St Etheldreda (Audrey)

II Corinthians 11.18,21-30; Psalm 33; Matthew 6.19-23

Æthelthryth (circa 636-679) remains one of the most popular royal saints of the Saxon period. She was born near Newmarket the daughter of King Anna of East Anglia; he was said to be the descendant of the Norse god Odin. Remarkably, she and her three sisters (all of whom were eventually canonised) all retired from public life and established abbeys. She was twice married, both times for political reasons, but through both marriages she maintained the life of perpetual virginity which she had vowed as a young girl.

Etheldreda founded a double monastery (for both men and women) at Ely in 673 (on the present site of Ely Cathedral); in 870 it was destroyed by the Danes. (A legend holds that those who attempted to vandalise her shrine were struck down by God.) She ruled as Abbess until her death; her sister Seaxburh succeeded her. Etheldreda’s close friendship with Wilfrid, Archbishop of York, led to her bequeathing land for the establishment of various religious houses in Yorkshire, including Hexham Abbey. Etheldreda’s sanctity was recognised by her contemporaries and she was thought of in the Middle Ages as a kind of English Virgin Mary, a holy mother who metaphorically gave birth to a dynasty of religious women whilst maintaining her chastity.

Posted in Daily Reflection.