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St. Edith of Wilton
(AD 961-984)

St. Edith of Wilton was the illegitimate daughter of King Edgar the Peaceable, born AD 961 at Kemsing in Kent. Her mother was St. Wulfthrith, a nun of noble birth, whom Edgar forcibly carried off from her monastery at Wilton. Under St. Dunstan's direction, he did penance for this crime by not wearing his crown for seven years. As soon as Wulfthrith could escape from him, she returned to her cell and, there, Edith was brought up. Educated with great care, she became a wonder of beauty, learning and piety. After his wife's death, Edgar would have married Wulfthrith, but she preferred to remain a nun at Wilton. Edith took the veil very early, with her father's consent. He made her abbess of three different communities, but she chose to remain under her mother at Wilton, where she was a Martha with regard to her sister nuns, and a Mary in her devotion to Christ.

In AD 979 Edith dreamt that she lost her right eye and knew the dream was sent to warn her of the death of her brother, who, in fact, was murdered at that very time, while visiting his step-mother, Queen Aelfthritha, at Corfe Castle in Dorset. The nobles then offered the crown to Edith, but she declined. Notwithstanding her refusal of all Royal honours and worldly power, she always dressed magnificently and, as St. Aethelwold remonstrated, she answered that purity and humility could exist as well under Royal robes as under rags. She built a church at Wilton, and dedicated it in the name of St. Denis. St. Dunstan was invited to the dedication and wept much during mass. Being asked the reason, he said it was because Edith would die in three weeks, which actually happened, on 15th September AD 984.

A month afterwards, she appeared in glory, to her mother, and told her the devil had tried to accuse her, but she had broken his head. Many years after, King Canute laughed at the idea that the daughter of the licentious Edgar could be a saint. St. Dunstan took her out of her coffin and set her upright in the church, whereupon Canute was terrified, and fell down in a faint. He had a great veneration for St. Edith ever after.

Edited from Agnes Dunbar's "A Dictionary of Saintly Women" (1904).

 

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