On this day: St. Etheldreda

On this day we celebrate the feast of St. Etheldreda, Abbess of Ely, who died in 679. St. Etheldreda's Day is observed by Roman Catholics, the Anglican Communion, and Eastern Orthodoxy.

The popular form of her name was Audrey. The cheap jewelry and lace collars sold at St. Audrey's Fair each year at Ely were "tawdry" merchandise.

Etheldreda/Audrey has two feasts, her repose on June 23rd and the translation of her relics on October 17th.

"Born and brought up in the fear of God — her mother and three sisters are numbered among the Saints — Etheldreda had but one aim in life, to devote herself to His service in the religious state. Her parents, however, had other views for her, and, in spite of her tears and prayers, she was compelled to become the wife of Tonbercht, a tributary of the Mercian king. She lived with him as a virgin for three years, and at his death retired to the isle of Ely, that she might apply herself wholly to heavenly things. This happiness was but short-lived; for Egfrid, the powerful King of Northumbria, pressed his suit upon her with such eagerness that she was forced into a second marriage. Her life at his court was that of an ascetic rather than a queen: she lived with him not as a wife, but as a sister, and observing a scrupulous regularity of discipline, devoted her time to works of mercy and love. After twelve years, she retired with her husband's consent to Coldingham Abbey, which was then under the rule of St. Ebba, and received the veil from the hands of St. Wilfrid."

--Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, by John Gilmary Shea, Benziger Brothers, 1878, page 344.

Egfrid tried to get her to come back, but she avoided him by taking refuge on the Isle of Ely, which had been her morning gift from Tonbercht. There she founded a double monastery which she ruled wisely and well until her death from the plague, six years later.

Click here for Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England, Book Four, Chapter XIX, "How Queen Etheldrida Always Preserved Her Virginity, and Her Body Suffered No Corruption in the Grave", and Chapter XX, "A Hymn On the Aforesaid Holy Virgin".

Click here for the Liturgy "Appointed for Use Upon 23rd June, St Etheldreda's Day" at the Cathedral Church of Ely.

Click here for images of St. Etheldreda.

Click here for some beautiful icons and a picture of the "Reliquary containing the incorrupt hand of St. Etheldreda, at St. Etheldreda's (Roman Catholic) church near Ely Place, London".

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