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St. Ethelburga of Barking,
Abbess of Barking

(Died AD 675)

St. Ethelburga was first Abbess of Barking. Of the family of Offa, King of Essex, she was sister of St. Erconwald, Bishop of London. Before his promotion to the bishopric, the latter founded two famous monasteries: one for himself at Chertsey (Surrey) and the other at Barking (Essex) for his sister. He invited St. Hildelith, from Chelles in France, to teach Ethelburga the monastic customs. Ethelburga proved herself a sister worthy of such a brother and Barking became celebrated, not only for the fervour of its nuns, but for the zeal they displayed for the study of the Holy Scriptures, the fathers of the Church and even the classic tongues. Like her brother, she had the gift of miracles.

Hers was a double monastery. It is recorded that when the pestilence of AD 664 ravaged the country and the ranks of the monks were being rapidly thinned by the terrible scourge, Ethelburga consulted her nuns as to where they would themselves wish to be buried when the pestilence came to their part of the monastery. Nothing was decided until one night, at the end of matins, soon after midnight, the nuns had left the oratory to pray beside the graves of the departed monks, when suddenly they saw a light which seemed to cover them as with a shining shroud. It was brighter than the Sun at noonday. The sisters, alarmed, left off singing and the light, rising from that place, moved to the south of the monastery and west of the oratory. After some time, it was drawn up again to heaven. All took this as a heavenly sign to show the place where their bodies were to rest. Several revelations were made to the nuns during this plague as to the deaths of each other. St. Tortgith had a vision of a glorified body, wrapped in a shining sheet, being drawn up to heaven by cords brighter than gold. Within a few days, the Abbess Ethelburga died - on 11th October AD 675 - and so fulfilled the vision. The church of St. Ethelburga in Bishopsgate is named in commemoration of this saint.

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

 

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