, Canterbury.
Then Emma borrowed 20 shillings and sent it to Abbot Aelfstan of St. Augustine’s, and, miraculously, the king’s heart was changed. Edward felt shame for the injury he had done his mother, begged her forgiveness and restored her to her former dignity.
Fifty-five years after the translation, a certain knight broke into a military storeroom and stole a large quantity of material. On the eve of the feast of the Translation of St. Mildred’s relics, he was captured, closely confined in Canterbury Castle, and placed in fetters. But such was his devotion to the holy virgin that when the bell of the monastery began to ring, his chains fell off, his jailors were paralyzed and the prison doors opened before him. He rushed towards the shrine of the saint, and although the doors of the monastery were closed he clung so tightly to the window of the crypt that no-one was able to drag him away. Eventually the matter was referred to the king who pardoned the knight who was so evidently under the protection of St. Mildred. Some of the saint’s relics have now been returned to Minster Abbey.
St. Mildred is commemorated on July 13.
Holy Mother Mildred, pray to God for us!
(Sources: An Old English manuscript Caligula A. xiv (tenth century); Goscelin, Life of St. Mildred (eleventh century); William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum (c.1120); St. Mildred and her Kinsfolk, Ramsgate: Monastery Press, 1950; Frank Barlow, “Two Notes: Cnut’s Second Pilgrimage and Queen Emma’s Disgrace in 1043”, English Historical Review, lxxiii (1958); Dom Gregory Bush, Minster Abbey 670 to 1965)
75. SAINTS MODWENNA AND HARDULF OF BURTON-ONTRENT
Our holy Mother Modwenna was an Irish noblewoman by birth, who founded a monastery on an island in the River Trent in the ninth century. For seven years she lived there with two other Irish nuns, Lazar and Althea, before the three went on a pilgrimage to Rome. On their return to England, they built a church in Stapenhill in honour of SS. Peter and Paul. According to another source, she built a convent at Trensall in Staffordshire on land given her by the King of Mercia. After a time she retired to a small island called Andressey, near Burton-on-Trent (according to another source, to Langfortin, near Dundee).
It is said that a holy hermit called Hardulf from Breedon heard of her holy life and went to see her, bring books of the lives of the Saints. He lived in a little cliff not far from Trent, which may be the “Anchor church” near Ingleby. Two nuns were saved from drowning in the Trent when they tried to obtain a book that Hardulf had forgotten to take to Modwenna, St. Modwenna died on July 5. Her body was translated to the church in Burton.
She worked many miracles. She is not to be confused with St. Modwenna of Scotland, or St. Modwenna of Northumbria, or St. Morwenna of Morwenstow in Cornwall.